Andrew (Ole) Rupert Westerberg

 Ole Westerberg on his Big Bend mail run, c.1920.

Ole Westerberg on his Big Bend mail run, c.1920.

Dates: b. Sweden, 8 May 1879 d. Kamloops, May 1963

Cemetery location: Block G, Row 8, Plot 18

Profile:

Andrew Rupert Westerlund came to Canada as a young man, settling first on a homestead at Wetaskiwin, Alberta. He was given the nickname “Ole” (a common nickname given to Scandinavians) and at some point changed his last name to Westerberg.

On his way to Vancouver in 1900, Ole met two miners travelling to their claims on the Big Bend. When they offered him work Ole couldn't refuse, and Revelstoke was where he would spend the rest of his life.

Ole spent the next few years prospecting, trapping and hunting, and in 1909 married Annie Kate Olson from Norway. The Westerbergs built a large house on 40 acres, roughly six kilometers south of Revelstoke, where they raised their seven children.

In 1914, Ole won the contract to carry His Majesty’s mail up the Big Bend to French Creek. The agreement stipulated he was to make two trips a month over the three summer months and one trip a month for the rest of the year. The pay would be $45 per trip, but when the highway became drivable as far as Goldstream, this rate was cut to $25.

Ole used snowshoes and skies to cover his mail route, and in the summer, he used packhorses. In the early days of delivery, there were around 1,500 men in the Big Bend area and a round trip normally took six to seven days.

Ole maintained trap lines along his mail route, selling furs to merchants in Revelstoke and Vancouver. In 1916, he was making about four to five dollars per beaver and the same for marten. Weasels brought in about 25 cents each.

It was said that over the 35 years he delivered mail, Ole never missed a trip, and the stories generated on his mail run were legendary.

One particular story hit the international newspapers, and told how Ole saved the life of a starving horse stranded in the bush on his route. Ole fashioned snowshoes for its feet, and after successfully walking the horse into town, tethered the animal outside the Union Hotel; the horse in snowshoes drawing crowds of spectators who couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

There are several versions of the story of how Ole earned the name “Ole the Bear”, but the most dramatic told of a surprise encounter with a grizzly bear while he was bent over with the weight of his pack. Ole thought he was dead when the bear attacked, slashing his clothing.  Fortunately, when they both lost their footing on a steep slope, Ole was quick with his rifle and when the bear landed on him, it was dead.

Another story involves a bear and an axe. When Albert Stone at the Oriental Hotel asked Ole for a bear hide, he set a trap nine kilometers south of Revelstoke and quickly caught a bear. Ole didn’t have a rifle with him at the time so he used a hand axe to kill the animal, skinning it and bringing the hide into the hotel the same night.

Andrew “Ole the Bear” Westerberg died in May 1963, at the age of 84 at Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops.