Skip to content

Storyteller recalls the magic of Tulameen summers in days past

Picnics, icehouse and a sleeping porch create lifelong and happy memories

Barrie Cook was born in Coalmont April 13, 1939

He died March 2, 2023 surrounded by family and of his own choice once his terminal illness had robbed him of the last of his quality of life, according to his son Tony.

A career newspaperman, he revelled in retirement.

“He and Mom travelled the world but always came back to the cabin on Strathcona in Tulameen where they were so happy. Entertaining guests on the porch with cocktails and political arguments was his joy.”

by Barrie Cook

Nov. 7, 2011

Tulameen was just a name to me until 1945, when my mother had some dental surgery and wanted to get out of sight until everything healed. Tulameen, at the time, was 17 miles away from Princeton over a narrow, nasty, winding gravel road and mother was fairly sure none of her friends would accidently see her, so my father rented one of the Hunter cabins, the small log cabins on Strathcona Avenue near the beach.

We boys liked it just fine, too: I was six years old and my brother was almost three and it was a grand adventure for us. We were only a few steps from the lake and, of course, the beach store. It was built fairly high off the ground, probably eight or ten steps to the porch, because Otter Lake flooded regularly back then. The store itself was one room, selling basic foodstuffs with lots of penny candies for us kids, with accommodation in the back for whomever was renting the store for the summer.

My recollection is that Walt Smart and Bob Shaw ran the store for several summers.

There was another building on the beach: The icehouse. We didn’t have a refrigerator, so I became accustomed every two or three days to being sent to the beach store with my wagon and a nickel (I think it was a nickel!!) for a substantial chunk of ice for our icebox. If we kids were old enough, we were allowed to take the ice pick ourselves, dig away the saw dust until we found the end of the row of blocks, and break off what we needed.

Otter Lake ice was exported to the United States. When the Great Northern Railway pushed its subsidiary, the VV&E (Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern), north to compete with the CPR for Western Canadian resources, it hit Princeton and then continued on to Tulameen, where they built a siding into the lake beside the trestle.

Harvesting ice became a seasonal industry in Tulameen. Most of it went into railway cars, well insulated with sawdust, to be shipped to Spokane and used in dining cars on Great Northern routes across the U.S. Enough went to the icehouse in Tulameen to fill local demand, as long as there was a demand.

That wasn’t the only industry on the lake: Before my time there must have been a sawmill at the western edge of the lake. If we were walking in the shallows, chasing the minnows and feeling the mud and sand between our toes, we’d turn around and head back to the main beach when we started slipping and sliding on water-soaked boards. If there had ever been any quality wood there, it had been salvaged. What we slipped and fell on were bits and pieces of water-logged trash, the first cut of a head saw and the like, which usually wound up in a beehive burner.

There was an active mill in town but Grand Squelch’s sawmill was much closer to the tracks so he could load finished wood straight onto railcars.

Tulameen was a popular place for Princeton people to hold big picnics. There usually were two or three large ones a season from groups like the Elks. The biggest one for us kids was thrown by the Princeton Brewery. The company was generous with its brews which, of course, didn’t interest us, but if the guys handing out the little cardboard containers of ice cream had had a couple, we might be able to get a second helping. My teeth still remember the feel of the little wooden paddle we used to use to get all the ice cream out.

We liked Tulameen. We liked it so much my father used a bequest from his uncle in England in 1946 to buy Danny McLeod’s home – with, Danny pointed out, two years’ worth of firewood – when he decided to move back to Nova Scotia. It was really a dinky little place by today’s standards, all of 20 feet by 20 feet of low log cabin, three rooms with a pump outside and the biffy in the bushes. We added an L-shaped sleeping porch on the back and north side and that kept us and various cousins comfortable for years.

It was located right beside the ball field a block and a half up Strathcona from the beach so we could sit in air-conditioned comfort on our screened port and watch the game and count the number of people who used our outhouse.

We know the cabin was built in 1932 because one of the men who built it, Dave Flak, dropped around one Sunday morning, dry and desperate for something to slake his thirst. Once we had him seated with a beer in hand, he looked around and recognized the place.

Even the best work by Swedish loggers can’t withstand the carpenter ants and other boring insects. We could hear them eating the joists and chewing away at the key logs. Twenty years ago, we became fed up with the spongy feel of the floor and the lack of running water and indoor toilet facilities, so we called Eric Smart for a consultation. Eric was earning a reputation as a reliable build of log homes. Our cabin was his twentieth.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on?

 Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
Read more