While everyone in the lakecity knows of Scout Island, few are likely aware of its complete history which is why Ordell Steen of the Williams Lake Field Naturalists sought to rectify that with a new, self-published book.
Titled The Scout Island Story: From First People’s Home to Nature Centre, the book began as a simple pamphlet Steen wanted to make to inform people on the history of this iconic part of Williams Lake. However, the more research he did the more story he had to tell so finally he decided to write a short book detailing the island’s history.
Steen has been a member of the field naturalists since 1984 and a director/manager of Scout Island for many years and in that time he’s gotten to know many of the people who were instrumental in the creation of the preserve as we know it today.
“It’s a pretty small book but I thought it was important for people in Williams Lake to recognize two things; one is that this area has been Secwepemc Nation homeland for quite a long time, thousands of years,” Steen said. “But also for people to understand how Scout Island actually formed and developed and the history of that.”
Due to the importance of Scout Island to the community, Steen thought it was important for more people to know about it. He’d had people come to Scout Island and ask questions about the history or make statements about it that were “clearly wrong.”
As such, his book covers its history from the time it was part of a Secwepemc village site to when it was used as a campground by the Boy Scouts to shining a spotlight on the people that turned it into the nature centre it is today. As some of these people are now quite elderly, such as Anna Roberts, Steen knew it was important to write this history down now. To conduct research for this book Steen talked to several people in the lakecity area over a few months and went through old editions of the Tribune for news stories and photos from the 1960s and 1970s.
“I think we need to understand our history because I’ve always thought that if you want to understand where you are and where you have to go from here you need to understand where you came from,” Steen said.
Including the story of the Secwepemc was especially important to Steen as he wanted to make it clear history didn’t start in “1859” with the first European settlers and nor did the use of Scout Island. In the book, he also briefly covers the displacement of the Secwepemc Nation and their recent court victory.
He also covered its purchase by Robert Borland, its subsequent purchase by the railroad and its acquisition by the City of Williams Lake. Steen also explains the origins of Scout Island’s name, which it got from MLA Roderick Alexander Mackenzie who gave it to the City for the use of the local Boy Scouts.
By interviewing Roberts, and other longtime lakecity residents Steen then recounts how Scout Island was bought from the City of Williams Lake by the Nature Trust of B.C. who then entrusted the property to the management of the Williams Lake Field Naturalists. Steen said that, to this day, a lot of people still think it’s the City who owns the property which is a point of confusion he’d like to clear up.
Thus far he said the book has been received quite well by the community and he’s received some good feedback from readers. The book is available at The Open Book, the Station House Gallery and of course, Scout Island Nature Centre, for $9.95, which covers the cost to print it, Steen said.
“I feel really good about it but I always think about what I didn’t tell. There is so much more we could say,” Steen said.