RENOWNED LOG BUILDER PIONEER
This website will show B. Allan Mackie’s life history and give information for ordering his log building books, plans, instructional videos as well as upcoming course dates and locations.
B. Allan Mackie believes that we all deserve good homes and that we are enriched by understanding how to make them for ourselves. He shares his vast experience in a way that encompasses straightforward instruction with an encouraging philosophy of living. Meet this extraordinary man and be inspired by his practical wisdom.
INTERVIEW: A conversation with B. Allan Mackie, Dai Yoshito Ona, Nadina Mackie Jackson and Mary (view/download pdf)
B. ALLAN MACKIE: DAYS PAST
B. Allan Mackie was born in Battleford, Saskatchewan, on October 16, 1925. His grandfather had arrived a generation earlier, bringing his young family from England in 1903, and built a self-sufficient farm on Saskatchewan’s rolling prairie.
BAM’s boyhood dream was to be a cowboy in British Columbia, but he had to wait until the end of World War II. After training in the airforce as a wireless airgunner, then as a paratrooper in 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the war ended before he was sent overseas. He then headed straight to British Columbia. He took carpentry courses, went logging on Vancouver Island, starved for awhile as a university student, then hitch-hiked north to work for two years as a ranch-hand for Lester Dorsey at the 3 Circle Ranch on Anahim Lake. He had some more log building experience by helping Lester finish his big log ranch home.
He married Mary Luxton in 1952 and, full of hope and idealism, they loaded their 1938 Dodge Coupe and drove to the village of Southbank in the interior of BC. BAM built his first log home there, on 200 acres with a half mile of waterfront on the shores of Francois Lake.
While he was logging, one of his fellow loggers told him that the post of Assistant Forest Ranger was coming open. BAM took the exams and received the highest marks for that year in the Prince Rupert Forest District. After two years, he decided that he liked it so much that he took the 2-year Ranger school course. He was then transferred to the district of Ocean Falls, an isolated pulp and paper town on the coast of BC that was accessible only by boat or aircraft.
After two years, BAM transferred back to Southbank, and the Mackies returned to the little log house on the shore of Francois Lake to start their family.
During his many tours of duty as Forest Ranger throughout the Southbank/Tweedsmuir Park District of central BC, B. Allan Mackie met the caretaker of a beautiful large ranch near Owen Lake. It was beyond his means to purchase even if the absentee owners ever did decide to sell, but seeing it rekindled the cowboy dream for BAM. The old caretaker, Roy Munger, knew of another beautiful piece of land nearby, 1000 acres of natural grass ranges, streams and a sweeping view to Nadina Mountain. The Mackies, with their first child still in diapers and their second soon to be born, applied for this land under the Homestead Act. BAM was assisted by a small grant under the Veterans’ Land Act. They emptied the piggy bank and made the rest up in sweat equity, built a ranch and had a herd of one hundred Hereford-type cattle.
They stayed for six years, raising their children, working long hard hours, doing the many chores involved in raising cattle. The high altitude meant early winters and late springs, and sometimes that meant bringing hay in during summer snow storms. BAM supplemented their income by logging and doing emergency fire fighting for the Forest Service, while Mary Mackie wrote stories for The Family Herald, providing a running narrative based on their life on the ranch.
When the children, Nadina and Keith, approached school age, the Mackies reluctantly decided to rent Silloep Hills Ranch and move to Powell River where BAM took up a position at the MacMillan & Bloedel Company’s log sorting grounds. He has never forgotten how sad he was to leave that wild mountain ranch.
B. Allan Mackie describes himself as a solitary and thoughtful child, prone to getting in trouble for taking things apart though he quickly learned to put them back together. He learned to build on his own, as he did so many other things. One of his first big projects was to build a log chicken house when he was ten years old. He examined the old buildings on his father’s farm and copied the dovetail notches. He used small poplar logs and learned how to use a come-along so that he could manage by himself.
During his teens and twenties, he made many frame buildings with his uncle, Ralph Mackie on the west coast. It wasn’t until he was married and moved to Southbank in the interior of British Columbia that he made his next log home. It was small and perfectly cozy for two people, and he describes this as one of the happiest times of his life.
Other important personal building projects included the large ranch house, built at Silloep Hills, his 1000 acre mountain ranch near Houston, BC. His drawing of this house was featured on the cover of the first edition of his book, Building with Logs. He and his family lived there from 1959 until 1965.
In 1970, BAM joined the faculty of the College of New Calendonia in Prince George, BC, where he taught logging. The family lived briefly in the town, which BAM quickly tired of. During his teaching expeditions into the surrounding forests, he found a piece of wilderness with deep forests and a small lake twenty miles from town, and built a log house. This time he had some valuable help from his then teenaged son, Keith Mackie, who built two houses of his own by the time he was 14. It was during this time that the College realized the public enthusiasm for log building, and allowed BAM to set up the first year-long college course for log building. Their project, built on Kerry Street in Prince George, is a beautiful example of the modern log house blending into an urban environment.
In the years that followed, he built hundreds of houses with students all over the world. One of the most famous buildings is his log train station in Japan, built in 1991.
In 1998, he moved to Ontario to be nearer his musician daughter, Nadina and her family, having separated from his wife Mary in 1997. He built his first of two log houses at the work site of Ontario log builder, Paul Pitkanen, in March 1999. He then built a road into his new property at beautiful Shanty Lake, Ontario and moved this building, which he dubbed “Knotingham” because of the astounding number of twists and knots on the Ontario hemlock logs.
