Researching and celebrating the beginnings and historic milestones of the District of 100 Mile House has earned the Cariboo community the Provincial Capital Commission’s 2012 Heritage Conservation Award under the BC Communities in Bloom program.
The gently rolling grasslands and rich forests surrounding 100 Mile House helped create a diverse history for the south Cariboo region. For thousands of years, the nomadic Chilcotin First Nations lived, hunted and traded on the plateau where the community of 100 Mile House is now located. By the 1820s, thanks to the area’s bountiful wildlife, the area had become a camping spot along the Hudson’s Bay Fur Brigade Trail.
Originally known as Bridge Creek, the vicinity was significantly impacted by the gold rush and the subsequent development of the Cariboo Wagon Road in the 1860s. The town was renamed 100 Mile House to reflect the distance from the trail’s start in Lillooet.
In 1861, the Jefferies brothers drove a herd of cattle from Oregon to the area, then stayed to open a roadhouse and store to serve the thousands of people heading for the goldfields. A thriving ranching culture soon developed.
By the 1900s, logging and forestry had become the dominant economic driver, outranking ranching and mining in the area.
In 1912, British nobleman William Cecil, the Marquis of Exeter, purchased Bridge Creek House and 12,000 acres of surrounding ranchland. His son, Lord Martin Cecil Exeter took over the holdings in 1930, constructing the 100 Mile Lodge and planning for a burgeoning town.
In 1940, Martin Cecil joined Lloyd Arthur Meeker, founder of the Emissaries of Divine Light, a new-age cult believing in spiritual transformation. Membership eventually reached about 4,000 with headquarters in Loveland, Colorado and 100 Mile House. In addition to spiritual pursuits, the members were actively involved in furthering sustainable agriculture and land stewardship. Communal-based living also led to planned housing and employment strategies, a community kitchen, and construction of several public buildings through land donated by the Cecil family.
Community efforts in recent years to rediscover the story of 100 Mile House were rewarded at the Sept. 22 Communities in Bloom award ceremony held in Kelowna. Judges noted a number of projects led to the recognition, including the relocation of a large historic barn, the restoration and repurposing of the lodge (now Martin Exeter Hall) and completion of 10 exterior building murals that depict the important pioneers, places and events that helped shape the south Cariboo region.
Criteria for the PCC’s Heritage Conservation Award includes natural heritage as well as integration of landscape and streetscapes pertaining to a community’s built heritage, along with cultural heritage such as monuments, memorials, artifacts, museums, archival records, heritage foods, festivals and celebrations.
Placing a dedication plaque at the Stephenson Sawmill site, preserving a stagecoach, collecting old logging equipment, creating interpretive signage at the Red Coach Inn and the Mile 100 highway marker along with rediscovering important heritage trees now add to the telling of the community’s history.
Earlier community efforts included the creation of an educational demonstration forest, a storm water management system, upgrades to the wastewater treatment facility, restoration of Little Bridge Creek and tree planting programs.
In addition, widespread community participation in several clean-up and gardening initiatives have not only improved visitor experience, but brought area residents closer as neighbours, says Angela Cole, manager of the South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce and chair of the local Communities in Bloom program.
One of the Cecil family’s legacies was a keen awareness of developing local, healthy and sustainable food sources and environmentally-friendly resource usage, she noted.
To that end, the community recreated a large communal organic garden with much of its produce processed in the original community kitchen. “The apples grown are juiced and wholesome meals are made for community families to complete the circle.”
For more information on CiB, visit www.bccommunitiesinbloom.ca
“Once again BC Communities in Bloom would like to express our heartfelt thanks for the Provincial Capital Commission’s 7th year of sponsorship! Without the PCC’s support, none of this would be possible.”