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New gift shop at Historic Hat Creek completed on time and on budget.

The gift shop is ready to go for when the site opens for the season on May 1.
The new gift shop at Historic Hat Creek (right) is ready to go when the site opens on May 1.

Historic Hat Creek Ranch unveiled its new gift shop on April 21, in advance of the site’s opening; and the new building is not the only change at the site.

As of this season, the site is being re-branded as “Historic Hat Creek” (HHC), dropping the “Ranch” part of its name. The site commemorates the Cariboo gold rush days, before it became a ranch, and visitors were often confused, expecting to see horses and herds of cattle there. Hat Creek did not become a ranch until well after the gold rush ended.

A new gift shop at the site has “been a dream for a long time,” says Robert Sharkey, chair of the board of Friends of Historic Hat Creek. “[Board member] Bruce Walker had been working on it, and when I joined the board three years ago I said ‘Let’s make it happen.’”

Sharkey worked with Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT), and eventually 54 per cent of the funds came from them, with the provincial government’s Heritage Branch (which owns the site) and HHC providing the rest of the money. Work on the new gift shop—which sits beside the restaurant, and is connected to it via a covered walkway—started when the site closed last October.

The former gift shop was above the restaurant, with no access for those with mobility issues, and at 700 square feet had limited display space. The restaurant also served as the admissions area for those wanting to visit or camp at the site, leading to congestion, and to staff having to switch from one job to another.

The new shop is 1,340 square feet, and entrance to the site and campground will be through it rather than the restaurant. “It will get the visiting traffic separate from the restaurant traffic,” says HHC general manager Don Pearse. “Visitors, campers, and shoppers will go through the shop, which will eliminate congestion so staff can help people better.”

Pearse adds that one of the nicest features of the new shop—a 12-foot-deep covered porch—was something of a happy accident. “The original plan was to have the two buildings flush with each other, but there was a buried Hydro line, so BC Hydro made us push the building back, and we gained 12 feet for a porch. It will be a nice place for a husband to sit while his wife shops.”

The ribbon-cutting for the new gift shop at Historic Hat Creek. Photo by Barbara Roden.

Sharkey says that the former gift shop is being turned into rental board room space seating up to 20 people, available to anyone who would like to use it. He adds that because of its location above the restaurant, catering will also be available.

“The really important thing about the new gift shop is that it came in on time and on budget,” he continues. “Don [Pearse] was the project manager, and he worked night and day all winter to keep things on target despite the weather. He’s the reason it’s a success.

“And we received great support from NDIT, from the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board, Jackie Tegart, and Gold Country Communities Society. They all wrote strong letters of support that helped us get the gift shop funding.”

Now that work is complete on the gift shop, attention turns to construction of a new fire hall and maintenance base, which will have staff accommodation upstairs, at the north end of the site across the road from the gift shop. The building is fully funded, and the hope is to have it complete by the end of the season.

“The funding for the building comes entirely from the provincial government, thanks to Jackie Tegart,” says Pearse. “The fire truck is currently at the south end of the site, with only one building past it. The new location will be much better, as any fire is likely to be at the north end.”

Historic Hat Creek opens for the season on May 1. Last year saw a record-breaking 21,000 visitors at the site, which was a prominent roadhouse on the old Cariboo Wagon Road.