Cabin Preserves Pioneer Life

Meadow Creek Museum invites visitors to explore a pre-dam home. To travel back in time to pioneer life…

4 minute read

Meadow Creek Museum invites visitors to explore a pre-dam home.

To travel back in time to pioneer life in the Basin, soon all it will take is a step into the restored Billy Clark cabin in Meadow Creek. One hundred years ago, miner, trapper and snowshoe maker Billy Clark built the cabin on the shores of Duncan Lake. Today, the cabin represents Basin life before the Columbia River Treaty dams were built, and the Lardeau Valley Historical Society aims to share this history by turning the cabin into an in-depth museum exhibit.

“Museums are about telling stories,” says Peter Jonker, Society President. “Billy Clark cabin is really the centrepiece for telling the story of the flooding of the Duncan Reservoir.”

Built in 1919, the cabin has remarkably survived over a century to become one of the very few remaining tangible pieces of pre-flood life in the area. Although it’s only becoming a full-fledged museum exhibit in 2020, “the project really got started with the building of the Duncan Dam,” says Jonker. As part of the Columbia River Treaty, construction of the dam began in 1964. Soon, construction crews and the rising waters of Duncan Reservoir were destroying landscapes and settlements and submerging First Nations archaeological artifacts.

“Billy Clark cabin is really the centrepiece for telling the story of the flooding of the Duncan Reservoir.”

Peter Jonker, President, Lardeau Valley Historical Society

“Billy Clark cabin was really considered one of the nicer cabins,” Jonker says, making it a lucky target for rescue. It was moved to the Meadow Creek clay pits, which provided the clay that workers mixed with aggregate to build the dams. Although there were plans to build a ski hill on the slopes of the pit, using the cabin as a warming hut, the project was never realized. So the cabin remained at the pits until 2009, when it survived a final move to the grounds of Meadow Creek Museum.

Now, a thoughtful rehabilitation process is well under way. The emphasis is on turning the cabin into a functional building with modern services while maintaining its heritage likeness and value.

To make sure people into the future can benefit from pieces of history like this, the Trust’s Built Heritage Grants, administered by Heritage BC, help local organizations conserve their assets and build awareness about them. These grants have supported three phases of the Billy Clark cabin project: constructing a concrete foundation; restoring the exterior, including adding a new deck, a lean-to woodshed and new timbers to improve structural stability; and now completing interior electrical work and transforming the cabin into a functional museum exhibit by installing interpretive signage and decorating with the many pioneer artifacts.

Rehabilitation also paves the way for materials and artifacts to be put on display—luckily, the society has many of these. Jonker says they have numerous pieces from the cabin’s heyday, including tools, kitchen wares and even some snowshoes that Billy Clark made himself. He was quite a skilled trapper, and a photo shows him next to a formidable bear skin, nearly half the height of the cabin. This skin has made its way overseas, but “we are going to try to get that back from Norway,” Jonker says. One day, it can then help illustrate another aspect of pioneer life.

Jonker notes the project has truly been a community effort. While the society is spearheading the project, construction is led by local tradespeople, and numerous volunteers were instrumental in the initial preparation of the cabin’s site and moving the cabin into place on it.

The museum plans to welcome guests into the cabin on weekends throughout the summer, with rules in place so they can experience the exhibit safely. Also, the interpretative signage outside the exhibit means guests will continue be able to learn about Billy Clark and his home throughout the fall and winter (with good snow tires).

Preserving the cabin allows for the Meadow Creek community to remain connected to its local history, plus will attract and educate history buffs and the public for generations to come. When complete, it will be a historically rich experience and a great opportunity to learn about Basin life and the intrepid people who shaped it.

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