‘Little Lake’ always a draw

The year is 1892. Charles McGuire has sent his 15-year-old brother Jack out to work the quarter section behind the McGuire trading post

McGuire Lake: A view of the lake from the 1940s.

The year is 1892. Charles McGuire has sent his 15-year-old brother Jack out to work the quarter section behind the McGuire trading post. He doesn’t know it, but Charles has put the wheels in motion for the bush land around Little Lake to become a significant tourist attraction. The elder McGuire was just keeping his teenaged brother busy.  Jack was an outdoors kind of kid,  happy burning off trees and blasting stumps with explosives. The land had to be cleared because there was an order of apple trees that was going in soon.

Another homesteader, C.B. Harris, was helping Jack clear trees. They salvaged some logs from the lake and piled them on shore to dry. They would make great firewood for the following winter. Jack found a half-rotted dugout canoe, hidden in the bull rushes. Several stone axes and arrowheads surfaced. Someone called on Chief Leon and Michel Purdaby. They confirmed that, long before contact, Little Lake was the site of a territorial skirmish.

Fast forward to 1910.  Jack’s mother, Agnes McGuire, was building a retirement home; she made sure she had views. She liked to walk down to her dock on Little Lake where there was an abundance of waterfowl.

More than a decade earlier Agnes had given up serving ducks from the lake. She tried to keep the patrons at her rooming house on the 100 mile diet. The diet started at her back door, but the boarders were not going for it. The ducks tasted swampy, so Mrs. McGuire raised geese instead.

Between 1910 and 1928, Salmon Arm residents started calling Little Lake, McGuire Lake, while family members called it “Grandma’s lake.” Mrs. Ella Barlow, a neighbour in the little brick house closest to town, suggested the name be officially changed, but that didn’t happen until a park was dedicated by Mayor Lund in 1980.

Things changed after the Second World War. A deep freeze damaged many of the fruit trees. Then the highway was redirected in 1952, motels sprang up and tourists discovered Salmon Arm. About that time, Barry Swenson moved into a house on the south side of the small lake.

Barry was in Grade 5. His neighbours were the General Hospital and the Shamrock Motel. Barry got a job cutting the grass for one of the motel owners. The work wasn’t steady so, being an entrepreneur, he expanded his business. Barry started catching turtles and selling them to tourists from a lemonade-type stand. Barry baited barbless hooks with cheese and bread dough. He paddled out to the turtles in his homemade dingy. The turtles were sunning on a log. The turtles did what turtles do when disturbed and plopped themselves into McGuire Lake. Barry watched them carefully, figuring out where they were, and sent his line down to them. Seeing an easy nibble, the turtles grabbed at Barry’s hook. Barry made a lot of money that summer.

Barry remembers the Swenson home being a gathering place for school kids. They left their skates so they could skate after classes and weekends.

“The ice was a lot better then,” Barry says. “When it froze early, the lake would be perfectly smooth, like a mirror. It didn’t freeze and thaw. That makes for bad ice.”

Barry’s memories are of a time when winters were colder. The kids gathered to play hockey, curl and skate. Rotarians plowed the snow off the lake, the District of Salmon Arm staff delivered wood for bonfires and BC Hydro installed a lamp for night skating.

Fast forward 124 years after Jack McGuire first cleared submerged logs from the lake. The water body’s official name has changed, the site has been landscaped, there is a fountain and the park is a draw for today’s residents and tourists. We still get questions at the Salmon Arm Museum. Is McGuire Lake natural?

Of course. Thank heavens there’s photographic evidence to prove it.

Join the celebration in remembering historic destinations as R.J. Haney Heritage Village celebrates Heritage Week at the Mall at Piccadilly to Feb. 21. For more information check the website: www.salmonarmmuseum.org or call 250-832-5243.

 

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