Salmon Arm is a city in the Southern Interior of British Columbia with a population of almost 17 and-a-half thousand people. This number swells in the summer with visitors from Alberta (Calgary), Vancouver and Asia, all heading to this small city located on the shores of Shuswap Lake. A tourist town, with many beaches, as well as camping facilities and houseboat rentals, I discovered that Salmon Arm is home to the longest wooden wharf in North America.
Even though Salmon Arm is only about an hour-and-a-half from my home, I've never really made the easy road trip to see what the draw was - other than the hundreds of houseboats one can rent on the lake. I decided to go and explore the area and become a tourist for a couple of days, exploring the back country roads and seeking out activities I don't normally have a chance to do - horseback riding, fishing and meandering through an old, restored village.
Like many tourists, I prefer to check into the hotel first so as soon as I hit my destination I checked in and got settled. My home away from home was to be the Prestige Harbourfront Resort - a property that sits right on the waterfront in the middle of the city with a popular Salmon Arm Bay Nature Enhancement Area at its back door.
WOW! It's a catchy acronym for Wednesday on the Wharf, a series of summer Wednesday evening musical concerts at Salmon Arm’s Marine Park. Musical styles ranging from jazz to rock, funk to folk are offered from mid-June through to the end of August. Held in the park’s gazebo, listeners are invited to bring a lawn chair or blanket and enjoy the music.
As soon as I unpacked, I stood on my hotel room's balcony and could see a crowd beginning to gather. After a small glass of wine, looking out over the lake, I decided to wander over to see what it was all about. Tonight's concert was one of the first of the summer - with the talent supplied by Jackson Jazz & Concert Bands, a local high school band. In an article in the Salmon Arm Observer, the reporter wrote that "longtime and popular music teacher, Brian Pratt-Johnson laughingly describes his Jackson charges at the beginning of the year as 60 students, all with noisemakers."
“It’s so nice to see a group of kids get together and produce something beautiful,” he says proudly.
The night I was there, sitting in a crowd of about 500 people of all ages, their music drifted over the crowd in harmony and brought me back to the day many, many years ago when I sang in the high school choir, backed by a 30-piece orchestra. From the smiles on the many seniors in the crowd, it appeared they were having the same reaction to the music.
As night drew to a close and the music died, I followed a crowd of people who headed to the wharf. Over the days I was here, it appeared this is a nightly ritual for many tourists, as well as locals.
Speaking to one of the oldtimers leaning on the wooden railing, he told me that the first wharf was built in 1865, to accommodate large stern wheelers for transporting goods and people in and out of the Shuswap area.
After the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived, steamboats continued to serve remote parts of Shuswap Lake right up to the 1930's. Over the years, the wharf deteriorated and it was rebuilt in 1986. It's still holding up pretty well from my viewpoint, down on the rocks, getting a low angle from below. After grabbing a quick shot, I walked to the end of the wharf to stare out at the boats docked, the water as calm as glass.
It doesn't take long to recognize a man who loves what he does - there's a twinkle in the eye and a permanent smile across his face. As he stands in the stern of his boat, a 2725 Kingfisher, getting ready for a morning on the water, that man, a lover of the outdoors, is Jason Bellows. Owner of Bucktail Adventures and also Westside Stores, a local hunting and fishing store in Salmon Arm, Jason was to be my guide this early morning out on the lake.
"I grew up on a farm in the Salmon Valley where fishing and hunting were a way of life for my father, three younger brothers and I. We fished small mountain lakes, rivers and the larger fresh water lakes in our area. I have spent a lot of time on Shuswap Lake and over the years we have caught some great fish." His dad, a local farmer, taught Jason in his early years, to respect nature and it's become a lifestyle embedded in his DNA.
It didn't take long for Jason and I to reel in a couple of lake trout. I remarked how easy it was for Jason to snap the hook from the fish's mouth and he told me he was using barbless hooks. "There's a lot of reason to use them," he told me. "There's a lower mortaility rate in the fishing; easier to extract the hook from the fish; it's a quicker release of the fish and we can get back to what we love to do, which is fishing; and it's a more challenging way to fish." "We're fishing for fishing," he says with a smile on his face.
