Before I set out on my mid-August family trip to Cherryville, I spoke on the phone with an area lodge owner, a self-confessed Toronto transplant. Cherryville, he advised me, is “colourful.” When he bought his property there, a local warned him: “You’ll either fall in love with Cherryville, or it will break your heart.”
I soon discovered for myself that there is much to fall in love with—the tree-covered Monashee Mountains, the rolling farmland, the homemade pies, and the elbowroom. Not to mention the moments of absolute quiet, as pure and enveloping as a fresh, white sheet.
The 1,000 or so people who live in Cherryville, which is the smaller, unincorporated sister community to Lumby, about 20 kilometres away, have a good thing going—and they know it. A bumper sticker issued a few years back announced: “You’ve found Cherryville: now get out!”
This, my friends, is what people mean when they call Cherryville “eclectic” and “colourful.” If you’re going to Cherryville, pack your sense of humour, and don’t forget your hiking boots, or your bathing suit. You might as well leave your watch at home, though, and succumb to “Cherryville time.”
The community straddles the Okanagan and West Kootenay regions and is not yet overrun with visitors. Exploring gives one a sense of real discovery, in keeping with the spirit of the first settlers—prospectors hoping to strike it rich after gold was found here in 1862. Here are 10 ways to play in Cherryville and nearby Lumby, in no special order.
1. Browse the Cherryville Artisans’ Shop
Calgary-born artist Helen Kovacs has an easy smile and runs an impressive, if tiny shop featuring work by 16 local artists. The light- filled store, located at 1187 Highway 6 (250-547- 0020), is stocked with glassworks, weaving, hats, paintings, pottery, and jewellery. Kovacs, a glassmaker, moved to Cherryville 15 years ago after falling in love with a Cherryvillan. She says people help each other here, and she enjoys the pace. The area sort of operates in its own zone, she reflects, sitting in her sunlit artisans’ shop. “We call it Cherryville time.”
2. Feel the spray of Rainbow Falls
Monashee Provincial Park is 227 square kilometres of mountain wilderness, complete with old growth, the snow-capped peaks of the Monashee Mountains, and the potential to glimpse rare mountain caribou or even a wolverine. Mount Fosthall (2,679 metres) may beckon the serious trekker, but beginners, or those herding small children, can still get a taste of the park with an easy visit to Rainbow Falls. Two viewing platforms provide prime vantage points to watch the falls pounding down over rock face covered in bright green grass and wildflowers. The park, about 60 kilometres northeast of Cherryville, was created in 1962.
3. Hit pay dirt at the Goldpanner
The Goldpanner Campground and Pioneer Village is at once gleefully hokey and deeply authentic. A playful “Monashee weather vane” sign provides climate information. (“Missing” indicates a tornado.) Then there’s the welcome sign with the cartoon miner, who looks like a distant relative of Cartman from South Park. Yet the place is by no means a theme park. The 14-hectare property is surrounded by real wilderness, includes real artifacts, and was once the hub of a very real gold rush.
The prospector’s cabin (authentic) that sits next to the gift shop (completely hokey) once belonged to “Old Gus,” who built it next to nearby Heckman Creek in 1936. Take the guided tour, and you’ll ride a red bus hand built from antique parts down a trail to Monashee Creek, where you can also try your own luck at panning.
On our tour, a modern-day prospector is at his claim to demonstrate the painstaking process of trapping enough gold particles to fill a tiny vial, worth about $25. While he’s swirling, a Pacific treefrog hops right into his pan.
“Claim jumper!” cries our guide, Dan Mainland, who lives at the campground over the summer.
The current Goldpanner owners, Marilyn and Rick Potter, are working to have the Chinese diggings, or pilings, down by Monashee Creek declared a heritage site. The diggings are rocks that were meticulously washed and sorted into piles, the remains of a kind of open-pit mining done by early Chinese prospectors. From 1863 to 1895, the camp grew to a population of more than 100 prospectors; about half were Chinese.
Figures from the Cherryville and Area Historical Society suggest that the total amount of gold extracted here from 1863 to 1930 would be worth about $112-million by today’s standards. The name Cherryville was supposedly inspired by the choke cherries that grew along the creek.
