An aura of mystery surrounds the name of James Vanslyk. Vanslyk kept to himself as an adult and little is known about his childhood. He was born in Bulgaria, April 18, 1907, to diplomat parents. His father was a diplomat between Bulgaria and England, and his mother between England and the States.

In 1916 he moved to the United States with his parents. Vanslyk claimed on his army records that his highest formal education was grade three, though he schooled in various places until he left school when he was 11 or 12. The rest of his education was self-taught from reading and experience. Friends, however, recall that Vanslyk said his parents hired tutors to educate their only child. It is possible that Vanslyk attended school until grade three, when his parents hired tutors as they moved around, thus his schooling would be in 'various places.' As well, artists deduce from his artwork that Vanslyk had some formal art training, which would be included in the education tutors provided. Vanslyk's letters and speaking certainly indicate an education of high quality.

When Vanslyk was about fifteen, his parents moved to New York, to be in the Diplomatic Corps of New York. "It was the turning point in his life. Some phobia seemed to hit him then, he couldn't stand to be around so many people," recounts Bob Beeson, a friend in the Valemount area. He left home and went to Quebec in 1924, working for a surveying outfit. His wonderful handwriting gained him a job doing the 'fancy work' making maps. Vanslyk became interested in mining and assay work, and followed construction camps.


James Vanslyk



Vanslyk: Canadian Armed Forces and Artist

James Vanslyk was one of the men sent all through B.C. to track down the 'fire balloons' that Japanese were sending over to start forest fires. He found more of them than all the rest of the crew put together.

After World War II, Vanslyk began work for Sinclair Neil McLean at a logging camp. Vanslyk fit into the rustic way of life a bit more than most. While the typical logger bathed once a week, Vanslyk felt it necessary to wash only semi-annually for his trek into Prince George.


Vanslyk came to Valemount from Shelley, and lived in old barns or shacks. His first residence in the valley was a barn left at an old mill site-but it had no front! Imagine a cold winter in the Canadian Rockies with no insulation, sleeping in a bear hide, for Vanslyk said it wasn't healthy to sleep on a mattress.

One fall, Ralph Lebans and Bob Beeson started up a logging camp, and needed a watchman so they hired Vanslyk. When the camp moved though, Vanslyk didn't continue. Beeson explains why Vanslyk left. "He said life was too soft with warm bunkhouses and he couldn't stand people around him." Though Vanslyk chose to live alone, he was very amiable, and loved to talk. Another of Vanslyk's residences was a dugout down the Canoe River. It was pretty much a hole in the ground, and Vanslyk sewed pieces of mica together to make windows. Vanslyk's tough life made a tough man, and he could carry farther than many men.


Headwaters of Canoe River by James Vanslyk
Canoe River, Valemount, British Columbia, Canada

Angus and Margaret McKirdy


When Vanslyk went into town he would use his artwork to barter, however the receiver was expected not to sell or enter the work into a competition. On one visit into town Vanslyk discovered that the dentist, he bartered with, had entered Vanslyk's art into a competition, receiving a prize. Vanslyk quickly aquainted the dentist with his short temper.


Sketch of Beeson and Lebans sawmill by James Vanslyk
5 April 1955
Canoe River, Valemount, British Columbia, Canada

James Vanslyk


Prospecting in B.C.
Tete Jaune Cache, British Columbia, Canada

James Vansylk engraving of miner and packed moose


Early settlers' activities in the area were not confined to trapping. As early as 1876, geologists reported miners finding traces of gold, which paid them 4-5 dollars per day.


All his adult life Vanslyk suffered from severe migraines, and people speculate that he died of a brain tumour. Vanslyk passed away in 1961, at the age of 55 in the McBride Hospital. He is buried in the Valemount Cemetery.