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Bernard the German chapter one: The fender bender

The tragic tale of the giant of Desolation Sound
Bernard Krieger
BEST BUDS: Bernard Krieger and his faithful dog, Dude, on the deck of his Desolation Sound cabin circa 1997. Patricia Bailey photo

What you are about to read is true, as far as anyone can remember it. It’s an adventure that I’ve always wanted to share. This is the story of an ox of a man who died just as he lived: very remarkably. This story will take you around the world, from the oldest village in Germany, to the coastal wilderness of Desolation Sound, to the tropical climes of the South Seas. This is the story of Bernard the German.

I’ll never forget the first time I first ever laid eyes on the mighty Bernard the German. I was in my late 20s (around 1999), and I hadn’t been to Desolation Sound in many years. My parents had dragged me to our family cabin on the lonely shores of the Sound throughout my childhood, but as soon as I was old enough, I defiantly stayed away for over a decade. 

When my boisterous bunch of friends found out I had access to a cabin in the wilderness, they eventually convinced me to return. Much had changed in Desolation Sound since I was a kid, most notably the death of our old family friend Nancy Crowther, the legendary Cougar Queen of Okeover Inlet. But other salty characters who clung to the coast like barnacles had moved in to take her place, and I was about to come across the biggest one of them all.

When my friends and I finally arrived at the Okeover government wharf at the very northern end of the Sunshine Coast, my pals showed much more blatant excitement than my hesitancy upon returning. My friends considered the Cannonball Run between ferries a great journey from the city – driving until you could drive no further, past towns like Gibsons, Sechelt, and Powell River – playing hacky sack and sitting in the sun at the very same ferry terminals that I found so terminally boring as a child.

When we reached the end of Malaspina Road, we were able to drive our cars right up onto the Okeover wharf, the tires thump, thump, thumping as we rolled over each plank. When we climbed out of our cars, our nostrils filled with the scents of autumn on the coast: cool salt air, decaying leaves and gasoline.

I had to admit that it was invigorating, and hard to believe it was the place I had so steadfastly been avoiding for years. But such is the walkabout that you sometimes have to take to eventually realize the place you value most.

My pals certainly didn’t hold back: they let out exclaims of wonder at the oceanic beauty that surrounded them in the giant falling maple leaves. “Why didn’t you tell us about this place sooner?” they barked.

We proceeded to load our little aluminum skiff with the primary supplies we had brought for the weekend: physically staggering amounts of canned beer, sinking the boat lower and lower into the water with each flat. My friends couldn’t wait to motor north for a 72-hour lost weekend, across glassy inlets, towards craggy, forested mountains and a hungover unknown.

After the skiff was loaded with enough beer to keep a liquor store supplied for a month, my friend Rory ran back up to the road to park his car, which he had temporarily left in an ad-hoc loading zone of sorts.

Rory hopped behind the wheel of his ’84 Mazda and was just about to turn the key when he felt a heavy impact from behind. A big, white pickup truck had backed directly into Rory’s car with a loud crunch.

Rory was a blond and gangly fellow, and had the impunity and the self-righteousness that many young men in their 20s possess. He jumped out of his Mazda, surveyed his crumpled rear bumper, and proceeded to lose it. He raised his arms skyward with indignation. “What the hell was that, you stupid idiot?”

The driver’s side door of the big white pickup truck opened very slowly. A mountain of a man stepped out.

When he planted both of his extremely large, knee-high rubber boots onto the gravel, it was as if you could feel the earth shake. He wore canvas overalls, a blue and red checkered mackinaw jacket, and an crumpled Edmonton Oilers baseball cap. His hands were the size of grizzly paws.

He had deep-set, dark eyes that glared over a thick, black, curled moustache, the kind you’d see on the bartender in old photos of saloons in the Wild West. When his barrel-chested frame reached his full height, this bear of a man was well over six feet tall. Rory looked up and took a step back.

From my dad’s description, I knew that this giant must be Bernard the German, and he wasn’t happy. One of the last things my dad told me when he handed me the keys for the cabin was to be respectful towards our new neighbours. This wasn’t the start I was looking for.

So began my first sighting of Bernard the German, an utterly imposing figure who would loom large and influential in my life until his tragic and bizarre death.

But who was this larger than life man? How did he get to the end of the road? And what did he do to my friend Rory?

You’ll find out in the coming chapters of Bernard the German.

Grant Lawrence is an award-winning author and a CBC personality who considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. "Bernard the German" is currently also airing as a weekly radio serial on North by Northwest, CBC Radio One in BC. Anyone with stories or photos they would like to share of Bernard "The German" Krieger, can send an email to grantlawrence12@gmail.com.

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