By Sage Birchwater
Casual Country 2019
The Homathko River Inn B&B in Tatlayoko Valley has a storied past. Its Circle X brand turns 100 years old later this year and that’s just the beginning of its rich heritage.
Connie Bracewell and Rudy Vermeer are the proprietors of this delightful bed & breakfast located next to the Homathko River about 30 km south of Tatla Lake. For the past seven years they have transformed the 167-acre ranch known locally as the Marion Place, into a warm and comfortable refuge for visitors in the heart of scenic Tatlayoko Valley.
Connie’s daughter, Bobidaia Bracewell, is the head horse wrangler and trainer of the outfit. Together the two women use the horses to give their guests a unique experience in this mountain paradise.
Connie was two years old when her parents, Les and Colleen Harris picked up and moved to Tatlayoko Valley from the small town of Schoolcraft, Michigan in 1968. They bought a ranch from Jared and Bonnie Purjue, and that’s where Connie grew up with her five siblings. She went to school just down the road, walking to school through the woods.
Connie married her neighbour and childhood sweetheart Alex Bracewell in the 1980s and together they had three children, Bobidaia, Aaron and Anna. Bobidaia is working with Connie and Rudy at the B&B, while Aaron is in his fourth year electrical training, and Anna is married and living in Switzerland.
When Connie and Alex’s marriage ended nine or ten years ago, they parted amicably, with Alex taking the Bracewell Wilderness Lodge at the south end of the Potato Mountains, and Connie assuming ownership of the Circle X Ranch in the valley.
For a time she ran a small herd of beef cattle and horses under the Circle X brand.
About eight years ago Connie met Rudy Vermeer, a carpenter from Eagle Lake (10 km down the highway from Tatla Lake). He worked in reno/construction in Vancouver before moving to the Chilcotin in 2003. Connie hired him to renovate her house so she could accommodate guests.
Connie was missing the tourism industry.
“My first job was working for Gerry Bracewell at the Wilderness Lodge when I was 15 years old,” she says. “I really loved working with the guests whether it was preparing food in the kitchen or heading out on the trail into the mountains on horseback for a two- or three-day camp out.”
Five years ago Connie was asked to do a one-week ladies’ horseback mountain trip, and she jumped at the opportunity.
“With my changing life situation and my children not liking the cows, I realized I couldn’t do cattle and tourism.”
Around that time Connie got a job driving the local school bus to help generate some income.
“With my new bus driving job, I made the decision to sell off my cows and bull to my brother and his wife, but I kept my milk cow.”
Meanwhile Connie and Rudy struck up an intimate partnership and he continued renovating their house for guests. To make space for the renovations Connie’s children moved into their grandmother Gerry Bracewell’s old house next door.
Rudy and Connie also started cleaning up and beautifying the property that had once been a salvage yard for old vehicles, machinery and farming implements.
It was Rudy who came up with the name Homathko River Inn. With a name like that they decided they needed to see the river from the house, so that entailed a bunch more clearing.
Now they have three hayfields on the property and they lease other fields in the valley to cut more hay.
There’s no denying that Connie Bracewell has an artistic eye. Her sense of beautifying is evident both inside and outside their house.
“I strive for the ‘Wow’ factor,” she says as we return from viewing our upstairs bedroom where we anticipate spending a restful night. It is indeed impressive and comfortable.
For years she collected antiques and unusual furniture and stored them in cabins awaiting the opportunity to use them. With Rudy’s professional carpentry expertise the rooms have been designed to fit the furniture.
“We’ve got four guestrooms in our house that can accommodate from four to eight people,” Connie explains. “We’ve also got a guest cabin and campground with an outside shower house.”
And yes the tasteful artwork on the wall, colourful curtains, comfy queen-sized beds and spectacular mountain vistas viewed through the windows leave you feeling pampered and privileged as a guest at the Homathko River Inn.
And did I mention the meals? That’s another of Connie’s talents.
We are treated to a scrumptious casserole accented by a salad and side of veggies which tastes particularly good after a long day on the road crossing the Chilcotin Plateau.
