Capilano River Regional Park

June 18, 2010

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Bygone era returns at the Kilby Historic Site

June 1, 2010

kilby

Animal husbandry volunteer Cecily Joseph introduces visitors to members of the barnyard family at Kilby Historic Site’s Waterloo Farm in Harrison Mills, where time stands still.

Here’s a great Fraser Valley day trip suggestion for families with young children. For more informationon Kilby and nearby Harrison Hot Springs, check our guide “52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver”

ACCESS: Harrison Mills lies 120 kilometres east of Vancouver in the North Fraser Valley. The quickest approach is via Highway 1 east of Chilliwack. Take Exit 135 and head north on Highway 9 as it crosses the Fraser River and through farmland around Agassiz, and then go west on Highway 7. A slightly longer way is by taking Highway 7 (Lougheed Highway) starting in Pitt Meadows all the way to Harrison Mills. Details on the historic site, as well as information on special events can be found at www.kilby.ca/.

For information on Kilby Provincial Park, visit www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/kilby/.

To find out about circle farm tours in the Fraser Valley, visit www.circlefarmtour.com/.

As daffodils and tulips fade in the fields surrounding the North Fraser Valley hamlets of Agassiz and Harrison Mills, blossoming orchards take their turn, carpeting the side roads in a blizzard of pink and white petals.

Of particular significance is a Gravenstein apple tree planted in 1926, the oldest of its kind in the region. The tree stands propped up in all its gnarled glory beside the equally venerable Kilby General Store.

In rhythm with the vernal season, the gates at the Kilby Historic Site on the banks of the Harrison River have swung open once again for the summer, offering a window on both the valley’s past and, thanks to spring’s vibrant renewal, an incipient future as lively as a newborn lamb.

As it has for the past three decades since being acquired by the province from the Kilby family, who set up shop in Harrison Mills in 1904, the historic site hums with life thanks in large part to the commitment of local volunteers from the Fraser Heritage Society.

For fruit-pie lovers, chef Vera Point of the local Chehalis First Nation is back at the helm of her kitchen in the Orientation Barn’s Harrison River Restaurant, where the smell of fresh-baked goods wafts out the windows of the former stable and into the grassy area that surrounds the imposing heritage store and former hotel complex. The restaurant is housed in a reconstruction of a wood-planked barn that was raised in 1917 alongside the Kilby General Store.

Long before the construction of a dike system sturdy enough to hold back the waters of the Fraser River, whose confluence with the Harrison lies a short distance downstream, the Kilbys wisely mounted their two-storey enterprise on pilings high above the floodplain.

Nothing else akin to its quaint grandeur remains from the glory days when, in the wake of the Cariboo gold rush and the advent of the transcontinental railway, sawmills sprang up at riverfronts like Harrison Mills and spurred settlement in the valley.

For over 70 years, goods from the Kilby General Store’s well-stocked shelves filled shopping baskets, while rooms in the Manchester House Hotel housed workers.

These days, day-trippers journey to Harrison Mills and the nearby farming centre of Agassiz for recreation at Kilby Provincial Park and to go on a self-guided circle farm tour of the region in search of locally created crafts and artisan produce. Much of this is on sale in the Orientation Barn’s Waterloo Farm Gift Shop.

That’s where we talked to Jo-Anne Leon, the historic site’s sales and marketing manager.

“There are all sorts of unique holes-in-the-wall around Agassiz where we source everything on display here, including a whole range of farm-fresh products, which Vera and her staff use to bake from scratch,” Leon said. “Visitors to Kilby are inspired by a way of life from the past that we’re moving away from. It represents values and traditions of a day gone by that people feel good about and like to be reminded of, a history that’s still close but which represents a totally different way of living than today—a slower lifestyle.”

One arrival this spring is a crossbred Dorper–St. Croix sheep named Benji, a red-ribbon winner at the Agassiz Fall Fair whose owner donated him to the Waterloo Farm component of Kilby Historic Site’s array of attractions.

Animal husbandry volunteer Cecily Joseph is in charge of a menagerie that includes potbellied pigs, Shetland ewes, a billy goat, and a cocky rooster.

“Last winter’s cold snap was really hard on a lot of the animals,” she said while hand-feeding a bronze turkey named Beau. “His partner, Buttons, didn’t survive.”

Joseph, who lives near Harrison Mills on the Chehalis Indian Reserve, is studying early childhood education at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“With the potential demise of the Stanley Park petting zoo, my goal is to open an animal education centre for kids at Kilby that will eventually be enlarged to include ponies.”

Pack a picnic and head out to the North Fraser Valley.

If you’ve got a canoe or a kayak, bring it along as well, and don’t forget the binoculars.

Not only does the Kilby Historic Site offer an attractive place to enjoy a fresh-air outing, the nearby provincial park on the shore of Harrison Bay does as well.

A sandy beach beckons windsurfers, while a boat launch provides the opportunity to paddle as bald eagles and the occasional breaching white sturgeon soar above the surface.

Time stands as motionless as a blue heron.

Thoughts of yesteryear float on the breeze as the Kilby family legacy lives on. -


Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie