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Friends of Walhachin keep unique piece of B.C. history alive

Annual Walhaschindig celebration raises funds to support historic Soldiers Memorial Hall

Since 2016, the Friends of Walhachin have been hosting the annual Walhaschindig event, drawing people to the most famous “ghost town” in the Southern Interior and highlighting the community’s historic Soldiers Memorial Hall, which doubles as a museum that sets out the history of the town.

This year’s Walhaschindig is coming up on Saturday, June 1, and attendees will be able to get a good look at the museum and its many exhibits. However, the Friends are trying something new this year, opening the museum from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week (Thursday through Monday, by donation) through the end of September and inviting people to drop by and take a look.

“The objective is to show people what happened in Walhachin from 1910 to 1914,” explains Assu Nydam, president of the Friends of Walhachin. The period covers Walhachin’s heyday, when hopes were high that the community — largely populated by members of the British upper classes — would become an orchard paradise. An opulent hotel was built, elegant houses were erected, and Walhachin soon boasted a barbershop, a restaurant, and a general store, three laundries, a butcher shop, a bakery and tea room, a dairy, a livery stable, a shop selling ladies’ clothing and notions, two insurance offices, a wood and coal yard, and a post office.

There was a swimming pool, and a community hall, and the town was lit by electric carbide lights and had hot and cold running water. A 12-mile-long flume brought water to the orchards, and everything looked rosy.

However, many of the British men who had flocked to Walhachin had military connections, and when World War I started in August 1914, many of them left for the Western Front. Over the course of the war many more left, and did not return; their families also packed up and moved, leaving the dream in tatters.

Leanne Morden, the Friends’ secretary-treasurer, will be volunteering her time this summer to staff the museum. She says that a lot of the people who visit have heard of Walhachin, and know a little bit about its history.

“A couple came today from Kamloops, because they like the history and wanted to learn a bit more. It’s about gaining more knowledge. Most people are aware of some of the history, but they’re surprised to find so few people living here.”

“People can’t believe it when we say there are 40 people living here,” says Nydam. “They say ‘You mean 4,000? 400?’ and I say ‘No, 40.’”

He adds that the museum contains more than just the history of Walhachin. “We’ve diversified to include other types of artifacts, and have acquired a lot of historical items. We have a militaria section, including a sword from the 31st BC Horse, and a nice display of McAbee fossils, as well as equine- and cavalry-related items, a cutter sleigh, toys from the 1920s and 1930s, and we’re building up a railway section.”

Locals are able to use the hall at no charge, although donations are welcome, and Nydam says it gets used for a variety of events, from a Canada Day gathering and community meetings to celebrations of life; it has also served as a polling station for elections.

“Walhaschindig helps keep the hall open as an entity,” says Nydam. “If anyone in town wants to use the hall they shouldn’t have to pay for it, and Walhaschindig helps to defray costs.”

“The hall has become a community hub,” says Morden. “We’ve put the displays around the perimeter so people can still use it as community hall. We’re on a shoestring budget, but it’s an absolute gem of a hall, and something Walhachin should be very, very proud of.”

Nydam echoes the sentiment. “It’s unique for a community of this size to have such a hall. But we have a passion for history, and it’s well worth keeping the history of Walhachin alive.”

“It’s a big commitment, keeping the museum open 25 hours a week,” adds Morden. “We’ll assess it at the end of the season. But it’s about getting to be known out there so people know about us.”

The Friends have received grants from the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and from Northern Development Initiative Trust, for items such as rolling display cases and an AED unit that will be placed in the hall. Walhaschindig is another way of raising funds for the hall, with all donations received going back to defray the operating costs.

This year’s event on June 1 starts at 10 a.m. and runs to 6 p.m. The licenced event will feature a variety of foods (including authentic Mexican cuisine), beer and wine sales, outdoor family games, a 50/50 draw, door prizes, and a full line-up of music, with artists including the Kamloops Ukulele Orchestra, Tangleroot, Colin Mastin, Kendra Grand-Maison, Roxanne Hall, The Dire Heart, and more.

There will also be Walhachin merchandise for sale, including T-shirts, hats, books, and toques (with removable pom-poms) that were hand-knit by Morden over the winter. Entry is complimentary, but all donations are welcome, and will help to support the hall. Debit and credit cards are accepted, for purchases and donations.

“It’s an opportunity for locals to come up on stage and perform, and people can dance and sing along,” says Nydam. “all the musicians from last year wanted to come back. It’s great to see people getting enjoyment out of it, and it makes us happy.”