Operation Cheakamus and the Original TJC Dormitories

There’s a good chance that Trinity Western University might not be here today if not for the original dormitories. After all, how could a fledgling college house students without dormitories?

It all began with the Mannix Company, which owned a construction camp in the mountains near Squamish and wanted its buildings dismantled and moved to a new location. Pete Friesen, a TJC supporter and owner of Modern House Movers, saw an opportunity for the future university. Friesen believed he could rally enough volunteers to move the construction camp, using equipment from his own business —in exchange for half of the prefab buildings, which could then be re-purposed into dormitories for the school. But the Mannix Company wasn’t interested.

Hope for the plan seemed all but lost, but God was at work behind the scenes in unexpected ways. David Enarson, Chairman of the School for Canada Committee, happened to be in BC at the time, and agreed to go with Friesen to speak with the Mannix people one last time. Neither were prepared for what happened when they arrived.

Incredibly, it turned out that the people at Mannix were quite familiar with the Enarson family; many of them—including Enarson’s uncle, Ernest (who had recently passed away) had worked for Mannix over the years. Ernest was a man of great faith and had made a tremendous impact on them. The head of the company was amazed by this connection, and because of it, he was happy to work out a deal.

Friesen’s company joined with Nickel Brothers House Movers — another Christian-owned moving company. Together, they rallied volunteers from churches in the Lower Mainland and went up into the Squamish mountains, where they dismantled ten buildings and transported them some 90 miles across winding roads and rugged terrain. This became known as Operation Cheakamus, and it was all done in service of the school. As a result, $25,000 worth of materials were donated to the school for $137—the cost of providing meals for the volunteers.

These buildings were certainly a gift from God. But they were given in 1959. By the time Calvin Hanson, Trinity’s first president, arrived on the property with his family in July, 1962, the dormatories had sat for over two years, unfinished and unused in the rain and muck. And everything—including the dormitory buildings—was half-buried by weeds and blackberry bushes. The entire property looked more like an abandoned farm than it did a future school.

For Hanson, this was a frightening scenario. Students were scheduled to arrive in two months. Where would they stay if the dormitories weren’t ready? And what would happen if any perspective parents saw the state of the school and decided not to send their students here after all?

In his book On The Raw Edge of Faith Hanson recounts that one family came to explore the campus and found a cow standing in the middle of one of the dormitories.

Getting everything ready was a tremendous undertaking, requiring a whole new round of volunteer effort. No one was exempt from working that summer, including Hanson and his wife, Muriel. “I knew I was no farmer,” wrote Hanson. “I knew I was no carpenter, either, but I would soon discover that I could learn the most basic rudiments of these and pitch in with everybody else.”

With the weeds up to window height in some areas, each morning, Hanson was out hacking them down. “I would swing that scythe until about nine o’ clock or so when visitors would begin to drop by,” he wrote. “Then, arms aching and back creaking, I would hurry in to take a shower and try to look like the president of this non-existent institution.”

Although none of the volunteers were experts in this type of work, each one of them laboured tirelessly to get the dormitories liveable, believing they would just be temporary units. Little did they know that these dormitories would remain in use for over 15 years!

Bit by bit, the farm began to resemble a school, thanks to the faith of so many men and women who believed in what God was doing and volunteered their time and energy. It wasn’t perfect, but when classes started on September 17th, 1962, TJC became a second home to 17 students. Although the original dormitories no longer grace the campus, their story serves as a testament to the miraculous work of God and the profound faith of those involved. Thanks to the hard work of this pioneer crew, every single student had a bed to sleep in and a roof over their head.