With the launching of the Cariboo Heritage Park Society, brothers Roger and Rusty Patenaude are one step closer to making their mother’s wishes of preserving the Gold Rush-era, historical 153 Mile Store a reality.
“This is a time capsule of the Cariboo,” said Roger from inside the store Dec. 28 near 150 Mile House with his brother Rusty, other society members and Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb on hand.
“Our mother’s wishes were to have the store preserved and not be sold for profit.”
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.
“I worked in the store quite a bit. It’s a long time ago but I can remember filling shelves and taking orders from Horsefly and Likely and there was a stagecoach that ran twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays and we’d have that whole front porch, boxes stacked five, six feet high that they would pick up,” Rusty remembered, himself standing just a few feet from the counter where Lil passed away as he recalled the day.
“I remember grandpa was here and as soon as it happened he sent me out to go get my dad with the ‘57 Chevy—do you remember that Roger? I got out of the car and I was just shaking. I would have been 13.”
Roger, who is five years younger than Rusty, also has memories of the store and the Crosinas, who are still have close ties with the Patenaudes today, such as Anita Crosina, who is working along side the Patenaudes on the relocation.
“We called her Aunt Lil, she was like a second mom to me actually because my little brother was born eleven months after me, so my mother had her hands full, so Lil took me on. We were all like family,” added Roger.
Rusty said the society is very happy that the City of Williams Lake has endorsed their idea to gift the store and its entire contents to the city for relocation to a ten-acre parcel of land with the Williams Lake Stampede Grounds which city council endorsed in principle in December.
“We’re hoping to be able to create a museum that the whole of the city 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 spinoff, 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, who braved blowing snow and -20C temperatures to support the launch of the campaign.
“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 possibily a First Nations heritage site as well.
Rusty has spent his lifetime ranching on the family ranch since leaving his days of professional hockey behind him, where he played for the Edmonton Oilers and was the first Oilers player to score 100 goals for the team.
Rusty will appear on Rogers Hometown Hockey this weekend, where he will be interviewed by Ron MacLean about his hockey career, the Patenaude’s fight against the 2017 wildfires that came close to taking the historical store and the society’s bid to raise the $1.2 million needed to relocate the store and its contents to Williams Lake.
“Our gain is that we hope it is preserved for life,” Rusty said of the gift. “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.”
For more information on the society, or how to make a donation, contact society president Anita Crosina at 250-392-0126.To date, about $10,000 has already been donated to the society.