Jesse Ziercke describes himself as a Shuswap boy.
“I grew up here,” the manager of Quaaout Lodge said.
Even after the hotel business of bigger cities like Calgary beckoned him away, his heart remained in his home community. It’s what encouraged him to take the job at the resort that will mark its 25th anniversary this year, with Talking Rock Golf Course next door hitting double digits since its creation in 2007.
It’s cause for celebration, said resort food and beverage manager Colin Spiekermann, with events planned throughout the year. Helping guide many of the events is Frank Antoine, cultural liaison at Quaaout. His path to the lodge on Little Shuswap Lake had its own unique beginning, one removed from his position now.
“I was a golf pro,” Antoine said, adding he was always over at Talking Rock. “But you can feel the spirit here. I can feel the spirit but what was missing was the legend,” he said of the First Nations history that lives in the area.
Antoine said his concern began to firm into ideas three years ago when he was at the nearby Adams River sockeye run, providing canoe rides for people to see the fish swarm and then serving them a salmon dinner.
“That’s it, I thought,” Antoine said. “It started to resonate with me.”
He said the lodge needed to embrace the indigenous-ness surrounding it and create activities at the lodge people would not only enjoy but which would share that history of the area.
The kekuli winter house, for example, is used for storytelling and lessons on cooking bannock over an open flame. There are hikes that will take people into the surrounding bush to learn about — and pick — berries that grow in the area. Those jaunts can also point out other foods growing — bitterroot and wild asparagus, for example.
Courtesy of a suggestion from an Australian guest, another excursion is available. Inspired by the Australian tradition of walkabouts — when indigenous males would live in the wilderness for several months to make a spiritual connection — the man suggested the lodge offer a ride-about using some of the many golf carts at Talking Rock for guests to head out into the area and explore.
Antoine said the idea has led to memorable moments as people heading out into the neighbouring terrain “go from seniors back to being a child.”
Antoine hopes to also add winter activities. He’s eyeing Skmana Lake for ice fishing and wandering area trails. The excursion would ideally include a local trapper to help participants catch dinner for the night, while pointing out animal prints.
Antoine is also looking at other ways to bring together neighbouring First Nations — Adams Lake, Neskonlith and Little Shuswap — for other cultural activities, noting the work he and others at the lodge have done has “kind of lit a fire with culture again.”
The local culture has made its way into the kitchen, as well.
Jared Summers, one of the people behind The Noble Pig in Kamloops, has taken over and recast the menu to feature more of an indigenous flair in the dishes.
The winter menu, for example, featured Haida Gwaii halibut with huckleberry butter, Nicola Valley ribeye steaks and fresh bannock.
Outside, just past the area where Frank Marchand is creating two cottonwood canoes, a garden will be expanded to provide the kitchen with homegrown foods.
Other plans include taking signs that help tell the story of the area off their wooden stands and mounting them on stacked rock creations. They are spaced out to provide a walking history for visitors to follow.
The lodge and course are kicking off celebrations on June 25, Aboriginal Day in Canada, with the launching of the two canoes. One will be put into ongoing use later, while the other traditional hand-carved one will be left on display.
Plans also include creating fire pits on the beach, which has plenty of space on the 1,800-foot sandy shore to plant lawn chairs and enjoy the sun before taking a dip in Little Shuswap Lake. The lodge is also popular for weddings; last year there were 55 held there.
For more information on the 70-room lodge or golf course, go online to quaaoutlodge.com.
-By Dale Bass, Kamloops This Week