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Quaaout Lodge in Shuswap to be rebuilt after devastating fire

Cause, extent of damage that destroyed guest wing being investigated for Little Shuswap Lake Band
A portion of the popular Quaaout Lodge went up in flames Sunday morning, May 22. (Andrew McCausland photo)

Devastation, sadness and heartbreak are widespread following a fire that destroyed the guest wing of Quaaout Lodge in Skwlax, Secwépemc territory, in the Thompson-Nicola region.

On the shores of Little Shuswap Lake, about 45 kilometres northwest of Salmon Arm, Quaaout Lodge & Spa at Talking Rock Resort is described by its social media as the pride of the Little Shuswap Lake Band.

“Built to share the local history and culture of the Secwepemc people,” is another descriptor.

Fire broke out in the early morning of Sunday, May 22.

“This has been a traumatic incident for everyone involved, from our guests to our employees and especially our community members,” said James Tomma, Kukpi7 (Chief) of the Little Shuswap Lake Band (LSLB). “Thankfully, and most importantly, there were no fatalities or serious injuries.”

He offered his personal thanks to firefighters and staff.

“To the Skwlax volunteer firefighters and the Chase Fire Department for their heroic efforts in responding to the fire, and also the staff at Quaaout Lodge who, without a second thought, ensured they got everyone safely out of harm’s way when the fire started.”

Kukpi7 Tomma said although the distinctive lobby appears to be intact, that’s still preliminary.

“We’re saying it’s intact, but that’s all we’re saying.” He said until it can be cleared from any potential smoke or structural damage or insurance requrements, “we can’t say it’s good to go.”

He said an investigation of the fire’s causes and the extent of the damage is now underway. One thing is already certain, however. He said Quaaout Lodge will be rebuilt.

“Our focus right now is on the safety of our community, and doing what we can to support our guests and our employees,” he said. “But I can tell you we will rebuild. Quaaout Lodge is an important part of our community. It’s an engine of economic development, but also the cultural heart of the community.

“Quaaout means ‘when the sun’s rays first touch the water,’ and there will be a new dawn for the lodge and for our community.”

Louis Thomas, a knowledge keeper with the Neskonlith band, said the fire has affected many people.

“I think it’s deeply felt throughout the nation. A lot of our meetings were held out there. It’s kind of like an iconic building for our people. It’s one of the first endeavours for our people to get into economic development. They struggled with it, survived and made a go of it.”

He added the loss is being felt by many non-Indigenous people as well.

At the North Shuswap Chamber of Commerce, Debbie Seymour, executive director, said along with the Little Shuswap Lake Band and the Quaaout team, the fire will affect tourism in the area.

“It’s impacted the community a great deal – it’s an important place for all of us out here. It’s a great facility, it’s a great place not only for our visitors but for our locals. Sometimes they stay there in the off season, or for the pool, lunch, golf – it’s a facility for everybody.

“It’s just sad. It’s very hard for many here.”

She said she thinks businesses and the community will write letters of support for the band.

“I think it’s important we let them know we’re thinking of them and we’re here to help. It’s important to respect their culture, and we’re aware of giving them time…,” she added.

She said she was at Quaaout last week and the parking lot was full. While that was good to see, the latest news wasn’t.

“It’s a very, very sad, sad, sad situation.”

Chase Fire Chief Brian Lauzon said the fire appeared to have started in the attic of the first section of the building, adjacent to the lobby. He said the complex has firewalls and firefighters thought they’d managed to save the second section of the lodge closest to the lake.

“We thought we had a good save there,” he said.

However, in the afternoon, smoke started slowly coming through the vents and the plumbing stacks. “We knew we lost that one.”

Lauzon said he thinks the entranceway, the dining room, the kitchen, the lobby and the banquet rooms may still be intact. However, he added, the walls are now too unstable so it’s not safe to go inside.

He said the good news was that no one was hurt.

“Everyone was accounted for, even the animals got out who were staying there,” he said, adding he thinks the lodge was almost full.

LSLB said it is working with the appropriate agencies to provide support to displaced guests and employees. The resort will remain closed while the initial investigation is completed. Updates will be provided to the public as new information becomes available.

Quaaout Lodge (pronounced kwa-ow-oot) was first conceived in 1979, and opened in 1991. It has been updated and expanded over the years, including the addition of the Talking Rock Golf Course in 2007, a Top 20 PGA of Canada-rated course.

Read more: Determined candidate sworn in as chief of Little Shuswap Lake Band

Read more: Quaaout/Talking Rock wins national tourism award
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The view of Quaaout Lodge & Spa at Talking Rock Resort from above as it looked in 2016. (File photo)

Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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