About 38 km northwest of Castlegar, up the winding, gravel road beyond Syringa Creek Provincial Park, lies the tiny community of Deer Park. It is not a city, a town, or even a village. As long-time resident Doris Latta put it, “We’re not even incorporated.”
Year round there are about 10 occupied homes, but in the summer the population swells to about 60 people. Its designation as a community suits it perfectly. The people in Deer Park embody community in the truest sense of the word, not just in the form that simply denotes a population.
Latta is the secretary treasurer of the Deer Park Recreational Society. The non-profit’s main purpose is to provide fire protection for residents from Cayuse Creek through Deer Park and up to Broadwater. They also help with fisheries work and things like opening roads after storms.
The society maintains one fire truck, one water tank truck and a fire/community hall. Most of their funding comes in the form of grants from Regional District of Central Kootenay Area J and from the membership dues of its 50 members.
The most recent action of the society was in response to the April 12 fire that destroyed the home of Marg and Dan Roller.
By the time the call came through and recreational society president John Eriksson arrived on the scene with the water truck, the home was fully engulfed in flames and was beyond saving. Eriksson and his wife Edith, along with several other members, worked on keeping the fire from spreading to the surrounding forest.
Eriksson is also the fire warden for the area encompassing Sunshine Creek to Pass Creek and on to Krestova. He notified the Ministry of Forests, who sent out an initial response team stationed at Shoreacres. An evacuation notice was issued for the area until crews were confident the fire would not spread.
The last time the community lost a home to fire was in 1996. That fire destroyed Doris Latta’s home and set in motion the elements that would combine to become the present recreational society.
Latta’s fire happened early in the morning and among the first to notice the fire was a logging crew from Kalesnikoff Lumber, who helped fight it, but the fire reached the home’s propane tanks and the efforts switched from saving the house to saving the forest and community.
“We are not trained to enter houses. We haven’t got the equipment or the experience. Our big thing is that if a place catches fire, we are going to try to stop it from spreading,” explained Eriksson.
Kalesnikoff would later not only donate Deer Park’s first fire truck, but also provide most of the lumber to build the fire hall. Mitchell’s Supply also came on board and offered construction supplies at discounted prices. The building was built with all volunteer labour on land leased from the Ministry of Forests.
When the time came for Deer Park to upgrade their fire truck, they sent the old one across the lake on a barge to the community of Renata.
The recreational society also has two saves to their credit. Both of those fires started as forest fires and the work of the volunteers saved homes.
Deer Park was founded in the late 1800s and reached its peak during the 1950s and ‘60s. At one time it boasted its own school, church, gas station, restaurant, dry goods store and post office. The town drastically changed after dam construction resulted in flooding.
However, the community continues to press on. A new boat launch about four kilometers up the road has been completed this year. The recreational society is working on a project that is nearing completion that will bring gravity-fed water lines for the purpose of fire protection to five stand pipes located throughout Deer Park that could be used to fill the fire truck or run hoses.
“All that is left is to get our intake put in and get a proper screen put on it,” Eriksson says.
Life in Deer Park is different. Residents must generate their own electricity, get their water from a creek, cook with propane and heat with wood.
Tall fences surround the gardens, not to keep the neighbour’s kids out, but because the population of deer that gave the town its name is still ever present.
However, the residents love the beauty, tranquility and experiences with nature that this kind of life provides and would not trade it for a few conveniences. As resident George Latta firmly stated, “This is God’s country.”
Nor would they trade in the old-fashioned tradition of neighbours looking out for each other. The heart of Deer Park is the beat of community.
Everyone who lives above the Hugh Keenleyside Dam or has interest in any businesses or non-profit society that operates above the dam is invited to meet with Area J regional director Rick Smith on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Deer Park fire hall. If you’re unable to attend, Smith says he welcomes questions at firstname.lastname@example.org