The historic 153 Mile Store — which is chock-full of items dating back to the days of the Cariboo Gold Rush — is inching closer to finding a permanent home in Williams Lake.
Currently the store is situated at its original location at 153 Mile, along the old Cariboo Wagon Road on the 153 Mile Ranch, but if Roger and Rusty Patenaude and the Cariboo Heritage Park Society have their way the store will be located on the hill overlooking the Stampede Grounds in the very near future for everyone to enjoy.
“Our mother’s wishes were to have the store preserved and not be sold for profit,” said Roger, who recently gave local girl guides a tour of the store.
Built in 1914, the two-storey log building served ranchers, loggers, gold seekers and other pioneers who travelled the Cariboo Wagon Road back in its day. The store was closed and its contents preserved exactly how they were left when the store’s owner, and close family friend of the Patenaude family, Lil Crosina, died of a heart attack behind the counter in the store in 1963.
Rusty said he worked in the store quite a bit and still remembers filling shelves and taking orders from Horsefly and Likely. He also saw the stagecoach stop by the store to pick up goods.
The store also traded with local First Nations, and many items such as birch bark baskets and beaded leather gloves are still inside the store today.
“We’re hoping to be able to create a museum that the whole of Williams Lake feels is theirs, and … we can build it into something that everyone can be proud of and a part of the city forever, and that’s kind of the spin-off, us donating it and them looking after it.”
The brothers, along with society president Anita Crosina, Graham Smith, Tom Barr, Lorne Doerkson, Sherry Bullock and Cindy Brady formed the society with the sole purpose of fundraising and overseeing the relocation of the gift to the city, and have the blessing of Mayor Walt Cobb.
“It’s going to happen,” said Cobb recently. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but we’re going to make it happen.”
The vision of city council is to create a dedicated heritage park within the Stampede Grounds which will include the 153 Mile Store and all of its priceless content, as well as other historical ranch buildings that may be donated and possibly a First Nations heritage site as well.
In May an archeology study at the potential site did uncover some pre-1846 First Nations sites above the Stampede Grounds.
How exactly those discoveries will play into the City’s plans to relocate the historic 153 Mile Store and possibly create a heritage park at the site — including the First Nations component — has yet to be determined, but those who would like to see the store preserved in the city remain hopeful it will happen.
“Our gain is that we hope it is preserved for life,” Rusty said of gifting the store.
“There’s huge history here (in the store) and I think once the people of Williams Lake realize what they really have it will just grow, it will become something to be really proud of in the city of Williams Lake.”