Past, Present & Beyond – Summer Staycation Pt. 6: Heritage and History

Barbara Roden's bi-monthly stories of local history and historical events.

The summer travel season is nearly at an end for another year. There’s time, however, for one more set of staycation recommendations, for those who want to travel and see some sites during the day, but return to their own beds each night. This time out we’re going to visit some of the historic sites in our area; everything from ancient First Nations sites to places that speak of the pioneering past.

The Clinton Museum is well worth a visit. It was built in 1892 of local brick which was provided by a short-lived business in the area, and is the only surviving brick building in the town. The museum began life as a schoolhouse, and was also used as a courtroom when need arose. It became a museum in 1956, and houses a large collection of artifacts and documents, records and photographs, about Clinton and the surrounding area going back to the Gold Rush days. Further exhibits are in a wooden building on the museum grounds.

Historic Hat Creek Ranch almost certainly needs no introduction. It’s one of the few surviving examples of the roadhouses which were spread along the Cariboo Wagon Road, providing food, drink, and accommodation (for people and their horses), and has been beautifully restored and preserved. Stepping back into the roadhouse, where interpreters in period costume regale you with stories of the property and some of the larger-than-life people who lived there, is like stepping back into the 1860s. Ask about the resident ghosts: there are several (more about them another time). A tour of the grounds is well worth your time: you can visit the blacksmith shop and see the smithy at work (and maybe try your hand at pounding a horseshoe), see how good you are at archery, ride in the famous BX Express stagecoach, and visit a First Nations interpretative centre, where members of the Secwepemc FN will explain their history, culture, and way of life.

A few miles down the road is Ashcroft Manor, another former roadhouse, built by early settlers Henry and Clement Cornwall. The main building by the highway is the original roadhouse built in 1863, and at least two of the elm trees standing beside it were brought over from England as seedlings by the Cornwall brothers, and are now well over 100 years old. One of the few Garbage Gobblers still on active duty in the province stands outside the Manor beside Hwy 1.

Take a detour into Ashcroft and visit the Museum, constructed as a public building which originally housed the post office, telegraph office, Customs agent, and telephone exchange in 1917. There are fascinating exhibits that allow you to walk through Ashcroft’s past, and don’t miss the mining display on the second floor. The Chinese cemetery to the east of town beside Hwy 97C has recently been restored, with a large display board describing Ashcroft’s once-thriving Chinatown and the importance of Chinese immigrants to the province and our area.

Ancient burial sites, and preserved cave paintings, are at the summit of Savona Mountain, which overlooks Kamloops Lake. The caves were not used for burials; the Secwepemc people believed that harmful spirits known as “land mysteries” lived in them. However, remains of burial sites in more open land are evident on the side of the mountain near the summit. The cave paintings were made by “the people of long ago” and are painted in red, the colour of life, good luck, and virtue.

Scattered throughout the area are the features known by First Nations people as “coyote rocks”; the most well-known one is probably the “Balancing Rock” between the top of Six Mile Hill and Savona, to the north of Hwy 1. These columns or pillars with a rock balanced atop them are formed when a “cap” rock of hard material sits on top of softer sedimentary rock and silt, which gradually erodes, leaving the harder material perched on top. According to Secwepemc legend these markers were created long ago by the Old One (Creator) and his main assistant, Coyote, to mark Secwepemc territory.

The Soldiers Memorial Hall in Walhachin was constructed in 1912, and while it was used as a fruit packing house it also served a more vital function to the town’s residents: a central place for entertainment in the community. Walhachin was becoming known for its large gatherings, and the hall – with its spruce-planked floating dance floor set on springs – was very popular with residents and guests. A stage extended across the full width of the hall, with actors’ dressing-rooms (now the washrooms) behind. The name was bestowed on the hall after World War I, which saw 97 of the 117 men living in Walhachin at the time enlist; few of them returned. The hall, which is currently undergoing extensive renovations, contains a museum which explores the short but eventful life of Walhachin, the not-quite-ghost-town.

The Packing House in Spences Bridge is now a popular restaurant, but it started life more than 100 years ago as exactly what the name says: a packing house for the fruit (mainly apples) produced by Jessie Smith, better known as Widow Smith of Spences Bridge, whose apples were specifically requested by King Edward VII of England at the Royal Horticultural Fair in London. The apples from Mrs. Smith’s orchards were carefully graded and sorted, with any long stems trimmed so they would not cause bruising (one bruised apple could ruin an entire box); then each apple was carefully wrapped in cotton batting and placed in a wooden packing box, for shipment all over the world.

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date,” wrote Shakespeare. It seems no time at all since this summer’s series started; I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have!

Barbara Roden

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