By Bill Peeler
She had a body that would take more than one solid punch to knock down. The pink feathers on her more-than-ample bosom were having a helluva time staying put. Her fire-engine-red mouth was as well meant for shouting as singing. The upright piano tinkled in the background as she belted out raucous songs about life in British Columbia’s mining towns.
Like ladies of the “finishing schools” popular in the 1880s, she looked like she could do serious damage with an empty beer bottle if you crossed her. She probably chewed and spit tobacco. The only thing missing was a Colt strapped to her waist.
Nobody would accuse her of being timid. She eyed a man with carefully-groomed silver hair. Without missing a beat, she sashayed over and ruffled it into a tangled mess. He chuckled along with the rest of the crowd.
Welcome to an evening at Walt Moberly Theatre, only one among many sources of family entertainment at 3 Valley Gap, a mere 19 kilometers (about 12 miles) west of Revelstoke, British Columbia.
During the 1890s, 3 Valley was one of British Columbia’s picturesque mining and railway towns. Up to 100 people lived and worked there. A fire put an end to all of that in 1913.
The present Three Valley Lake Chateau and Three Valley Gap Heritage Ghost Town represent one family’s efforts to save and exhibit a part of Canadian history.
A child of the Great Depression, founder and creator Gordon Bell wanted a place where his family could live and work. He got the idea about a heritage town at age 16 while working near Revelstoke with pick and shovel. He discovered the remains of an 1860s town, French Creek, and lamented that it was being left to rot.
In 1961, he and his wife Ethel began rescuing and moving heritage buildings from neglected sites in the Kootenays. They’ve been operating 3 Valley Gap ever since.
One standout at this historic spot is the Holyrood dining car, a 40-seat car built for the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1885 by Barney & Smith Manufacturing Company of Dayton, Ohio.
Transcontinental train diners didn’t suffer for lack of fine fare. They feasted on haddock and cream sauce, leg of mutton and caper sauce, roast turkey and cranberry sauce, roast lamb and mint sauce, roast beef, fillet of beef, and stewed lamb.
Western delicacies included trout, prairie hen, antelope steaks, and Fraser River salmon delivered right to the train’s kitchen — all of this a far cry from the beans and bannock tolerated by most trappers and miners eking out an existence in the wilderness.
The heritage ghost town at 3 Valley Gap displays years of effort by the Bell family. It contains 25 historic buildings from all over British Columbia. On a daily tour, you’ll see Hotel Bellevue, the Golden Wheel Saloon, a blacksmith shop complete with artifacts, a barbershop, and a jail, among others.
A highlight of the tour is Trapper Joe’s cabin. Dirt floor, makeshift table, metal stove pipe sticking through a ramshackle roof, all about the size of a prison cell. Who had time for a fancy dwelling when the business of trapping kept you alive and fed?
Another 3 Valley highlight is the lake. Splash around in the shallows. Offload your canoe and go for a serene paddle. Drop a line and see if you can hook a trout.
Feeling more energetic? Do a bit of wind surfing or water skiing.
Take pictures! The Monashee Mountains are an ideal place for a family photo op.
With these three sources of entertainment (the lake, the chateau, and the heritage ghost town), you’re barely scratching the surface. Plan to spend two to three days here. You’ll need at least that much to enjoy 3 Valley’s treasures and all the activities within a short driving distance.
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