Phil Hobler was born March 20, 1936, in Syracuse, New York, where he was raised in a loving family. After high school he attended university at Harpur College (later to become the State University of New York at Binghamton). He did the last two years of his B.A. at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque majoring in anthropology in 1958. It was during his time there that he first heard of Bella Coola.
Stanley Newman was the department’s linguist. Dr. Newman had been to Bella Coola in the 1930s studying their extraordinarily difficult language. When Phil first worked in Bella Coola, in the late 60s, he was introduced to elders who had worked closely with Newman. It was also during this time, in the summer of 1957, that he had his first paid field job in archaeology in the Owahe Reservoir in South Dakota. In the summer of 1958 he had a job as seasonal ranger-archaeologist in Mesa Verde National Park. A few months later he would marry his first wife Audrey, also an archaeologist.
In 1959, after one year working towards an MA in the Education Department at Berkeley, Phil realized his real passion was archaeology and he left for an M.A. program in archaeology at the University of Arizona, Tucson. During the summers Phil worked as a ranger and archaeologist for the National Park Service at Natural Bridges and Arches National Monuments. In 1961 he worked on excavations for the Museum of New Mexico in the soon to be inundated Navajo Reservoir. In 1962 and ’63 he was hired to work on the Glenn Canyon Project run by the University of Arizona at Flagstaff. This was a huge unstudied area that was soon to be flooded. The excavations at Neshkahai Village on Paiute Mesa provided the data for his M.A. thesis.
In the fall of 1963, Phil was given the opportunity to work for two years in Egypt doing archaeology salvage work before the flooding on completion of the Aswan Dam. He was able to excavate and survey some very interesting prehistoric sites in Egypt and Sudan. There were visits and field trips to other excavations including the fossil hominid sites in Olduvai Gorge.
After the Egyptian project, Phil applied for and received his first faculty position at the University of Montana in Missoula. It was there that his son Alan was born in 1967. Daughter Jenny was soon to follow in 1968.
After two years in Montana, Roy Carlson, a friend of Phil’s from graduate days, contacted him about a teaching position in the Political Science, Sociology, and Anthropology department at the recently opened Simon Fraser University where he was on faculty. As Audrey’s family was from Vancouver, he leapt at the chance. In 1967 he made the move to SFU. This was to be a fortuitous move. After a short, dissatisfactory time as part of the PSA department, the Marxist politics and student uprisings within the department motivated Roy and Phil to petition the university to establish the stand alone Department of Archaeology. It was to be one of the first archaeology departments in North America.
Phil was to start a long-term field teaching program with a focus on B.C.’s central coast. Archaeology in this area was previously virtually unknown due to it’s remote geography and difficult access. This didn’t stop Phil, it was right up his alley. He spent 37 years teaching and doing field work for SFU.
Phil began his work in the Central Coast in 1968 with a wide ranging boat survey of the area. That first summer Phil recorded a number of important archaeological sites including Namu with its 10,000 years of cultural deposits and the waterlogged site of Axeti with its astonishing collection of basketry, cordage, hats, and wooden artifacts preserved in the mud.
Over the years Phil excavated a number of village sites in Nuxalk territory. These include Axeti, Nutlitliqotlenk, and Joashila in Kwatna Inlet and at Nutl, Anutcix, and Kimsquit at the head of Dean Channel. Phil directed the Bella Coola Villages project from 1987 to 1990 conducting excavations at Nusqualst, Qwliuth, and Snxlhh.
He spent three seasons excavating at Tsini tsini, a very early lithic site near Stuie. His last excavation was done in 2001, the year he retired at the Salloomt site near Mill Creek.
Phil also surveyed the Stikine River, around Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii, around Northern Vancouver Island, Hole in the Wall Valley in Dean Channel, and the Central Coast intertidal lithic sites. Phil did most of these surveys using the archaeology department’s 40′ research vessel, the Sisiutl. He reckoned he’d spent a total of three years living on and running that boat up and down the coast and five years living and working out of tents.
He excavated at Mackenzie’s Rock and at Q’elk (Fort McLoughlin). He spent two seasons excavating on Pender Island in the Gulf Islands and excavated in Barkerville’s Chinatown. He worked on the Snare River and at Kakisa Lake in the North West Territories and was involved in field schools in Wyoming and the Fijian Islands, as well as his beloved New Mexico.
Most of Phil’s research projects were combined with field schools. These teaching-research projects were nearly all carried out on the central and northern coast of British Columbia. More than 400 undergraduate and about 30 graduate students participated in these field schools. In addition to academic publications and reports, student participation in these projects has resulted in numerous term papers, B.A. honours essays, M.A. theses, and PhD. dissertations.
Over the years Nuxalk students too numerous to name here have participated in Phil’s field schools. He developed a deep respect and lasting friendship with many of the Nuxalk people, especially the elders, who also treasured his friendship as he did theirs. Over the years, Phil was honoured with three Nuxalk names.
In 1995, Phil, now divorced for some time, married Inge Dahm, also an archaeologist. They were married in the historical Augsborg Church in the Bella Coola Valley.
Phil planned a busy retirement life of working on small field contracts, writing articles and reports on the prolific data from years of excavations, finishing the ‘wee house’ and the new building on the Salloomt property, travelling and visiting with his many friends and relatives all over the world. Phil and his wife, Inge, were preparing to teach yet another field school in 2004, this one with UNBC Prince George, when Phil was diagnosed with Stage IV adenocarcinoma of the lung.
During the devastating first months of chemotherapy Phil began to write down the stories of his life. This kept him focused and kept him from dwelling on his illness. These stories of his family and life and times became a book, Incidents Along the Way.
After Phil died, a Nuxalk memorial service was held at the United Church in Bella Coola to honor him. At the reception that followed, Chief Archie Pootlass gave a moving testimony that encompassed the depth of emotion and the gratitude that the Nuxalkmc have for Phil.
Phil had so much energy and desire to share his devotion for ‘exploring the past’. He wanted to connect with people whether they lived 2000 years ago, or today. He loved to teach, and had a passion for photography and fly fishing.
Phil Hobler passed away early on July 19, 2006. He is survived by his wife, Inge, son, Alan, both residing in the Bella Coola Valley; daughter, Jennifer, in Ladner; stepson, Tristan; sister, Elizabeth Stockton; cousin, Richard Spas; as well as other cousins, nieces, and nephews.
An open memorial service will be held at the Augsborg Church on Sept. 2 with a reception following at Gary and Sandy Shelton’s home in Hagensborg.