Alouette Lake

Haney is, for those who know it, a special place and as I’ve said before, to my mind it represents the archetypal small town of North America.  One of its features that proves this assertion, at least to me, is the lake.  Or should I say, “The Lake”.  After all, every Hollywood movie that is set in a small town invariably has a lake where local teens congregate, swim and are occasionally eaten by wayward monsters.  None of the cinematic versions come close to matching the glorious reality that is our own Alouette Lake.

Set within a provincial park, surrounded by forested slopes and towering peaks.  Alouette Lake is clean, cold and infinitely welcoming.  It features a great beach area; picnic sites galore, broad paths for strolling, and magnificent views.  There is a boat launch a little further up and the lake is well used by ski-boats, canoes and kayaks, sailboats and other watercraft. Further along still is the main campground.  A classic provincial campground, laid out in a familiar suburban pattern of roadways with campsites carved out of the woods each with its own table, fire-pit, and tenting area.

Elsewhere along the lake were various other campsites, for cubs and scouts, brownies and guides.  Then there came the trails leading off into the mountain peaks themselves.  What a place – I could go on but you know it just as well as me, I’m sure.

To my child’s eye, back in the day, it seemed like the lake had always been there.  It hadn’t of course, at least not in its present form, or even by the name Alouette before 1915 when it was changed from being called Lillooet.  Prior to the construction of the dam in 1925, there were two much smaller lakes in the center of the valley, the smaller one not much more than a widening of the river.  The whole watershed was intensively logged for quite a few years, hence the many large stumps that line the shallows around the contours of the lake, and indeed dot the parklike surroundings and serve as nurse logs.  The reason for the dam was to power a hydroelectric generator, which it still does, although our dam is not where the power is generated.  There is actually a tunnel at the opposite and northern end of the lake that cuts through a side hill to Stave Lake where the generator is. For whatever reason the BC Electric Railway Company which built the dam refused to make any allowances for the seven salmon species that were affected by the building of the dam and refused to build a fish ladder and did not, for many long years, consider downstream flow rates as something to be much concerned with.  As expected, the fish died off quickly.  It was also argued over the years that several major floods along the Alouette River were exacerbated by poor management of the dam’s spillway.  It took decades of floods and lobbying by various special interests groups to implement a more eco-conscious approach – and it would be interesting to hear what the current situation is, but I digress.

The north end of the lake was where the Boulder Bay Camp was.  Boulder Bay was a special program of the Haney Correctional Institute where inmates lived an intense blend of Outward Bound, Boot Camp and the reality show Survivor for six months at a time.  By all accounts it had an incredible success rate in terms of turning lives around but it only lasted something like a dozen or so years and then the program was relocated and modified considerably.

Having the lake a short drive from town was perfect for those times when relatives from “back east” were visiting.  There was nothing quite like an early morning decision to take advantage of a break in the rain and announce a visit to the lake for a picnic which required preparing and packing up the food and the stuff. Moms and aunts would spend the morning making potato salad, fried chicken, watermelon, packing along some cold cuts and a few crusty rolls from the night before. The kids would be busy locating bathing suits and towels, frisbees, football, badminton sets, umbrellas and beach chairs and then packing everything into the big old family station wagon, while the phone lines were kept busy finding out who else was going to be heading up to the lake and where and when to try and meet up.  The men, back in those days, would have gone off into some quiet corner to have a smoke and talk football and maybe have a quick nip on the sly, since it was a given that men weren’t any good in the kitchen.  But they’d take care of the drinks; a cooler full of Cokes and Orange Crush for the kids and a case of beer for the adults was a likely choice.  Eventually everything would be readied and the overloaded vehicle would set off for the lake.

How many times did we all take that drive up Fern Crescent and stop at the sign that marked the entrance to the park to take a picture?  I bet there are collectively thousands and thousands of images in old photo albums of smiling groups of families and friends posed in front of the sign, scattered from Haney to wherever else we’ve ended up.  Since group shots take a few minutes to set up, especially if your Dad had a tripod and liked to use the ever popular self timer, the large and elaborate wooden sign would start looking more and more like a fun kind of climbing structure to some individuals.  Adventurous kids would climb up to the top and scare the wits out of the elderly relations, which adds a certain sense of joie de vivre to any occasion, I always say!

The road up to the lake was quite excellent and it must have been paved in something like 1960 or so.  I have a vague recollection that some of the labour was supplied by the inmates from HCI but that may not be the case at all.  Whatever, it was quite a fine stretch of highway, where you might be tempted to put the pedal to the metal and clean out the carbon, so to speak. At first the parking lots were all gravel, and on hot sunny days a cloud of circulating dust was a permanent fixture all day long.  Later, as the sixties rolled along the lots were all paved and more improvements were made from year to year.

Families would have their favourite picnic tables and areas, but we always had to be flexible. The picnic area was really quite enormous but in my case we always preferred to grab one of the tables on the fringe, away from the crowd, one of those that had a view.  Sometimes of course the focus was more on swimming than eating, and when not swimming we’d spend the time sun-tanning on the sandy beach or close to it on the grassy lawns.  There was also, of course, the diving float anchored off-shore and the older kids would churn their way out to the slimy ladder to triumphantly haul themselves up and out of the lake to bask on the warm boards for a few minutes before diving back into the glacial melt.  Off in the distance heading towards the dam, you might have seen a handful of teenage boys, stopping to have a beer along the way, but heading relentlessly for the dam where they would perform leaps of faith for the thrill, and if they were very lucky for the admiring glances of the girls who managed to show up nearby just by accident.

Some families had power boats and those of us who weren’t so favoured were always on the look-out for opportunities to get invited along for a day of water-skiing with more fortunate friends and neighbours.  Of course this often involved humiliating displays of extremely poor balance and control resulting in the ingestion of vast quantities of lake water while being pulled face down and flat out behind the boat. Eventually, if one managed to stay upright, a scenic high-speed tour would follow and if you were really lucky you wouldn’t get ditched in the middle of the lake somewhere.  The lake is large enough to accommodate a wide variety of watercraft, and although I’m sure there have been some moments of animated dialogue between the various user groups, in balance it’s nice to have a resource that is open to so many.

I remember one weekend that a friend and I camped at the Boy Scout campground when nobody else was there, having canoed up from the boat launch.  The image that stands out for me is an early morning paddle up the lake, a cloudless early summer morning, the water clear and unruffled, and the absolute perfection of the moment.

Any mention of camping brings back guilty memories of the inaugural camping weekend in May.  How many of us indulged, or over-indulged to be more accurate, in prohibited activities on the May 24th campout?  How many didn’t is probably a better question!  And how many of us learned rudimentary cooking skills at the campground, usually beginning with “smokelled eggs” or something equally appetizing.

But it wasn’t always group activities that I remember about the lake.  Some days it was a just a great place to go and be by yourself, to wander the paths and admire the view and collect your wits to manage a hectic life. In retrospect, the lake was, and hopefully still is, a great source of enjoyment and beauty for Haney and its residents. Of course it is just so beautiful that it attracts all sorts of folks from other places leading to occasional over-crowding, but all in all, the lake is a jewel in Haney’s crown.

David Trudel   © 2012

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