Bobidaia pitches in with the meal preparation, but her real love and expertise is with the horses. The next morning after coffee, she is outside trimming the hooves of a dozen members of their equine family. This includes a feisty burro that is part of the menagerie.
Everything runs on Chilcotin time as we arise. Connie suits up for her school bus run to Tatla Lake, and promises us breakfast when she returns.
“Breakfast will be around quarter-past-nine,” she says while doing the mandatory safety checks on the bus.
Meanwhile Bobidaia continues trimming the horses’ hooves and Rudy heads off to a carpentry job just up the valley.
Once Connie gets back and hangs up her bus driver’s high-vis vest, there’s one more task for her to do before beginning the breakfast preparation – and that’s milking her jersey milk cow.
In classic Cariboo Chilcotin fashion we are served bacon and eggs with freshly grilled pancakes. But to put it in perspective, the eggs are farm fresh with rich yellow yolks and the bacon is from Margetts Meats in Williams Lake – a high-end product crafted by Mennonites in the Peace River.
After our hearty breakfast, Connie explains what their B&B has to offer.
“People come and just love to unwind and relax. They can go hiking, biking or head out on horseback.”
One of their options is horseback-assisted hiking.
“We can take groups of six or eight people into the mountains for three to five days. The guests hike and we pack their bags, food and equipment by horseback and set up camp for them at strategic places.”
There are also day trips such as to a nearby abandoned mine shaft where ore was briefly extracted from a quarry and trucked to a distant smelter. The big takeaway is the spectacular scenic view of the valley once guests reach the mine site.
Bobidaia’s passion with the horses spills off in a couple different directions. She has her own horse training business called Wyld Whisper Equine, and she also offers introductory horsemanship camps for young people inspiring a whole new generation of horse enthusiasts.
Connie points out that Bobidaia is the fourth generation member of the family to operate under the Circle X brand. She pulls out the original Circle X Brand certificate that was issued to Bobidaia’s great grandfather, Kennon Beverly Moore on December 11, 1919.
Bobidaia’s grandmother, the legendary guide-outfitter and author, Gerry Bracewell, told many stories of her horseback adventures in her book Gerry Get Your Gun (Caitlin Press 2015). So perhaps her propensity for horsemanship is in her genes. Several years ago Bobidaia became only the second female rider to win the grueling four-day Williams Lake Stampede mountain race.
Read More: Stampede Queen contestant Bobi Bracewell
She says she has given up competing in the mountain race for her own safety and that of her horses, but her passion for horseback adventures in the nearby mountain landscape still beckons her.
Snow Dowd of Salt Spring Island was born and raised with horses at Kleena Kleene, 30 km west of Tatla Lake. Last summer she brought her eleven-year-old daughter Maia and four friends to Bobidaia’s three-day summer horse camp. This summer they are returning with eight kids for a full week of camp with horses.
“We’re very excited,” Snow says. “Bobi provides a safe but challenging program, giving city kids a taste of the authentic Chilcotin experience. She’s got a herd of awesome horses and can match a good mount to different riding abilities and personalities.”
Snow says the trails are great and last year the highlight was the lunch ride down to the lake with a canter along the beach.
Connie says the Homathko River Inn has been host to several events in recent years.
“We had the BC Naturalists here last fall,” Connie says, “and have the Vancouver Naturalists booked this year. Last year we hosted a music festival featuring Jason and Pharis Romero from Horsefly along with a number of local musicians.”
This year they are looking forward to hosting Celtic musician Terry Boyle for a concert on July 18, as he makes his way to the Bella Coola Music Festival.
“We want guests to feel they are part of the family,” Rudy says. “They can experience an actual ranch.”
Of course in these modern times guests can also enjoy wifi and satellite television, but they have the added benefit of walking trails where they won’t run into other people.
To learn more about the Homathko River Inn, log onto their website: homathkoriver.com or find them on facebook at Tatlayoko’s Homathko River Inn B&B. They can also be reached by phone at 250-476-1131 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.