Sunday, November 1, 2020

A road trip to Lillooet

As you approach the town, it's hard to miss the entry sign

In late September  I accepted an invitation from Peter Busse, mayor of Lillooet, to meet Kevin Taylor, the local planner, and Jeremy Denegar, the District’s Chief Administrative Officer. Originally from the Victoria area, the mayor told me they were 'enticed' to come to Lillooet from the Okanagan.  A young, openly gay couple, ready to start a new life, upon arrival in Lillooet, they found a building lot and within five months had completed construction of a modern four-bedroom house for less than the price of a Victoria condominium apartment.

Since arriving less than a year ago, they have forged significant relationships in the community, and additionally with the surrounding First Nations communities. They have also processed two significant subdivisions that had been languishing for some time prior to their arrival. The mayor and no doubt many in the community are very happy to have them around!

Lillooet is currently preparing a new Official Community Plan (OCP) 12 years after the last OCP, to guide future planning and attract investment. The mayor and his new CAO and planner wanted me to hear about their vision for the community and beautification plans for the downtown. 

This was my first visit to Lillooet since the 1970s when I was there in my capacity as CMHC's assistant architect/planner involved with what was then called the Rural and Native Housing Program. Although our stay was short, it was most enjoyable and I have written an article that will appear in the November Westcoast Homes & Design magazine. But in the meanwhile, here is a bit of information that I think you will find of interest.
Lillooet's history is very much tied to minerals, as becomes evident when touring Main Street

Lillooet is located 130 km from Whistler, 170 km from Kamloops and 250 km north-east of Vancouver. It had its start as one of the main centres of the 1858–59 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, during which time it was said to be the largest town west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. The District of Lillooet was founded in 1946, so next year is its 75th Anniversary.

Main Street offers room for improvement and Mayor Busse and his senior staff are well aware of this.

In some respects, little had changed since I was last there. The main street lives up to the community’s branding tagline “Guaranteed Rugged”, which is prominently displayed on the entry signage, marketing materials, and even the mayor’s business card with its missing corner, as if eaten by a bear.

Jeremy and Kevin are not the only ones buying property in Lillooet. During my visit I learned that offshore investors have also been purchasing land in anticipation of future growth.

With the new population comes a Farmers' Market!

It is not surprising that people are now considering Lillooet as a place to live. Anyone who has visited Squamish and Pemberton recently will have discovered both are growing rapidly. They are becoming very attractive places to live with well-designed mixed-use and residential developments located along beautifully landscaped streets. But they are becoming expensive, which is why an increasing number of people are now considering moving to Lillooet. 

While Lillooet desperately needs a decent hotel or inn, it does have a very good winery. Fort Berens Winery was started by a Dutch couple and it is not only a good tasting experience, there's a good restaurant too. Lillooet now has a second winery called the Cliff and Gorge, just outside the town . In addition, the community has managed to attract a craft brewery which is presently under construction and they are hopeful to be able to attract another business, possibly a distillery. 

As you will read in my Vancouver Sun column, there was a time when kids left their small towns to move to the big city. Now it's happening in reverse. And for good reason!

Sally reads up on the town's history and connections to First Nations and the Chinese and Japanese communities.