He camped in a tent beside the lake from May until September while he reassembled the small house and began to work on the large house. He had some help from his new neighbours, the McEwan families, particularly Peter and Charlie McEwan, from fellow log builders Paul Pitkanen, Byung Cheon Kim of Korea and Bill MacDonald, and from novices such as his good friend, Charlene Thompson, Tony Christie (cellist), Fraser and Nadina Jackson (bassoonists). Most of the time, however, he was working on his own, and he said that planning and executing such a large building project reinforced his sympathies for young builders and the large task they face in learning the myriad details of the building.
After a strenuous summer of road and house building, followed by teaching courses in BC, Japan and Korea, he spent a snug winter in the small house and finished the walls of his large house in March 2000. He made his road completely passable in June 2000, built a post and beam storage shed and completed the foundation work for the larger house in August 2000. His next task was to move the walls, build the roof, and finish what will be a very special house; one built by B. Allan Mackie, for B. Allan Mackie, with a little help from his friends.
After leaving the ranch, B. Allan Mackie went back to the University of British Columbia and took a two year teacher training course. He then taught Industrial Education at Columneetza High School in Williams Lake, BC. In spare moments, he built a horse trailer for his children’s horses, skis for the whole family, and many fine pieces of furniture that are still in use today. He then taught vocational skills for one year in the Northwest Territories at Fort Smith.
Later, in Prince George, he began teaching the first log building course in the world as an Adult Education night school course, then as a full-time course at the College of New Caledonia, His wife, Mary Mackie, strongly encouraged him to develop a book out of his many fine drawings and notes. They self-published for 25 years, producing seven titles.
Frustrated with the restrictions that a College must place on enrollment from beyond the local Prince George area, the Mackies began to accept private students at their own home in 1971. A large meeting house was built first, which BAM says is essential to the success of any log building school site, and many smaller houses in the years to follow. BAM built a three mile stretch of road to link with Highway 16. They welcomed hundreds of students from around the world.
By this time, BAM had developed his teaching techniques so that short, intensive sessions were given, interspersed with students going into the field to work as apprentice log builders, then returning for advanced, professional courses. BAM’s specialty was the Teacher Training session in which the best builders of the day returned to acquire the instructional skills for passing the knowledge on to others. The high standards of this first programme accounts for much of the solid grounding of today’s professional builders. BAM finally sold his original school in 1986.
Since 1985, BAM had started peripatetic teaching programmes in Japan, New Zealand and throughout Canada and the United States. The courses ranged from 1 to 6 weeks, teaching beginners and professionals alike. Currently, there are B. Allan Mackie Schools of Log Building located in Japan, Korea, Germany, and British Columbia.
Although BAM was born a prairie boy, he always loved boats and began building them as a child. He became adept with all types of row boats and canoes. One large boat that he remembers fondly is the “Lillian D”, a 65-foot power boat that he used while in the BC Forest Service.
He made a long canoe trip down the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories in 1970.
His first experiences with extended ocean sailing were in Australia, during the 1980s, while visiting his sone, Keith Mackie (a builder and furniture maker living in Esk, Queensland) and Ken Bilyard of New Zealand. Back in Canada, he made some small sail boats, then bought the unfinished cedar hull of a 34-foot cold moulded sailboat in 1990 and outfitted it, including casting the keel, to sail around the world. His debut was to sail around Vancouver Island through waters so treacherous that old sailors say that if you can sail there, you can sail anywhere. Intending to sail around the world, he set off in 1996, quickly going to Mexico, then Hawaii before family obligations brought him home.
BAM always enjoyed the contrast between intensely challenging sailing conditions and the long periods of meditative watchfulness that govern ocean sailing, but decided finally to sell the sailboat in 1997 and go homesteading again, this time in Ontario.
FILM MAKER, PHOTOGRAPHER, ARTIST
BAM is constantly sketching, and his early sketch books are the basis for his published books, The sketches that he makes are mostly plans for buildings and mechanical inventions. More rare are occasional landscape paintings and drawings. He maintained a dark room for many years, until video took over as his main visual record. The most extensive collection of his photos of log buildings is contained in “The Picture Book of Log Homes”.
During the seventies, BAM began compiling slide shows to use as teaching aids. Later, he got a Bolex movie camera and taught himself how to produce animation that further demonstrated his log building techniques.
With the wide-spread advent of video in the late eighties, BAM set about producing a complete series of instructional videos. With typical determination, he insisted on being in charge of all aspects of production, from filming to editing. It took a little longer than he wanted but in doing so he has acquired another valuable skill and can further develop his videos as he needs.
The first log building text book developed straight from the night school courses that BAM taught in Prince George, B.C. in the early seventies. He would make elaborate drawings that students would borrow and copy. Realizing that his students weren’t able to pay attention to the lecture while copying his detailed drawings,, his wife Mary Mackie, encouraged him to compile everything into a publishable book.
With the help of a local printer, they produced the first edition of Building With Logs in 1971, which went on to become an international best-seller and it is now in it’s ninth printing. Other books followed, including Log House Plans, Notches of All Kinds, Log Span Tables, Building With Logs in New Zealand (in collaboration with Bill Knight and Liz Brook), a reprint of a rare book called Open Timber Roofs and the large coffee table book, Picture Book of Log Homes. For eight years, Mary Mackie published a popular magazine called Canadian Log House, which answered many frequently asked questions about log homes.
The Mackies self-published entirely, often printing 25,000 copies in a single press run. Their lengthy association with the international distributor, Firefly Books Ltd. of Toronto led eventually to an arrangement with Firefly to assume all publishing of BAM’s current titles.