Another benefit of the trip, when we weren't catching fish, was the pleasant conversation and the beautiful scenery.
Grabbing some dinner at Don Cherry's restaurant back at my hotel, I was taken by the sun as it dropped behind the mountains. There have been a lot of fires in B.C. this summer and from my vantage point on the balcony, I could see smoke drifting across the lake. Brave and tireless firefighters were keeping the flames away from built up areas throughout the province, but the fires were giving us an eerie glow across the water as the sun turned the sky red.
Ten minutes out of Salmon Arm, just off Highway 97B sits a small village that transports you back to the early 1900s. I arrived just before 10 in the morning, hoping to get some shots before tourists hit this popular destination - the R.J. Haney Heritage Village.
The village has a collection of original structures, many of which were dismantled, removed from their original locations and transported to their current home. There is the R.J. Haney House, which is the anchor of the village, as well as a church, blacksmith shop, filling station and firehall and a variety of houses and buildings. What is especially exciting for those who work in the village has been the addition of a new collection of storefronts - including a newspaper office - all built in the style of the early 1900s. In many cases, the volunteers who are helping to construct the new buildings in the village have reached out to suppliers of the original manufacturers of things like shingles, siding and paint colours which replicate the feel of the age of the original structures.
As I started my tour I came across volunteer Doug Hlina who was painstakingly building shelving for the store. He'd been on this project for a while and loved seeing his handiwork come together for something he calls not only historic, but an ode to days gone by. Volunteers, I learned, were key to what's happening out at the village and their work and commitment to keeping history alive was refreshing.
While I appreciated all the work being done, I must admit that being a bit of a car nut, I was drawn to the Lester and Thomson Garage, a scale-model replica of the namesake car sales building which was completed thanks to the financial support and sweat equity of the Shuswap Chapter of the Vintage Car Club of Canada. Their attention to detail even down to a mechanic laying under the framework of a car was great to capture.
After a short visit to the village I came out of the parking lot, turned right and headed into the hills, just a short drive down the highway, toward my next destination - Larch Hills winery.
I came up on the top of a hill overlooking the valley to the west and could see vines stretching out before me, with the mountains in the backdrop. It was a spectacular site and I could see what drew the owners of the winery, Jack and Haze Manser to this area.
Back in 1987 when they arrived the land was total bush but they had the vision to turn this property into a unique winery with German varieties of grapes Ortega and Siegerrebe. Over the years they planted some French varieties like Madeleine Angevine, further strengthening their lineup of whites and reds.
All the grapes are crushed, processed and the wine hand-made on the premises.
Standing in the vineyard with Jack, I noticed his rough hewn hands, the result of working the land over many years. He's a man who believes in family working together - his son and daughter-in-law were working the tasting room when I arrived. Their enthusiasm and knowledge of the wines they produce is evident as you uncork a bottle of their signature Ortega.
What's a good companion with local wine? Award-winning locally-produced cheese. It's a pairing that never seems to grow old. Minutes from my room at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort, lies a farm where the happy cows are producing a line of cheeses that bring tourists from around the world into their facility.
The cheese-making process at Grass Root Dairies is open to the public and you can see the cheesemakers crafting their next batch through a large picture window in the back room of the plant. The owner, Kathy Wikkerink, showed me around on this morning. She, her husband Gary and their six children moved from Agassiz where they farmed for 20 years. Keeping up the tradition of the original owner of the farm, Arie Gort who came from a long line of cheesemakers on his mother's side in the Netherlands ... known for their craft of cheesemaking, Kathy was proud to tell me that all their cheese contains only natural ingredients - no preservatives are added and everything is made here in the Salmon Arm plant.
"Families can come and walk through our barns, walk the trail and see our cows in the pasture," Kathy told me.
As I snapped photos through the glass window, a group of school-aged kids jumped up and down excitedly as the cheesemakers in the chrome-filled room lifted huge blocks of freshly-made Smoked Habanero (hot! hot! made with the hottest Jalapeno there is).
In this day and age when more consumers demand to know where their food is coming from, it's enlightening to see a business like Grass Root Dairies open their doors and barns, for everyone to see how their product is made.
