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Story
John Kinnear photo
The Walhachin Hotel.
Looking Back - John KinnearThe history of Alberta and British Columbia is chock full of stories of boom and bust towns and of grand dreams and plans gone awry. One of the most unusual I have ever come across is a tragically failed venture known as Walhachin.
104 years ago an American engineer named C.E. Barnes dreamed a dream of creating a paradise on the dry benches above the Thompson River near Ashcroft, BC. His grand irrigation vision was one that has become reality in many places round the world such as Israel and California. It is one in which redirected water can breathe new life into dry land and transform sage brush and desert into lush greenery.
In Barne's case it was an arid plateau about 14 miles from Cache Creek, B.C.  He began by incorporating, in Victoria, a company called The B.C. Horticultural Estates. 4500 acres of crown land at $1 per acre was acquired and this energetic and enthusiastic man began his miraculous transformation.
The estate’s directors were enthralled with the vision of a great green valley blossoming in the desert. In 1909 the town was named Walhachin (which means "Land of the Round Rock" in the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson Indian language). However, when a thirty page pamphlet was printed in England, the name Walhachin was interpreted to mean "Bountiful Valley". The land chosen was well connected with two railways running through the property. The CPR was on the south side of the Thompson with its whistle stop called "Penny's" and the CNR was on the river’s north shore. There was also a horse drawn ferry for transport across the river.
While the Thompson had lots of available water for Barne's dreamland it lay 300 feet below the plateau he wanted to develop. Economics at the time made pumping up that water out of the question. So Barne's civil engineering talents were put to work building a dam on Deadman Lake and a huge wooden flume from it that descended 7 miles to the property. In all he constructed 17 miles of flumes and ditches from various dams, creeks and springs to Walhachin.
The property was promoted in England and targeted the young sons of well-to-do parents, offering a life of adventure and simple work cultivating the land. Their payback was of course the profits from the sale of the fruits of their labor so to speak. Their elaborate brochure's introduction read:"Fruit growing in your Province has acquired the distinction of being a beautiful art as well as a most profitable industry....No expense has been spared to make the system of irrigation one of the finest in the Province..."
Walhachin was laid out on the south side of the river complete with a general store, packing warehouse, school, a magnificent hotel with 3 rotundas and small houses for the settlers. 16,000 fruit trees were planted in long rows by trained orchardists. Seventy young Englishmen went for the first promotional campaign and chose to either plant crops until the orchards bore fruit or worked on the enormous "Snohoosh" flume from Deadman's Lake.
Land was divided up into five and ten acre plots at $350 per acre with young fruit trees or $300 without. Corn, tomatoes, onions, beans and even tobacco flourished and as the water began to come down the sluices the slope changed from sandy brown to a shimmering green.
 
There is an interesting picture in Elsie Turnbull's story "Ghost of Walhachin" that shows an English farmer in suit and tie holding a shovel with 7 potatoes on it weighing a total of 12 pounds.
By the fall of 1913 the trees had matured enough that the first carloads of Jonothan apples were shipped to market and it appeared as if Barne's Walhachin miracle was a success. It even attracted the monies of the Marquis of Anglesey whose 1912 residence there sported its own concrete swimming pool. The town had tennis courts, cricket matches and even a primitive golf course. A football club was formed and riding was popular with polo teams competing against ranchers in the area. There were musical evenings, piano recitals and social occasions at the fashionable hotel where afternoon tea was tradition. There were maids, servants, valets and a Chinese laundry. A thriving English aristocratic microcosm had appeared right smack in the middle of the Kamloops area desert country.
Then in August of 1914 Britain declared war on Germany and in short order 97 out of the 107 men in Walhachin enlisted and headed home. As that terrible war dragged on many of them were killed in action including the storekeeper Gordon Flowerdew.  Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew earned the Victoria Cross on March 30, 1918, with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse at Moreuil Wood for leading a charge on an installation of German machine-gun nests. He lost many of his men, but more than 60 enemy were killed with swords. Flowerdew died the following day as a result of wounds suffered in the battle. France’s Marshal Foch was reported to have said Flowerdew’s deed “possibly deflected the whole course of history.
Back home the wives and some older men tried to maintain the orchards. Heavy spring runoffs plugged water ditches and wrecked flume lines and their repair proved to be too onerous. About the time Flowerdew earned his VC, a violent spring rainstorm lashed Walhachin for two days, ripping out a mile of the precious flume. A repair estimate came in at $240,000 shortly after the war and neither the Marquis of Anglesey nor the provincial government were willing to put up that kind of money for the restoration.
The work load was too much and many returned home to England, disheartened. The fruit trees withered and died and the wonderful green color of the plateau reverted back to sandy brown again. Walhachin became a semi-arid land of sagebrush and tumbleweeds once again. C.E. Barne's paradise dream, promoted among the English aristocracy as much for its amenities as for the quality of its soil, was swept aside. A Cariboo rancher later laconically described the men and women cajoled onto the Walhachin Estates as follows:"they came with all their savings wrapped up in the countless settlers’ effects, full of great hopes and dreams and about all they ever raised was a hell of a big dust."   
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