Sally Carter, front, and Trish Hoy take a ride around Sepa Lake in 108 Mile Ranch (Kelly Sinoski, 100 Mile Free Press photo)

Sally Carter, front, and Trish Hoy take a ride around Sepa Lake in 108 Mile Ranch (Kelly Sinoski, 100 Mile Free Press photo)

Newcomers ‘live their dreams’ in Cariboo

People are leaving big-city jobs for life in the South Cariboo.

While working from home during the pandemic, Sally Carter had a realization: she couldn’t return to a two-hour daily commute.

In July, she packed up her horses and moved to a 1.5-acre parcel in 108 Mile Ranch, where she can ride in the morning, kayak in the afternoon and find everything she needs a stone’s throw away at the local supermarket. And the best part? It’s only a 15-minute drive to her job as an administrative worker with the 100 Mile District General Hospital.

“Literally my gates open onto the trails,” said Carter, who had previously lived in Savona and commuted to Kamloops for work. “It’s rural but you’ve got a supermarket, community water … you have all the services. it’s a nice little community.”

Carter is just one of many newcomers leaving big-city jobs for life in the South Cariboo, drawn to the area’s outdoor lifestyle, friendly vibe and affordable housing. In the past two months, realtors say the number of sales has doubled over last summer, with most buyers coming from the Lower Mainland or the Okanagan in search of second homes, recreational properties or a work-from-home haven to ride out COVID-19 (See related story page 3).

While 10 years ago it was mostly retirees coming here looking for a spot on Green Lake or Sheridan Lake, the trend is starting to shift, with young people or families returning home or starting over in the South Cariboo.

“That is still happening with people living out their dreams on the lake but that’s changed quite a bit with younger people moving here,” said Joanne Doddridge, the District’s economic development officer. “They have a chance to sort of live their dreams and have the horses they always wanted and maybe some property. It’s affordable here. People can go fishing and boating and quadding and skiing with their families.”

The District doesn’t have specific numbers on new arrivals, but more young people are being seen across the region, particularly in its parks and schools. Horse Lake Elementary last year, for instance, couldn’t squeeze in one more body. The school district added another division this spring, for 20-27 students, and that was already starting to fill up before COVID-19 struck, SD27 Supt. Chris van der Mark said.

Doddridge credits the mini-boom to word-of-mouth, saying many people move here and tell their friends and family about the great things the area has to offer. Tiffany Heinrich is one of those people, choosing to move from Enderby to 100 Mile with her two-year-old daughter Gracie at the start at COVID-19 because her parents were nearby. Now, she says, two of her best friends are thinking of joining her.

”I just really loved this area, and it’s a great opportunity for my daughter to grow up in a small town,” she said, noting she got lucky finding a rental in a brand-new duplex in 100 Mile House. “People are very nice, very welcoming, as soon as they see you’re new.

“I have friends thinking of moving here because of the cost of living. You get so much more for your buck.

“One of my friends says I can be a Disney princess out here because there are so many animals.”

The trend is a welcome sight to Mayor Mitch Campsall, who said the District is looking at ways to make 100 Mile a “friendlier, better spot to live” by providing more residential housing and recreational opportunities. It is also trying to attract businesses and industries, such as manufacturing, to fill the gap left from when the mills closed.

Like many areas of the Cariboo, 100 Mile House is facing a labour shortage among every sector – retail professionals to medical personnel are in high demand. A labour market study by the Cariboo Regional District suggests at least 1,835 new workers will be needed in the region over the next five years, with the healthcare sector having the biggest shortfall of applicants to current job postings.

However, while both B.C. and the Cariboo Chilcotin are considered desirable places to live by out-of-province respondents, both employers and job seekers cited difficulties finding childcare and housing as major obstacles.

READ MORE: Hot demand for real estate in South Cariboo

“We’re doing everything we can. In the last three years, we’re getting more young people moving back and more seniors coming up. We seem to be getting lots more people moving into the Cariboo,” Campsall said. “It’s going to be awhile but hopefully we can get industries here. It’s a good place to do business and a safe place to raise your family. We’re a small vibrant community. We’ve gone through crisis after crisis and we’re still standing strong.”

The District is working on updating its investment and residential and business materials, Doddridge said, to help businesses attract and retain workers, as well as improve its community marketing.

For Kelowna nanny Linda Sianchuk, the area has everything she wants. She plans to visit the 100 Mile area this weekend with her husband and 20-year-old daughter to look at properties for sale, with a plan to move next spring. She and her husband could sell their house in Kelowna and be nearly mortgage-free in the Cariboo, she said, while enjoying all the nearby lakes. Her husband would continue to work in the Lower Mainland and come home on weekends.

“Just from all the places I’ve looked at and researched, that would suit us the best, price-wise and lifestyle-wise,” Sianchuk said, noting she has fond memories of Mahood Lake.

Carter, who looked at several areas before choosing 108 Mile Ranch, said she isn’t surprised at the growing interest in the area.

“I think with COVID people are examining their lives more,” she said.”When you’re not allowed to go out and socialize, living in a city makes life a lot harder.”

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Sally Carter kayaks around 108 Mile Lake on the weekend (Kelly Sinoski - 100 Mile Free Press photo)