A trestle on the Snohoosh flume

A trestle on the Snohoosh flume

Golden Country: Past, Present, and Beyond: Ghosts of Walhachin part three

The new settlement begins to grow, with seedlings planted, new buildings going up, and the all-important flume constructed.

Part three of a series looking at the history of Walhachin.

We have seen the glowing terms in which The British Columbia Horticultural Estates Limited—the company formed to deal with agricultural development at Walhachin—described the new settlement, in a 1909 advertising pamphlet designed to attract people to the area. Entitled “Walhachin British Columbia: In the Heart of the Dry Belt—For Commercial Fruit Growing”, it detailed—sometimes in a way that can only be described as “fanciful”—what awaited prospective emigrants in Walhachin.

The Walhachin Hotel advertised its rates at the back of the pamphlet. “The Sportsman and Tourist Especially Catered For”, the ad noted. “The Thompson River—almost a stone’s throw from the hotel—affords excellent trout fishing. Ducks, geese, and blue grouse are fairly common, and within a few miles there is splendid wild fowl shooting, and a fair quantity of mule deer.” The “American Plan” at the hotel cost $2.50 to $3.50 per night (bath 25 cents extra), but there was also a special rate for settlers: board and lodging for $35 per month, $10 per week, or $2 per day. Special rates for families “with or without children” were also offered. The hotel was described as “Furnished and conducted on English lines. Spacious and comfortable public rooms [which included a billiards room, card room, and men’s and ladies’ sitting-rooms]. Post and telegraph office.” The telegraphic and cable address was given as “Hotel, Pennys, British Columbia”.

The elegant dining-room of the Walhachin Hotel. Photo courtesy Ashcroft Museum and Archives.

The enthusiastic pamphleteering succeeded. By July 1910 some 56 people had arrived from England, and another 50 or so people had purchased property or were on the point of doing so. Eighty per cent of the new arrivals were between the ages of 18 and 39.

Newcomers immediately set to work planting fruit trees on their property, and those who arrived early enough in 1910 to take advantage of the growing season planted tomatoes, potatoes, and onions between the rows of fruit trees as intermediate crops. These crops were of huge importance to the new community, for settlers knew it would be four to five years before the fruit trees were mature enough to produce crops (and some varieties of apple tree would take even longer to start bearing fruit).

Work on building amenities for the new town continued apace. Before the spring of 1910 a general store, a bunkhouse for workers, and a CPR foreman’s house had been constructed, and when the snow melted a house for manager Charles Barnes was completed (the house, looking much as it did in 1910, still stands). In August 1910 the main square of the townsite was laid out, and a road was cleared and levelled between the CP station and the hotel.

The house built for manager Charles Barnes, which still stands today. Photo courtesy Ashcroft Museum and Archives.

In October 1910 the Walhachin post office was established. The Ashcroft Journal noted, in its October 12, 1910 edition, that since the daily mail arrived at the settlement on a train which arrived very early in the morning, the postmaster, Reginald Pole, “would have to accustom himself to getting up very early.”

More than 20 Chinese labourers were employed at the site, clearing land and planting seedlings. In late October, 1910 a Chinese laundry was built on low-lying land to the east of the townsite, near a readily available water supply, and was quickly overrun with orders.

Even more important, in many ways, than construction of the town was the construction of a method of getting water to the soon-to-be planted orchards. Some 35,000 seedlings had been ordered; but they needed water in order to grow. The 1,000 acres of orchard land and the townsite on the south side of the river had limited but sufficient nearby water supplies; but for the 4,000 acres of proposed orchards on the north side, across the Thompson River, it was a different story. Barnes searched the hills behind the fields, and eventually found a free-flowing water source fed by underground springs: Deadman’s Creek. The only difficulty was that it was located 12 miles from Walhachin; a long way to bring water.

Eventually Barnes and his orchardists decided to build a wooden flume, six feet wide and 30 inches deep, which would be supported on wooden trestles. The course of the flume would snake down the hills toward Walhachin, and the gravity-propelled flow would bring water to a series of irrigation ditches that would be dug between the rows of trees.

Barnes, the orchardists, and the scores of Chinese labourers who were hired to build the flume knew that it had to be built quickly, in order to start providing water for the orchards as soon as possible. The intermediate crops that settlers were planting would provide little more than living expenses; they would not turn a profit. And settlers were already being charged an annual water fee of $4 per each acre of orchard land owned; an amount that would have to be increased if the flume took too long to build.

Barnes also knew that the flume had to be built for as little money as possible, since the company financing the project had taken out a large bank loan to raise the required funds to build the settlement, and had no wish to go any deeper in debt than it already was. Work proceeded almost immediately, which meant there was no time to consult a professional engineer. Whether or not corners were also cut during construction, to save money, cannot be known at this date; and whether or not these corners—if they were indeed cut—led to the major issues with the flume that ultimately contributed to the downfall of Walhachin, is a matter for sad speculation, more than a century later.

Digging the main irrigation ditch. Photo courtesy Ashcroft Museum and Archives.

But the immediate upshot of the project was that in just over six month, Barnes and his team had constructed 12 miles of flume, which enabled irrigation of the orchards north of the Thompson. Walhachin was well and truly on its way.

To be continued