Lac La Hache was once the place to be in the South Cariboo.
It was renowned for its lake. Known as the ice-fishing hub of the Cariboo, the lake teemed with Kokanee, Rainbow and Lake Trout. It had swimming competitions. In 1967, the community was even mentioned in Maclean’s magazine for its Cariboo Regatta, which drew big hydroplanes from Seattle and all across the U.S.
Diane Wood remembers the days when the regatta came to town.
“It was quite a weekend,” says Diane, who grew up at Hungry Bear Restaurant, which her parents built in 1966 and had opened as Rose’s Restaurant and Drive-In. “There were people and cars everywhere. It was a bustling little community.”
There were six gas stations with mechanics in town at the time, along with two grocery stores, three schools, three ice rinks and three hockey teams. Once a week, staffers at the Bank of Montreal travelled down from Williams Lake and set up shop for the day in a rented room off the end of the pool hall.
The town was propped up financially by several sawmills that would use the lake to boom logs up and down, before shipping the wood out on the railroad. They called them “small mills,” Diane’s husband Norman says, as they employed people with smaller equipment. A guy with a skidder would skid in a load of logs a day and make a living at that.
Today, there are only two or three contractors doing all the logging, with big equipment, but aren’t making much as the mills dictate what they will take, he says.
“The community hall was busy almost every night of the week. We didn’t have TV or anything,” said Norman, whose family built the Lac La Hache motel after his parents moved there from 100 Mile House in 1958. “Friday nights or Saturday nights they’d have movies at the community hall. There were dances and Teen Club, and Scouts and Cubs and Guides.”
There was an old log school, which is being used now as part of the thrift shop. A former two-room school had been where the Old Age Pensioners’ Hall sits now.
“Back in the day there were lots of young families and lots of kids and lots of activities going on,” says Diane. “We had a lot of fun growing up here.”
Diane says everyone pitched in. “You know, our parents, they all volunteered, working on all these things bringing business in and stuff.”
Parents also took the time to plan and organize events for the youth in the area.
“There was a place called ‘The Shack,’” said Diane. “Parents took turns throughout the year chaperoning so the young people could play records, buy a hot dog or a pop. Carloads of kids would come from 100 Mile and Williams Lake.
“I always say that we were really lucky ‘cause we grew up in a wonderful time in a wonderful place,” she adds. “There weren’t all the things that people with children now have to worry about. It was a simpler time.”
Third-generation South Cariboo rancher, Marvin Monical, 62, remembers being pulled off the school bus one spring at 111 Mile to help his father pull a calf from its mother. Monical says he went back to school “not smelling the best” covered in cow and calf mucus.
“That’s the kind of community we’re in. I consider this place home.”
Today Lac La Hache is more of a retirement community.
Monical and the Woods agree that new infrastructure is needed to draw in young people with families to the area. Lac La Hache and the South Cariboo as a whole is a great place to raise children, but there just isn’t enough work to attract those young families, says Monical.
Yvette Betz, owner of the Lac La Hache Bakery, says it’s tough to find skilled employees as “younger people want to be where the action is.” The bakery had to hire a baker from overseas.
Even when they do find someone, there are other problems: the lack of housing. If there is a job, there is nowhere for them to live.
But times may be changing.
Rangeland Motel owner George Lee rents out his rooms monthly for about $800. He notes two other motels have sold and reopened as hotels while the fourth closed after its owner retired.
Manpreet Padda and her family have leased the old Hungry Bear location and are anticipating opening the doors by the end of September.
Both she and her husband each have 10 years’ cooking experience and plan to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner with a menu that will include “Canadian food like burgers, veal cutlets, liver, steaks, turkey and beef.”
Al Richmond, Cariboo Regional District director for Electoral Area G (108 Mile-Lac La Hache), says it’s a challenge to ensure communities like Lac La Hache have the necessary amenities and services, including housing as the population continues to grow. People are looking to areas like the South Cariboo for affordable housing as it has become tough in larger urban centers.
According to the Lac La Hache Area Official Community Plan, the community will need 115 new housing units by 2031 within the Plan Area to meet the anticipated housing demand.
Richmond says the CRD plans to replace the community’s aging pump house adding that the water and sewer system can’t handle the demand of an increased population.
“Many people move here for a rural lifestyle and then they find some of the conveniences they might have had in a more urban centre are not available,” Richmond says.
While Lac La Hache has its challenges, Monical says the community always comes through to help one another when needed.
“I always say that we were really lucky because we grew up in a wonderful time in a wonderful place.”
With files from Patrick Davies