Pemberton - Little Known Truths
Photo by Dave Steers
Spud Valley’s beloved potato farmers weren’t always so beloved. Pemberton’s farmers in the 1930s were so dominating international competitions with the quality of their spuds, that they were asked to withdraw for a period to give someone else a chance to take home the ribbon. In 1967 Pemberton was the first commercial seed potato area in the world to grow virus-free seed potatoes. Today, every potato grown in the valley gets its start at the Pemberton Seed Potato Lab. The potatoes start as Tissue Culture, derived from select potatoes, representing all the varieties grown in the valley. Farmers spend hours in the spring dividing the tissue and planting it in agar building up what is known as Nuclear Stock, the first generation of seed. Successive generations are classed Elite 1, Elite 2 and so on, with the Elite 2 and 3 plants producing the seed that is sold outside the valley. It takes 3-4 years to establish a cash crop of seed potatoes. Processed potatoes such as Nalley chips and McDonalds fries are 6 or more generations removed from the Nuclear stock established in this lab.
Flood valley. Following the devastating flood of 1940, the Lillooet River underwent “reprogramming”. Between 1946-1951, the river was “trained” with dikes and ditches, to run a straighter course through the valley, and Lillooet Lake lowered by several metres. The final engineer’s report recommended that the Lake be re-dredged within 20 years. Over 40 years and 3 major floods later, his recommendation still hasn’t been taken up.
Living on the edge. Residents clearly have a high tolerance for adrenaline. Tourism Pemberton took as a tagline: “Adventure Begins Here.” The New York Times proclaimed Pemberton the epicenter of sled skiing in North America. And it’s all unfolding happily in the shadow of a volcano. Mount Meager is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, which includes Mount St Helens, Mount Garibaldi and Mount Cayley. Ash from Meager’s most recent eruption made it as Far East as the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Luckily, that was in 400 BC. Still, there’s a reason those hot springs are so hot.
Harder than hard-core. The first Eco-Challenge held in Canada was held in Pemberton in 1996. The course was so challenging that only 14 teams managed to complete the race – the fewest number ever. Not even the US Marines could hack the pace.
Emily Carr was haunted by Mt Currie. In mid-May 1933, Carr journeyed by rail from Brackendale to Pemberton, past Anderson and Seton Lakes and on to Lillooet, on a working expedition. She wrote of her obsession to capture the mountains at close range: “mountains towering – snow mountains, blue mountains, green mountains, brown mountains, tree-covered, barren rock, cruel mountains with awful waterfalls and chasms and avalanches, tender mountains all shining, spiritual peaks way up among the clouds.”
The oldest ongoing tradition in Pemberton is not the barn dance or the Canada Day parade, but the Women’s Institute’s Strawberry Tea. The WI was established January 31 1940, and are still hosting this annual June event. For those who can’t make it to the Museum to celebrate, volunteers will deliver fresh strawberries and scones to workplaces throughout town.
The oldest building in town is Will Miller’s hand-hewn cedar house, built in 1894 after the adventurer walked into town from Vancouver, and swam across the Lillooet. It’s now on display as a pioneer home at the Pemberton Museum.
Pemberton farmers are still taking ribbons for their produce. Recently named Producer of the Year by the Chef’s Table Society of BC, Helmer’s Organic Farm is continuing a Pemberton tradition. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, local farmers would ride the train and ferry to attend Vancouver’s Royal Agricultural Show, regularly returning with ribbons.
Agua fresca. Pioneers laughed at land seeker Duncan Morrison in 1897 when he asked if the water from the river was fit to drink. Local river-water is still setting the standards, with Polaris sourcing their bottled water at White Creek on the Birkenhead. Their 7000-gallon tankers can regularly be seen driving to their Burnaby bottling plant.
The Cold War could have eliminated us. Number 7 on the Russian’s nuclear target list during the cold war was the Bridge River Dam because it provided power to Boeing. With ground zero just 60 kilometres away, that was a narrow escape…
We have our own Chinook. Birkenhead Chinook are genetically distinct from other Fraser River Chinook, and return as 5 year olds to the Birkenhead River where they were spawned.
JD Pemberton never set foot here, despite lending his name to the town. The Royal Engineers arrived in the area in the 1850s, looking for routes to the gold fields. Chief surveyor Lieutenant Palmer named a small port at the north end of Lillooet Lake in honour of the big boss, Joseph Pemberton, the surveyor-general of Vancouver Island. Pemberton later laid out Victoria’s town site, surveyed from Sooke to Nanaimo and became a member of the first Legislative Assembly.
The Lil’wat name for Mount Currie is Tz’sil, which means ‘rocks falling down.’ Local freeskier and jet boat tour operator, Eric Peyote made the first ski descent of the mountain in 1985, alongside the late Trevor Petersen and Pemberton paraglider, adventurer and filmmaker, Peter Chrzanowski. The party ascended the mountain from the valley, skis on their backs. The first ascent of Mt Currie was made by world-renowned photogrammatrist mapmaker AJ Campbell on his 1922 survey party. (Campbell later surveyed the entire Garibaldi area, including Whistler, for the creation of Garibaldi Provincial Park (1927-1928).)
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