On a recent trip down Island, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a new (to me) and exciting piece of North Island history.
During a routine stop at the Sayward coffee and ice cream bar (beside the gas station on the highway), we happened upon a small sign for the gallery located in the rear of the building. Upon entry, we were treated to numerous portraits and paintings, most of which were completed on round pieces sawn off the end of logs. These looked familiar to me, as I recognized the faces as they same style as those which used to be more plentiful on the sides of buildings while travelling on the highway through Sayward.
When we dropped our donation in the box the lady in the coffee shop commented how wonderful it is to now have a permanent home for so many of Hetty’s paintings. Of course this triggered my curiosity, and I had to do a little bit more research!
Hetty Mulder-Fredrickson, the artist behind this prolific collection of paintings, is likely a familiar personality to many North Islanders. For 25 years she ran the “Valley of 1,000 Faces” in Sayward, a popular roadside attraction.
Hetty was born in Indonesia in 1921. Her family was originally from the Netherlands, but lived for an extended period of time in Southeast Asia.
During WWII Hetty was attending school in Europe when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, and the Japanese occupied Indonesia. For an extended period of time she had no contact with her parents.
Eventually she married, and then divorced. Perhaps impulsively, without any concrete plans she decided to pack up her two young sons and move to Canada.
Initially settling in Montreal, and then moving to the remote B.C. interior, Hetty was broke and frustrated before finally accepting a job housekeeping and child-minding for a widower logger on Vancouver Island, Douglas T. Fredrickson.
The two eventually fell in love and married. Hetty resumed the painting which she had abandoned earlier in life.
After a brief stint in Chilliwack, where the Fredricksons had the unfortunate experience of living in a house which was widely believed to be haunted, they moved to Sayward.
In order to keep busy in the small logging community, Hetty tried to encourage local children to paint. To save money, Hetty’s preferred canvases were slices of logs. She was known to use common house-paint as a medium, and when paintbrushes were not readily available she would paint with her fingers.
After painting a number of portraits, Hetty hung them alongside the road. They caused a bit of a traffic jam as people stopped to look at them, and many were stolen under the cover of darkness.
Hetty and her husband then forged a trail through their 4 acre property, and filled the forest with portraits. The exhibit became known as the Valley of 1,000 Faces, and for the 25 years that it existed patrons were charged only $1 admission.
Hetty passed away in 1994, and we are lucky that when the property was sold residents of Sayward had the foresight to collect and save a large number of Hetty’s paintings. They are now accessible to all in the little gallery behind the espresso and ice cream shop just off the highway. Please stop in and take a moment to view this lasting piece of North Island history – and don’t forget to leave a donation.
Brenda McCorquodale is a Port Hardy resident and North Island history enthusiast. If you have any stories or local lore you’d like to share, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. A collection of her past articles is available on her blog at http://undiscoveredcoast.blogspot.ca/.