Square dancing led Willy Giesbrecht into Lac La Hache but the community kept him there.
Giesbrecht, 86, found himself thrown into the local square dance movement shortly after he and his wife Irene retired to the Forest Grove in 1994. A former square dance caller for 48 years, he had hoped to take a break from swinging his partner but couldn’t help himself.
“We were going to take a year or two off but I was calling at the time. That fall we formed our first club at 150 Mile,” Giesbrecht said. “We were also dancing with clubs in Lac La Hache, Lone Butte and 100 Mile. Unfortunately, the square dance movement in 100 Mile and all of B.C. is pretty much dead. There’s not the activity there used to be.”
But while the square dancers left the hall, Giesbrecht didn’t, continuing to participate in the Lac La Hache community. He got into volunteering gradually, he said, is now the current president of the OAP, which oversees events and activities at the Cariboo Pioneer Centre. Prior to COVID, the hall hosted several community dinners every year and at least seven to eight user groups – from exercise classes to Bluegrass, kickboxing, cards and Zumba.
“It’s basically just a matter of keeping thing in line and stomping out the little grass fires that show up,” Giesbrecht said of his role.
To him, volunteering is a natural progression of living in a community, whether it’s cooking hotdogs at the Forest Grove community hall on Halloween or holding square dancing jamborees that used to draw in more than a hundred participants.
“Volunteer when you get the chance, particularly as you get older because as your movements are restricted there’s only so much you can do and usually the socializing aspect is the one that falls off first,” said Giesbrecht, who has two children and two grandchildren. “It’s surprising in some ways to find out the number of people who come there just to socialize.”
Giesbrecht, who spent 30 years in the Fraser Canyon before moving to the Cariboo, loves the wide open spaces. He and his wife used to take their fifth wheel to the local lakes, while Giesbrecht “used to come here chasing moose track too. It’s nice country.”
While they love the Lac La Hache community, the Giesbrechts moved to 100 Mile in 2010 to be close to medical services. To kill time in the winter, Willy does woodwork, creating everything from salt-and-pepper shakers to napkin holders, which he flogs at the Heritage Market in the 108. “I go to get involved a little bit with the community, to meet a few different people, hear a few different stories.
“You can’t live in the community and take all the time, you have to give something back. It makes you feel not so bad at all.”