Walhachin Ways

5 07 2015

Just got back from a weekend away. We did what any sensible family does when the weather forecast is for 30ºC… go somewhere even hotter! [OK – to be clear, I hate the hot weather and tried really really hard to resist the over-whelming vote.]

We went camping to an old family favourite – Juniper Beach Provincial Park, just outside Cache Creek on the Kamloops road. It’s not to everyone’s taste. It is bordered by the Thompson River, complete with a protected swimming hole, and as well as several RV sites it has a beautifully flat, lawned tent area. The site is managed this year by a retired couple who were eager to help with change for the hot showers, advice on local hikes and attractions, etc. All in all – right up our street.

The downside? Oh… there’s just the little matter of the trains.

Tail end Charlie, offering a little extra push

Tail end Charlie, offering a little extra push

The site is on the north of the Thompson, and between it and the highway is the CN rail line. It’s a busy track carrying a lot of long freight trains every hour or so.

All night.

On the south side of the Thompson is the CPR line. It too carries a lot of freight. All night.

Add to that the tendency for heavy waggons to squeal when forced to negotiate tight bends and warm nights and you’ll perhaps see why the site was not as busy as one might otherwise expect.

We arrived at about 10:45pm having left White Rock reasonably sharpish after work on Friday. The night was still and there was a full moon – disturbingly red in colour due to the smoke in the air from all the forest fires at the moment. The tents went up quickly due to practice and my insistence that things are always put away “just so”.

Saturday was stupid hot. Mid thirties at least, and the narrow east-west valley formed by the river reflected the heat onto the campsite. After a hearty breakfast we headed off to Ashcroft which has a lovely little bakery that we like to frequent. Oh – and a liquor store, but that’s just by the by.

Despite the long hot summers, this is a fertile area, and a little relocation of the river water via pumps and pipes makes it a very productive farming area. That said, Ashcroft is struggling economically, and there were a few reminders that nature is always ready to reassert herself if the chance is given.

A small tester to see if anyone is noticing...

A small tester to see if anyone is noticing…

After stocking up on supplies we headed off for the main event… a visit to Walhachin. Walhachin is a fascinating place. Blink and you’d drive right past the turning on Highway 1 between Cache Creek and Kamloops. The road takes you down to the Thompson and over a girder bridge built in 1911 to help the village (300 strong back then) to trade its apples with the rest of the world.

Walhachin Bridge

Walhachin Bridge

Walhachin began in 1907 with the allocation of 5000 acres of land for growing fruit. In the end it turned out that less than 2000 acres were suitable for growing, but they were very suitable indeed! An American engineer – C.E. Barnes – saw the potential of irrigating the fertile, sun-drenched benches above the Thompson when he visited Penny’s orchard at the little CPR station. He managed to get support from the Marquis of Anglesey – a rich Brit – and they formed “the BC Horticultural Estate”. The 5000 acres of crown land was bought at a dollar an acre, and a dam was built on Deadman Lake – due north of Walhachin. Using his engineering skills and Chinese labour, a wooden flume was built to supply water from the dam to Walhachin, carefully contouring the hills along the way to ensure a steady flow of the precious water. This avoided the need to pump it up from the much closer, but lower, Thompson.

The town was ultra-modern and attracted lots of English “second sons” – wealthy gentlemen in search of adventure as an alternative to joining the clergy or – later ironically – the army. A new house included hot and cold running water, inside toilet and all “mod cons”.

Every convenience

Every convenience

It was a model town, complete with hotel, school, ice rink (hey – this is Canada!), swimming pool – the lot! The men worked hard, and the town prospered. The water brought the fertile land to life and 100 years on, some of the fruit trees are still producing.

Walhachin Apricots

Walhachin Apricots

Then, just as Walhachin celebrated a bumper crop in 1914… news arrived of a dire conflict in Europe. By 1916 there was not a single man of fighting age in Walhachin. The call for help was heeded and men – often with their entire families – headed back to Blighty to fulfil their duty. After some debate, Canada itself sent thousands of men to help the mother country too.

The women and children left in Walhachin were not able to continue the hard work that orchard farming demanded. After the war, the men who had survived the hardships in Europe or further afield were tired, and few returned to Walhachin to help salvage the now-struggling community. The Marquis decided to withdraw – having spent $1.5M – and offered the land to the provincial government as a soldier settlement scheme. The project had proved itself viable, but needed manpower. The government turned him down and instead began a similar scheme near Oliver (now a fruit and wine growing area).

Today, Walhachin is barely a shadow of its heyday. At its peak 300+ people lived there. Now, barely 30 call it home, and some of them are mere weekend visitors. A casual walk identified 2 properties for sale – I’m sure others were available.

It’s a pretty little place, but sad too. It’s not so hard to imagine it once bustling with life and promise, but the dream was barely established when the horrors of war so far away, and the attendant duty felt by its founders, brought it crashing down. The little museum does its best to keep the history alive and identified an area where the First Nations had left a shell midden – attesting to the plentiful supply of fresh water clams they harvested pre-contact.

BC is a special place, and these little pockets of history make it very real and tactile. It’s a vast place, but it has very human stories we can all identify with.




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