Publisher’s Note: This is a column I wrote last year while doing some work as a communications consultant. After my friends at the Osoyoos Times earlier this week used an unfortunate choice of words in a headline to describe the Princeton Posse hockey team, I felt it might be a good time to resurrect my thoughts on a visit to three Similkameen Valley communities.
If the Similkameen is something you simply pass through on your way to Vancouver, the next time you’re on the road do yourself a favour and take a little extra time to explore Keremeos, Hedley and Princeton. You might be surprised at what you find.
To really appreciate a community, you have to get out of your car and walk it.
That’s what I did earlier this month as I visited the Similkameen Valley communities of Keremeos, Hedley and Princeton.
For most folks, the three communities are mere mileposts on a cross-provincial journey from the Alberta border to Vancouver. They’re blips on any map that shows Hwy. 3 bending and winding its way across Southern British Columbia; between them, you’d be hard-pressed to find 5,000 residents.
It doesn’t help that the rugged, rustic beauty of the Valley is a constant distraction.
But I got to do what local businesses hope more passers-by would do: I had time to park my car and wander the active streets of downtown cores, stopping in the little coffee shops and quaint little restaurants, poking my nose into specialty shops selling everything from outdoor supplies to knickknacks to pet supplies.
Although I was on my own mission — delivering information on behalf of a client, the Similkameen Valley Planning Society — I took the time to enjoy my stroll, dropping a couple of dollars here and there as I soaked up sun, tidbits of conversation and the unique Similkameen culture.
I visited with a purveyor of alcoholic beverages in Princeton who claimed to be that community’s biggest tourism booster: he had a pad of local maps and a wealth of information to pass along to motorists stopping in to pick up a few for the road.
(Not that I would recommend such activity, of course.)
In Keremeos, I browsed a parlour packed so tightly with antiques that an “oops” purchase — the brushing to the floor of some fragile piece of history by a misplaced hip or elbow — seemed inevitable. A busy pharmacist had time to chat; a newspaper editor and I swapped stories for a good half hour.
Each morning, driving down Hwy. 3A from Penticton to Keremeos, I was awestruck by the sight of K Mountain as I entered the Valley. I darted home one night from Princeton along a quieter back road connecting the community to Summerland. It turned out to be a bit of an adventure, but well worth the extra few minutes my shortcut ended up taking.
Lunch one day was spent sitting in a quiet campground along the Ashnola River, a rushing torrent in the late spring thaw, and a few moments capturing the beauty of the waterway with my camera. I had picked up soup at Emma’s Bakery in Keremeos for that adventure and shared the cup with ants crawling across my picnic table. Another day, I sat down in a little kitchen called Thomasina’s and shared half a sandwich with a young couple cycling from Vancouver to Calgary.
I played the “Pepperoni Game” at Doug’s Homestead.
Passing through before, our vehicle all but a blur as we pressed on for the Coast, I often wondered why people would choose to live in such communities so far, it seemed, from the sophistication of a modern world.
But getting out of my car and walking the community finally gave me the answer: for these people, this was home.
Comfortable. Encouraging. Serene.
I came away with the unsettling sense that I could find my own home in any of these communities; in fact, the prospect seemed somewhat inviting.
And that, perhaps, is what tourism is all about. Sometimes a community can be a nice place to visit.
And, sometimes, you’ll discover it would be a nice place to live as well.