Things come full circle in people’s lives and there are various ways people circumvent those circles.
For George and Gloria Atamanenko, the Cariboo-Chilcotin has always been a draw — a place they came and went to.
That was up until a couple of decades ago when they purchased Tuffy’s Spring Ranch on Valley Road, above 150 Mile House.
They were en route to their cabin on Horn Lake in the Chilcotin, when they stopped in to visit Tuffy and Velma Derrick at the ranch and learned the couple wanted to sell.
“We looked at each other, went out to the Chilcotin, came back and had a visit and said we were interested. We agreed and shook hands on a price, and told them it might take us a year,” George recalls.
In less than a year they made the move.
Gloria, now 80, was one of eight children born into a Ukrainian family in Northern Alberta. The Chomiaks were farming between High Level and Fort Vermillion.
The area saw seven months of snow and two more of hard sledding, Gloria says, chuckling.
Correspondence school only went to Grade 10, so on the invitation to go live with an uncle in the U.S., she attended Wilmington High School, in Wilmington, Delaware.
After high school, she won a scholarship to attend a Quaker College. Upon graduation, she began working in social work, but after her uncle’s death decided to leave the U.S.
“I appreciated America, but it wasn’t home country to me and I wanted to go back to Canada. I wrote to Mom and Dad and said I wanted to come back to Fort Vermillion and they were happy to have me back.”
Meanwhile George, who Gloria’s family called the “handsome land inspector,” visited the farm on a regular basis.
He often came for dinner on Friday evenings and stayed the weekend to help them on their farm.
“I was in Alberta working with the Department of Lands in the settlement of agricultural land,” George says.
Gloria and her sister Alice, who was a teacher, were both home that summer.
“Mother looked us over and she pointed her finger at Alice and said ‘you sit beside Daddy tonight. She gets to sit beside that land inspector,’ pointing to me,” Gloria says.
After dinner George suggested they take a walk.
He wanted to go down by the river and had a plan to see how well Gloria’s balance was.
“Half way down he asked if I could stand on one leg. I thought, ‘This man is funny. What am I doing here?’ but then said ‘sure why not?’ Once he saw I could he said, ‘Great, I could teach you to ski.”
Even funnier is the fact Gloria never did take up skiing. George, however, continues to ski every Friday at Mt. Timothy.
George, now 83, was born in New Westminster, one of two children.
His brother Adam is the NDP MP in the Southern Interior.
Their father, who was from the Ukraine, and their mother, who was from Siberia, met, married and raised their sons in the Queensborough area of New Westminster.
George and Gloria were married in 1953 and eventually had two sons — Boris and Peter.
The family began coming to the Cariboo Chilcotin when there was an opening for a land inspector in the Clinton, Kamloops area and then eventually in Williams Lake.
“We were looking at Crown Land and its leasing arrangements, subdivision, and attending cattlemen’s meetings. There was a fellow here at the time named Jack Esler and he worked east of the Fraser and I was west of the Fraser,” George remembers, adding to this day he knows more about the Chilcotin than the Cariboo.
They left to return to university, and then lived and worked in Edmonton for a few years, followed by a couple decades in Victoria.
Looking out toward the little lake behind their home, Gloria explains that it was once a wet meadow.
“Valley Creek flows through our ranch and the beavers put in a super dam over the years.”
The Atamanenkos have built up the lake and done some riparian repair along the creek to keep the trees and shrubs intact.
The pond and marsh, George insists, are part of a series of marshes that form a network, inviting to herons, geese, ducks, and sandhill cranes. Owls and deer are regular visitors as well.
“People have asked if we’ve ever thought of moving to town, but we tell them we’re going to be here until we’re 100. It’s still an agricultural land reserve, which is what we want. We’ve worked with Duck’s Unlimited to help bring the bird life here.”
A few years ago they sold their cattle herd, and these days rent out grazing land. They’ll raise one or two cows a year to feed themselves and another family.
Both are involved with the Council of Canadians and the Seniors Advisory Council; the latter gives seniors a fair shake in the community, George suggests.
He’s also involved with the Cariboo Regional District Heritage Committee, is the chair of the CRD Advisory Planning Commission and has been a director of the Williams Lake & District Credit Union for a decade.
Gloria has helped put together local history books, in particular Gumption and Grit, and translated other people’s writing. She says getting people’s life stories is important.
Agreeing, George suggests those stories help tell the world about the region and the people who have helped shape it.
As they serve up homemade peach pie after a scrumptious dinner of locally prepared pork sausage from 153 Mile House, Soda Creek corn they picked recently, homemade bread and a salad made with vegetables from their garden, it’s evident they’re following the hospitality tradition of their parents, who both say always offered a cup of tea and something to eat to visitors.