As a member of the Duncan Chamber of Commerce, he found himself in close association with the local people – the small business men and the professionals. He quickly realized that there were fundamental misunderstandings, even prejudices, concerning the forest industry. He noticed that a woman was proud to be the wife of a doctor, a real estate salesman or a storekeeper, but the wife of a sawmill worker was often looked down upon.
So he set out to put the record straight. He wanted to make a point that small businesses and growing townships would not have survived without the logging camps and the sawmills which pumped the big money into the community.?
In Gerry's words: "I thought we'd better do something about telling people what the real story was. To make people listen you have to entertain them, and there's nothing like a live steam railway to put people in a good humour. So that's how we start our story."
He's put a lot of himself into the Cowichan Valley Forest Museum, his monument to the forest industry. Along the way he's entertained hundreds of thousands of people, young and old – and incidentally, three Lord Mayors of London, a President of the New York Stock Exchange, and the late Walt Disney. As a result of Gerry's advice, Disney added a live steam locomotive to the attractions of Disneyland. (A Walk in the Forest, Guide to the BCFM).
"By 1950 all the logging railroads in BC were being pulled up and replaced with trucks. Nearly all the railway equipment went to Japan for scrap. I just drifted up to Chemainus one day to see what was going on. There were great piles of it lying around." (Gerry in Gidney ).
"The price went up when people knew how keen I was to get old logging articles," he remarked, adding, "I was able to gather some 200 articles, however, before this increase had gone too far. This collection gave me a record of the industry's growth." (Leader 1964) He said one of his first items was a hewn Hudson's Bay timber 12" by 12" from the company's old warehouse in Victoria.
In 1951 he happened to be driving by the MacMillan Bloedel yard at Chemainus and found them putting the cutting torch to an old Shay locomotive he'd ridden as a boy, turning it into scrap. He stormed into the office, outraged. They gave him the pick of what was left. His choice was "Old One-Spot", because she was the oldest and most interesting. She was built in 1911 by Lima Locomotive Works of Ohio and was the first of her type brought into British Columbia. He bought the locomotive for $1750.
His passion for railways created the "Glenora Western Railway" on his 10 acre property near Deerholme, 4 miles from Duncan south of the Cowichan River. The last spike on the G.W.R. was hammered in place June 28, 1958. The line was completed with the help of the Victoria and Nanaimo Model Railway Clubs.
The unique museum attracted growing numbers of visitors to the Wellburns' backyard. He jokes that it was his late wife who finally said,"Enough", although he adds with a smile, "It really wasn't as bad as she made out. She had a lovely garden out front, and many of the visitors stopped to see the flowers and tell her how much they enjoyed them while I was at the back of the house with the train's".
The collection attracted increasingly large numbers of visitors and became increasingly well known. It's very popularity eventually became a burden to the Wellburn family.
In 1963 Mr. Wellburn began looking for a permanent location for the collection and did secure an arrangement with the Provincial Government for the transfer of the entire collection to a site at Beaver Lake, near Victoria. A golfing Saanich mayor envisioned a golf course on the same property instead.
Through local negotiations a group of civic leaders, including the former Mayor of Duncan and North Cowichan, and assisted by Gerry Wellburn, was able to secure the present site and keep the collection in the valley.
Gerry Wellburn sold his collection to the Museum for a price which was considered modest – $50,000 – and was not paid in full until 1972.
The Official opening of the Cowichan Valley Forest Museum was Saturday, June 4, 1966.
He also has an artist's skill with pen and ink and an aptitude for design. "He planned it like a landscape architect." (Turner in Gidney).
Through Gerry Wellburn's diligence in collecting these valuable artifacts; in his generosity in contributing them to the Valley, and his persistence in seeking and establishing financial assistance for the establishment of the museum, we in the Cowichan Valley have one if the Province's finest living museums containing collections of historical logging equipment and artifacts.
In addition to other financial support; Mr. Wellburn has donated an initial $100,000 towards a foundation to provide financial support to carry on museum functions at this facility. While managed by the Vancouver Foundation the fund benefits the BC Forest Museum. As well, in 1988 Vern Wellburn announced a further $10,000 donation in memory of his mother, Ethel May.
Gerry Wellburn has been presented with awards of recognition from the Province, the City of Victoria, the Canadian Institute of Forestry and others.