Rolf Heer’s colourful one-of-a-kind legacy will live on
By Ian Cobb
Rolf Heer is having a cold beverage with Roger Madson today.
“Are we having fun yet?” Roger would likely have asked upon Rolf’s arrival in Valhalla (Heaven etc.) yesterday, after the legendary woodcarver and character of a million rainbows decided to say ‘that’s enough of this suffering business’ and shuffled quietly off the mortal coil after 66 years.
Rolf’s reply would be “always.”
That always showed in his renowned chainsaw artwork, which adorned his long-time Radium Hot Springs home, gallery and workshop – the House of a Thousand Faces. If you never had the chance to visit, I feel for your loss.
His art and famous home were a total reflection of the man who stood out in a crowd like a lighthouse on a dark night.
The first time I ever laid eyes on Rolf was a couple of weeks after I first arrived in the valley to work at The Valley Echo.
Short-term Premier Rita Johnson was in Invermere for a rare big league Victoria visit.
The community gathered outside the old church centre (where Fairmont Goldsmith etc. are now located) to greet the Premier, the first woman to achieve the position. Most were in their Sunday best as they lined the sidewalk that led to main street.
A green reporter, I was intensely focused on getting the best (black and white) photos possible. I followed Madam Premier out of the hall, taking photos as I went. About half way along the sidewalk, my eyes flicked up to see Rolf standing there, grinning broadly and waving at Premier Johnson.
He had that long wizard’s beard, dyed purple, along with red and purple hair beneath his red wizard hat and he was dressed in his finest frock. Wrapped around his ankles, I noticed with mirth, were front pages of The Valley Echo. And his shoes featured curly, jesterly toes.
The young photojournalist in me went batshit. Our front page photo that week had Rolf and the premier.
Rolf, also known as the Radium Wood Carver, was on the front page of The Echo many times. The very first colour issue of the paper featured Rolf on his multi-passenger skis at Panorama. For quick reference, the skis fit six or so people and you had to work together to get anywhere.
He was also a remarkable tree-faller. If you had a dicey or dodgy tree that needed to be carefully dropped, Rolf was your man. I once photographed him bucking up a massive tree that vandals cut (mostly) down beside the CIBC at Invermere’s malfunction junction. I’d estimate there are hundreds of images of Rolf in the now defunct Echo’s archives.
Over the many years I lived in the valley, I was fortunate to cross paths with Rolf many, many times. Every single occasion involved laughter and enormously interesting times.
Rolf was one of the Columbia Valley’s great icons during his 40 years in the community, though a few decades ago he rubbed the less tolerant types with his public art displays outside, inside and atop his home, along with his fashion sense.
For years, Rolf and the Village of Radium Hot Springs butt heads over a variety of things, from the goats on the roof of his compound to the effigy of a politician hanging with a message noting no politicians allowed.
The parties at Rolf’s compound were also legendary.
Upon arrival, you would be invited to don a frock but no pressure if you didn’t dig such a thing. Most guys would slip on something slinky to stand around the fire in ‘the great hall’ outside, surrounded by some giant timbers. I found it good to know that I looked delightful in paisley.
Village founding mayor Greg Deck would tell different stories about Rolf than current Mayor Clara Reinhardt!
In 2018, as Rolf’s battle with cancer was underway, his beloved home burned to the ground.
“Rolf’s donation of land will not only become a place for people to gather and enjoy the beauty that brought him to Radium Hot Springs, it will also be a place to sit and remember the vivacity that Rolf brought to our town,” stated Tourism Radium Hot Springs on social media today.
Fundraising is commencing to complete this legacy project, to be called Park of a Thousand Faces, and a GoFundMe page has been set up to accept donations to support the creation of the park and future events will be held to achieve this goal.
I’d like to close with a story that always encapsulated Rolf, to me.
A prolific hunter of odd and beautiful slabs of wood to carve, Rolf roamed the backcountry of the valley, as well as part of Asia and elsewhere.
One day in the back end of (I believe) the Horsethief drainage, his old truck became stuck. About 65 kms from Radium, alone and long before the days of cell phones, Rolf tried and tried to get his truck unstuck but to no avail.
Then the genius tree-faller stepped forward. Rolf looked at the back of his truck and followed a line to a nearby tree. He checked his rope and chain supply and found he could reach the nearby tree. He climbed the tree to the height he calculated he needed to be and tied the rope to it. He tied the other end to his truck and proceeded to cut the tree. As it fell, it yanked his truck from the quagmire neat as you could imagine.
I could go on.
Rolf leaves behind family in Europe and more friends than he could count or believe he had in the valley, East Kootenay and around the globe.
Thanks for bringing such wonderful light to our world, Rolf.
Please say “hi” to Roger for us.
– Ian Cobb is owner/editor of e-KNOW