During his 29 years as a plainclothes RCMP drug section investigator, Lyle Litzenberger chased down his share of leads.
It is a skill he still finds useful in retirement as he gets ready to publish the first part of a two-volume history book titled Burke and Widgeon: A History.
"It is similar to doing conspiracy investigations," Litzenberger said of the research process for his latest book, which will be launched May 30. "Little details are gathered and they become evidentiary later on and they become very important."
Initially, Litzenberger intended to include a few chapters on the history of the Pinecone-Burke area in his 2013 book Burke and Widgeon: A Hiker's Guide.
But when he amassed more than 2,000 pages of notes drawn from interviews and archived materials, he decided to spin off the information into a separate project.
"It has become a real passion for me," he said. "It has been our lives for a decade."
Litzenberger, who lived at the foot of Burke Mountain for close to 30 years, has become more comfortable with the writing process since researching and publishing the hiking guide.
But it is the thrill of the investigation that animates him the most.
He recounts the time he discovered the earliest aerial map of Burke Mountain in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. The image was taken by the Robert Dollar Company, which had logging rights in the area in the early 1900s and was based out of San Francisco.
"I was thrilled to discover that," Litzenberger told The Tri-City News. "I got some phenomenal images and records there."
With the map and a metal detector, he was able to retrace some of the railway grades that once climbed the mountain to help transport logs. He even picked up a few railway spikes on walks in the area.
But some of the best pieces of information came from sources that did not seem particularly promising at first, he said. For example, through ancestry.com, he became aware of two brothers, Nels and Bjarne Soros, who were settlers in Widgeon back when the area was called the Silver Valley. He had a photo of Bjarne and decided to email the village where it originated — Vestness, Norway, population 6,400 — to see if he could find out more. Weeks went by without hearing anything until, one day, Bjarne's brother's granddaughter contacted Litzenberger with information, more photos and, most importantly, more leads and contacts for potential interview subjects.
"When that happens, to say it makes your day is an understatement," he said, later adding: "It was a remarkably happy ending to a very long and twisting path."
But Litzenberger said the greatest joy has come from meeting old settler families and their descendants, many of whom he has befriended while researching the book.
He added that getting to know the people who helped shape the area has weighed on his mind as he works to make sure the information he has compiled are presented accurately. Adding to the pressure is the fact that Burke Mountain is not widely researched and it could be a while before any mistakes are corrected in books by future historians.
"It is a big responsibility," he said, "because if I get it wrong, it kind of becomes erroneous fact."
Now that the first book is complete, Litzenberger will begin focusing on the second volume, which starts in 1922 and will likely end with the establishment of Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park in 1995.
Litzenberger is careful not commit to a timeline for the completion of the second part. Once he starts writing, he said, it is likely that new avenues of research will open up and gaps will appear in the narrative that will need to be filled.
"Each community is a patchwork quilt," he said. "I think the best an author of a history book can do… is add a few more patches. There is no end."
• The book launch for Burke and Widgeon: A History (Volume 1) will be held May 30, between 7 and 8:15 p.m. in Rooms 136-137 at Coquitlam Public Library's City Centre branch (1169 Pinetree Way). For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.