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Canada's Camelot

For the English elite, the beginning of the twentieth century was a time of luxury and leisure. Activities such as cricket, polo and hunting were popular pursuits among those moneyed members of society. And while this period drew a number of individuals and families to Canada in search of a better or different life, for some wealthy Brits it was simply an extension of their European lives, an extravagant lark in the New World.

On the shores of the Thompson River, less than an hour from Kamloops, American entrepreneur Charles Barnes saw an opportunity. Enamoured by original settler’s Charles Pennie’s ranch and orchard, plotted along the arid land of the B.C. interior, Barnes, with the backing of a British company, arranged to buy Pennie’s parcel, as well as adjoining property. Charles Barnes envisioned a utopian community of gardens, recreational buildings and stately homes for the upper-classmen and aristocracy of England. A playground of sorts for the affluent to indulge in Canadian life, while maintaining their lavish lifestyles.

And so, “Canada’s Camelot” was born.

Originally dubbed “Pennie’s” for the aforementioned settler, the area would ultimately be known as Walhachin. In pamphlets for prospective immigrants, the name was marketed as meaning “Bountiful Valley”, a stark contrast to the true Nlaka’pamux translation of “Land of the Round Rock”. Still, the campaign was largely successful and resulted in a number of people purchasing property from abroad.

While life in Canada was quite gruelling for many newcomers, Walhachin held an entirely different version of the pioneer experience for its residents. The community was home to a swimming pool and tennis courts, as well as a hotel complete with a dining room and billiards parlour. Denizens lived in grand homes and attended elegant parties and where Canadian realities obstructed the hobbies of the old country, Walhachinites improvised, for instance, holding coyote hunts in the absence of foxes.

Still, life was not without its challenges. Irrigation of an orchard town in such a dry patch of the province proved to be difficult. An extravagant flume was constructed, somewhat shoddily, that would carry water from the mountainside to ditches along the river. The flume, while not entirely sufficient did aid in the necessary watering of the orchards.

But with the onset of the First World War, life around the globe changed completely and Walhachin was no exception. In 1914, the majority of the community's one hundred or so men would join either the Canadian or British forces. The devastation of the war saw many fatalities and of those few that did survive and return, they found their town in a state of ruin. The remaining residents had been unable to properly maintain the flume and orchards leading to the near total desertion of Walhachin in 1922.

The settlement exists today as a moderate ghost town. It is still home to a small number of people and some of the land is used for farming, quarrying and cattle. A selection of original homes are still standing, but it is said that many have been dismantled or moved to larger, neighbouring communities. From a distance, it may seem an unassuming place set among arid grounds along the Thompson River, but the remnants of its curious, illusory past endure.


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