It’s almost lilac time. I whine about this every year, but how many Williams Lakers know the lilac is our official flower? It was adopted by Mayor Rick Gibson’s council. Although that council was known for its pro-business philosophy, it adopted some un-business stuff, like an official poet, Frank Gleeson, and the lilac.
Once upon a time, almost every lot in Williams Lake had lilacs. When they bloomed, the whole town smelled like lilacs.
This wasn’t fun for people with allergies but many older-timers have fond memories of those days.
I don’t know how the lilacs got here. Nellie Hance brought the yellow rose bush when she came to the Chilcotin from Victoria in the late 1880s as the bride of Tom Hance. She may have brought the lilac too, no doubt the original plant came tucked in the belongings of some woman settler.
Like the early imported wives, the lilac adapted itself to the Cariboo. Because of their resilience — and beauty — lilac are an appropriate bloom to represent this region, not only Williams Lake.
Like other newcomers, they survived isolation, drought, frigid temperatures, floods, and everything nature could throw at them. They seem to thrive on adversity. There are lilacs (and rhubarb) still growing on long-abandoned Interior homesteads. If left alone, there is no getting rid of them, but they are no match for developers.
There are still lilac bushes on private properties in the city, but oddly enough not on city land. I don’t know if this is by accident or design. We’ve lost out on a few Gibson initiatives, the lilacs being one of them. When Merritt began promoting lilacs in 2008, former Premier Bill Vander Zalm donated a thousand plants to the city.
Whatever, maybe as an 85th birthday project, the city could find a heritage lilac or two to plant in a park or somewhere.
Diana French is a freelance columnist for the Tribune. She is a former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.