I hadn't been on the back of a horse since the early 80s when a trip to Banff, Alberta found me perched in the saddle for three days. My legs burned, knees felt pain I hadn't experienced before and I stretched muscles I never knew I had. Those were my reminiscences of my past experience with horses as I called Lois at High Country Trail Rides. Her calm demeanor convinced me that it was time to put those memories to bed and give riding another chance - after all, I thought, I wasn't going for three days - this time I'd only be on the horse for about an hour and a half.
Peacefully tucked away on Salmon Arm's Fly Hills, High Country Trail Rides is only 5-10 minutes west from downtown Salmon Arm, British Columbia.
I drove up the long driveway which opened up to a pen with about 20 horses and a small tack shack. Lois had just come from a ride with a family from Alberta. Sweating from the heat, with dust on her jeans, she greeted me with a broad smile and confident look of someone who has spent a lifetime around horses. "I started when I was a wee lassie," she told me. As a kid running around the farm, she was initally afraid of the big mounts, but even at the age of 2 she knew she wanted to ride and soon was in the saddle. She hasn't lost the love for her horses and the way her eyes brighten and the gentle (but firm) voice she uses when talking with "her kids" brought me an assurance that everything was going to be alright - that's if I could get my foot in the stirrups to even get on the horse in the first place.
Once mounted on my trusted and gentle steed, I headed off into the trails with Danielle, Gabby & Lois, threading our way up to the top of the hills around Lois' place. The views were spectacular. As I rode behind Lois, I commented that the riding experience was a little like golf ... I know you're probably scratching your head saying "what?" but like golf where everything disappears except for the game, it's the same as when you get on a horse - you begin to relax and for the next little while, you live in the moment - forgetting everything else except the horse your riding and the landscape and trails in front of you.
This is an experience for all ages and with it being so close to downtown Salmon Arm, I couldn't imagine why a family wouldn't want to try something a little different and experience a ride on one of Lois' beautiful horses. I know when I come back into the area, I'll probably make the trip out again ... maybe this time I'll stretch before the ride, making it just a little easier for me to get my leg up into the stirrup.
It was a jam-packed couple of days, but I had one last stop before heading out of Salmon Arm on the highway. On my way south out of town, on 97B, on the slopes of Mount Ida sits a unique and interesting golf course - the Salmon Arm Golf Club.
Started in 1938 as a 6-hole course, the Club now boats two stunning courses, a golf shop and restaurant.
"The Club honors its heritage with a pioneer hospitality in a visually stunning setting," says Head Golf Professional Jesse Crowe.
Jesse would be my guide around the course this early morning. Jesse started working in the golf business back in '94 at the Vernon Golf and Country Club, turning pro in 2002. "I love the social aspect of the golf business dealing with people on a daily basis and helping them enjoy the great game of golf," quotes Jesse.
What I liked about Jesse, besides his smooth swing is that he's a huge supporter of Junior Golf. If the game is going to grow and be vibrant, it takes guys like Jesse to promote the game to the younger generation. A couple of years back, he was honored for his community-minded approach to growing junior golf and connect with other minor sports associations in Salmon Arm, including soccer and hockey, while introducing as many youth to golf as possible. Jesse was awarded PGA of BC Forestar Golf Community Leadership Bursary, which recognizes an individual who demonstrates an extraordinary desire and passion to to use their abilities to make a difference in the lives of others, setting an example of ‘giving back’. That's the kind of guy you want in your employ. A guy who cares.
This was the first time I'd been on this course. I've seen a lot of golf courses in my lifetime, once producing a series called "The World Of Golf", but I was surprised by this gem in the undisturbed coniferous forest of the Salmon Valley.
I always like to end my stories with a "martini shot" (in film terms it's the last shot of the film). In this case, it's a high-angle shot of the Prestige Harbourfront Resort - my home away from home for the past few days. My time here was both relaxing and invigorating all at the same time. I was able to 'chill', take walks by the water and spend an hour looking at the marsh birds, while watching the sun go down. When I wanted to be a little more active, I could do it by taking a hike (or riding a horse) all within less than 15 minutes from the hotel.
Let's hope it doesn't take me years to get back to this area - that's a promise I made myself, as I pulled out the driveway and got back on the highway, headed for home.