Hiking trail in eastern P.E.I. offers glimpse into life of 'eccentric' war vet

·3 min read

When Elwood Beck returned home from fighting in Italy during the Second World War, his relatives knew something wasn't quite right.

He moved into the family farm on about 200 acres of land near Murray River in eastern P.E.I., but he couldn't bring himself to kill anything, not even a tree.

Back then they called it shell shock, said his great nephew, Paul Jenkins. Now it would be considered post-traumatic stress disorder. He refused to take his veterans pension, and only agreed years later when family convinced him.

"He's a bit of an eccentric guy," Jenkins said.

"The way I understand it is he had had enough and seen enough pain and suffering in the war so he would never cut a tree down or anything like that so he would much rather burn scraps than hurt nature."

Shane Ross/CBC
Shane Ross/CBC

Beck died in 1991, and while there appear to be no family photographs of him, remnants of his eccentric life can be seen along a hiking trail Jenkins created in 2010 after he and his late father, Jim, inherited the land.

Cars among the trees

The first thing hikers will notice are the handful of old cars tucked in among the trees. It's easy to imagine bygone family trips in the old Pontiac station wagon, or someone — Elwood? — hauling something in the old Ford pickup. One of the cars has a 1966 licence plate.

Jenkins said people often wonder how the cars ended up in the forest, since there is no way they could get in or out.

"Like every other farm, you didn't have Waste Watch. Over the last 40 or 50 years, the forest just grew up around it."

Shane Ross/CBC
Shane Ross/CBC

Flora Jenkins, Paul's mother, isn't sure if the cars belonged to Beck, because she remembers him walking everywhere he went, even from Murray River to her home in Charlottetown — where she would feed him and insist he take a bath, because he was often covered in soot and had no running water where he lived.

'Kind of an introvert'

"He walked a lot, but he did have a licence," she said. "He was just a nice, innocent, harmless person — kind of an introvert."

Paul Jenkins said Beck had moved into the woodshed after taking the old homestead and garage apart "shingle by shingle" to burn for heat, despite being surrounded by acres and acres of trees.

Shane Ross/CBC
Shane Ross/CBC

"It doesn't make any sense," Jenkins said.

"And after he was done with that, he still wouldn't cut any trees so he would go down to Beaver's Garage in Murray River and roll the tires back to Beck Trail, or the home, and burn tires. So the poor guy obviously had some PTSD from fighting in Italy which was too bad."

Great-grandfather made moonshine

The woodshed where Beck spent his final days before moving to Gillis Lodge is still standing and is part of the trail, as are the foundations of the home and garage.

On another part of the trail is an old still where Jenkins's great-grandfather made alcohol out of molasses.

Shane Ross/CBC
Shane Ross/CBC

Jenkins said his father, who died in August, was environmentally conscious and wanted people to be able to enjoy the property. Jenkins, along with Oliver Murray and Lowell Stevenson, developed the 10-kilometre trail and, in the first few years, held mountain bike races.

"We wanted the local community to enjoy it, find it out, move, walk and enjoy some of the quirky things on the trail too," he said.

"It's kind of neat to snake through the trees and see a car. We just want people to enjoy the woods."

Shane Ross/CBC
Shane Ross/CBC

More from CBC P.E.I.