Donna Barnett

Tourist centre has long history in 100 Mile House

Donna Barnett guest column

The South Cariboo Visitor’s Centre has come a long way in the past 50 years.

It started out as a “Tourist Booth,” run by the Rotary Club, under a makeshift rainbow on Highway 97, welcoming visitors to the area.

The booth – the original morgue – was moved to the existing site in the 1970s. I, and Gladys McLeod, an amazing lady, ran the booth as volunteers. It was only open in the summer because the building had no insulation. Many a cold day was spent in there!

When Expo ’86 came along, it brought an opportunity for each community to have a project. The South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce – formed around 1980 after the original 100 Mile Chamber of Commerce folded in 1976 – had taken over managing the Tourist Booth.

I had just become president of the Chamber, replacing our first president and then-Royal Bank manager Terry Keller. With the blessing of the District of the 100 Mile House council, the Chamber applied for an Expo ’86 grant to build a new Tourist Info Centre.

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The building committee included me as chair, along with Gladys and Patrick Reid. We were successful in our application, which was indeed an amazing project. Contractors and businesses were so generous. Weldwood was the big mill at the time and they donated the logs. Canada’s Log People Inc. did the log work.

Architect Dick Cross did the design work, while Eric Ohlund built the foundation, which was a challenge due to the wetland. Constructed as a floating slab, the foundation was a major cost of the project. A plaque with the names of all the businesses recognized those who worked on the project and I hope it is still there. All the contractors charged cost only for the facility. There were so many donations it was heartwarming.

The total price: $66,400.

The Chamber ran the Tourism Info Centre for years. Their office was upstairs, and the Chamber was responsible for all building maintenance work. As time went on, a fence was put up to keep the geese out and the District looked after the outside.

I believe it was in the early 2000s when the District of 100 Mile House became really involved with tourism. Using its Development Corporation, the District took over the responsibility of the Tourism Info Centre and developed a great tourism marketing strategy with all the tourism operators in the South Cariboo.

Our manager at the time, Darrel Warman, worked tirelessly to put marketing programs together. We had a great bunch of operators who met with Darrel two to three times a year to create their marketing plan. I believe at one time we had more than 200 tourism businesses.

Pat Corbett and others played a big role in promoting tourism. At one time, we even had a plan to hire a bus and tried to bring tourists up here in the wintertime with tourism packages. That unfortunately was not a success.

Around 2005-06, the Interlakes Building Supplies, now Rona, donated its time to sand and re-stain the Info Centre at no cost. Over the years, many hours of great work by volunteers and by the District staff have gone into maintaining our Expo ’86 project, which we are all very proud of. The government also funded the Mile 0 cairn when geocaching became popular, sometime around the mid-2000s.

Unfortunately, all the Chamber records have disappeared – a sad state of affairs as it had done so much work to create this amazing tourism hub.

It is great to see the facility being refurbished and so nice to see the Stage Coach there. But that is another story for another time.

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