It was Jan 10, 1972 when Don pointed the hood of the Chevy wagon north on Highway 97.
Jean in the right seat, the children Gordon, 7, and Barb, 4, in the back, tucked in the mountain of stuff going to their new home – the old Lattis Resort on Canim Lake.
It was a tough winter that year; colder than anything this young couple had faced, but Don knew he and Jean could handle it. They always had; his south Vancouver automotive sales and repair business was a success, and Jean was an accomplished teacher.
And they were pushed by a firm hand – a shared concern their children have a healthy and wholesome place to grow up, away from the developing drug scene of the city.
But let’s go back a few years to the beginning. Don met Jean when she was six months old, and he a feisty two-and-a-half years.
“I used to poke fun at the funny little kid in the baby buggy,” says Don.
Their mothers were best friends, and as mothers often will, they “cooked up” a future for their children.
The romance began when Don and his shiny new ’54 Meteor Rideau were pressed into service for the wedding of Jean’s sister. One thing led to another and they married in 1959.
Don sold a boat he had built to finance their first home in South Vancouver. That became a pattern for the young couple, as they repaired and resold old cars, accumulating the cash that would eventually bring them north.
Like many new husbands, Don had unusual ideas about what made for the perfect gift. For their first Christmas, he souped up a cast-off MGA engine and presented it to Jean under the Christmas tree.
Later, he stuffed it under the hood of her ’51 Austin A40. It made for quite a machine.
In fact, he had visits from friends in the Vancouver police saying, “She’s racing kids from John Oliver High on 41st again!”
Says Jean: “There’s no way those little punks were going to beat me out at the light.”
Now, as they turned their Chevy north, the young couple was blissfully unaware their inventiveness and mettle were to be sorely tested. It was -35 C when they arrived at the lake, and it took a hired Cat to plow them through the eight feet of snow to the house. “After that, it kept on snowing,” says Don. “I’d shovel from eight in the morning until 10, stop for coffee, and then start all over again.”
The lodge, built for the summer, leaked heat like water through a sieve.
“We threw 65 cords of wood through the massive stone fireplace,” says Don, “and I don’t think we ever got the place up to 15 C.
“When I wasn’t shovelling, we were out cutting firewood. And when we weren’t doing that, we were thawing frozen water lines.”
Well, the lifestyle settled out to be everything they had hoped for their family. Canim Lake was a hub then, and the area bustled. The Bond’s sawmill was operating at Susan Lake; the Hendrix Mine was going; and there were small sawmills throughout the area.
“There were two teachers at the Eagle Creek School,” says Jean, “and 40 children.
“The Eagle Creek Community Hall was packed for monthly dances; people coming from as far as 100 Mile House. There were 15 resorts on the lake then.”
Jean began teaching kindergarten in Forest Grove in 1973, and continued for 22 years. For the first four years, she ran a special program for the Canim Lake Reserve children.
Together, they operated the resort through its five-month season. In the off-months, Don variously repaired motors, drove the tank truck for Standard Oil, went logging, or worked in the lab at the mine.
The children thrived in the rich atmosphere of family, community and the many guests who visited the lodge. Canim Lake it seems now runs in their veins.
They have stayed in the Cariboo and visit often. Barb’s two sons are Don and Jean’s delight.
The couple sold the lodge in 1988 and moved to an adjoining property. Although they have visited every corner of Canada and the United States, Canim Lake is the place they want to be.
“Here, you can still drink the water and catch fish whenever you want,” says Don.
Jean adds it is the community that makes Canim Lake a special place.
They tell of an accident that laid them both up for a month. Every evening, some neighbour would appear unbidden at the door with supper.
“You may not see a person for months, but when you need help, they are right there without the asking,” says Don.
They have woven their own strong threads through the fabric of the community, helping others and working on the many community efforts in both Hawkins Lake and Canim Lake. The neighbours describe them as community-minded and thoughtful, family-oriented, loyal and generous friends.
“They will help anyone with anything,” one says. “They love to be involved.”