4. Treat yourself to High Tea
High Tea and a tee off? I was intrigued by the idea of a farm-based business that offers both. Whitewood B&B and Driving Range features High Tea on the last Sunday of the month during summer. Debbie Whitecotton, who runs the B&B with her husband and son, serves sandwiches, teas, French press coffee, and seven different desserts—all presented on fine china. “Each month it will be a little different,” says Whitecotton. Tea is served from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations are recommended. “I encourage customers to just relax and enjoy,” she says. “There’s no rush at all.”
5. Walk Lumby’s Salmon Trail
After having lunch at Hubert’s Restaurant in Lumby, I take in a few of the town’s murals, then stretch my legs on the Lumby- Weyerhaeuser Salmon Trail, a short wood-chip path that follows Bessette and Duteau creeks and details the area’s local history. For a map of the trails and downtown Lumby: www.monasheetourism.com/hikingtrails.html.
6. Float at Sugar Lake
Three preteen girls lounge on blankets reading Archie comics and eating chips. Two boys perch on a massive cedar log, trying to paddle it around the lake. Grandparents sip drinks on the beach, watching younger relations float in inner tubes. This is summer, distilled to its essence on peaceful Sugar Lake, a reservoir about 17 kilometres north of Cherryville.
The recreation area includes a day-use beach and about 70 campsites, all managed by Elaine and Jules Durette, teachers and “Saskatchewan farm kids” who were looking for a beautiful place to drop out of the rat race.
“It was Sugar Lake that drew us here and the laid-back community of Cherryville,” says Elaine, as a chipmunk chews its lunch on the ground next to her. Visitors might catch a glimpse of a cougar, black bear, moose, elk, or wolf—and are almost certain to hear the call of the loons in the morning.
7. Watch for wildlife—anywhere
Part of the beauty of being somewhere off the beaten path like Cherryville is the potential for wildlife sightings at every turn. A black bear and a cub might dart past your car—as happened to us en route to Rainbow Falls in Monashee Provincial Park.
8. Taste Gouda at Triple Island Farms
First of all, who would have expected that Cherryville would have a cheese outlet specializing in all things Gouda? Triple Island Farms (250-547-6125), at 1519 Highway 6, produces 10 types of Goudse kaas using milk from their own cows.
The ochre wheels of Gouda come in all kinds of unexpected flavours—such as cumin, tomato and garlic, and peppercorn. A woman ahead of me in line totes away $60 worth of cheese. Yes, it’s that good, made by the Tuijtel family, who moved to the area from Holland a decade ago. Word is getting out, it appears.
“It seems we’re at least three times as busy as last year,” says Kees Tuijtel.
9. Tour the Cherryville Museum
When Helen Kovacs discovers my interest in Cherryville history, I am immediately dispatched to visit the home of Ernest Laviolette, who kindly agrees to show me the Cherryville Museum, located at the Goldpanner Campground. Laviolette is a landscape photographer who made his living shooting black-and-white photos of Monashee park. He spent two months there in 1960— before it became parkland—horse packing, taking photos, and shooting a 16-millimetre film. It’s an experience he will never forget.
Laviolette’s family members were Cherryville pioneers, and he is understandably proud of the small, historical museum, built and funded by residents and full of donated items, which include a 1912 adjustable bed, Bluebird 78 rpm records, and vintage Underwood typewriters.
Cherryville was originally known as Cherry Creek in 1862, when gold was discovered. “That makes Cherry Creek the oldest community in the North Okanagan,” says Laviolette, who is almost 80, but looks a decade younger. “It’s hard to believe that in twice my lifetime, there was nothing here.” When the prospectors arrived, the nearest place to buy flour was Vancouver, he adds.
The area grew up on mining, and then logging, with most properties having their own sawmill, or “a mill, to the mile” as Laviolette puts it. “If your kids needed shoes, you’d saw some wood.”
Mining and logging have dwindled over the years, but Cherryville remains close-knit. “That feeling has stayed,” says Laviolette—and so has he.
10. Plunge into a swimming hole
OK, I am kidding about Number 10. There is a swimming hole, known as The Meadows, and it sounds lovely. A few Cherryvillans provided me with directions, along with the caveat: “You can’t tell anyone who told you.” I could never find its location down that unmarked country road, and I think it’s just as well. Some gems are meant to stay local.
Cherryville—with its two general stores, elementary school, and community hall— seems to me like an idea, a notion, rather than your typical defined geographic area with a “core” comprised of shops. I left town with my heart intact and some good memories. As the saying goes, there really is gold in those hills, if you’re willing to stop and look.