The History of 100 Mile House

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The land that 100 Mile House is located on today was long the domain of the Indigenous, specifically the Shuswap, who developed a diverse and interesting culture in the region. Taking advantage of the bountiful resources, the Indigenous would form large trading networks that stretched from the Pacific Coast to the future Canadian Prairies.

The start of 100 Mile House began when it was known as Bridge Creek House after the creek that came through the area. During the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s as prospectors flooded into the interior of future British Columbia, several people decided to make money off the gold seekers and one of those individuals was Thomas Miller. He would set up several buildings in the area that served as resting spots for the travelers. These buildings were not luxurious by any means, but they provided shelter from the elements.

At the time, Bridge Creek House sat along the Hudson’s Bay Company Brigade Trail, which stretched from Kamloops to Fort Alexandria, which was 158 kilometres north of 100 Mile House.

In 1862, 100 Mile House would get its unique name when a proper roadhouse was constructed at the 100 Mile mark along the new Cariboo Road from Lillooet. The stopping house would become a historical attraction for the area but it would sadly be destroyed by fire on April 19, 1937.

The Vancouver Province would report on the loss, quote:

“The old 100 Mile House, famous 75 years ago as a stopping place for travelers along the old Cariboo highway in interior British Columbia, was destroyed by fire early today. No estimate of the damage was available but it was known historical records and fitting, except part of the old bar, had been removed.”

At the time, the stopping house was used as a bunk house on a local ranch.

Nearby to 100 Mile House at the time, 108 Mile House would be built to serve the growing number of gold seekers coming to the area. Originally built in the 1860s, it would be relocated to a site across Highway 97 but its buildings would be preserved and several buildings would be moved to it including the 105 Mile McNeil Roadhouse, which was located to the south originally. Several buildings can be found at the site now, including a 160-foot log barn built in 1908 to house over 100 Clydesdale horses. Today, it is the largest log structure of its kind left in Canada. In the Nicola Valley, the altar, lectern and pews were re-located from a 1904 church and taken to the 108 Mile Site. There is also a 1932 one-room school house there and a portable sawmill that was moved to the site in 1952. Today, the 108 Mile Heritage Site is a community landmark and a great place to explore the history of the area from before Canada was even a country.

In 1930, Lord Martin Cecil left England and came to 100 Mile House to manage the estate that his father, the Fifth Marquess of Exeter, owned. The estate was prominent enough that it had its own train stop called Exeter, just to the west of 100 Mile House. Within the 50,000 acre ranch, itself essentially a tiny town, there was a general store, a post office, a telegraph office and a power plant. In all, the small locality had a population of 12 people. The ranch had been bought by the Marquess in 1912. The Edmonton Journal would report quote:

“The young man will make his permanent home in the Cariboo and will take over the actual management as soon as he feels competent. He is learning fast. One of the first things he learned was that the cowpuncher wears a silk handkerchief around his neck for good reasons and not merely for show. The handkerchief is an efficient defence against the mosquitoes and as Lord Martin was without one on his first ride around the range, he got stung often enough for the lesson to sink in permanently.”

Lord Martin would stay at the ranch for several years, raising 1,600 head of cattle, while also managing his own polo and golf course at the ranch. While managing the ranch, he would become the head of the Emissaries of Divine Light, establishing its headquarters at 100 Mile House.

He would eventually return to England and in 1981 became the Seventh Marquess of Exeter, remaining so until his death in 1988.

During the Second World War, Taylor Lake, nearby to 100 Mile House, would have a sad part in the history of Canada. It was there that a camp, one of 56 set up in Canada, was set up to intern Japanese-Canadians who were forcefully moved away from the coast of British Columbia after Pearl Harbour was attacked. The Japanese Canadians were kept at the camp from 1942 to 1945. The camp was self-supporting, which meant it was less restrictive, and the internees could work, operate shops, send their children to school and have businesses. Despite being taken away from their homes, the internees would build lives for themselves at the camp, to make it as manageable as possible for the families there. Due to its history, the site was made a Provincially Recognized Heritage Site in 2017.

Speaking of the recognition of the camp, Joe Komori, who was a child at the camp and would live nearby aftewards, would say quote:

“Everything was hush-hush, you know? And most Japanese people, they don’t want to speak out, we keep more held inside. And now the seniors are gone, their stories are gone, so the third and fourth generations are starting to open up, who had heard these stories.”

In 1955, 100 Mile House would go through a major setback when sawmill, one of the biggest employers in the community, burned to the ground. The fire had started in the planer mill and quickly spread through the building. This was actually the second fire in two weeks in the area. The home of the station agent had burned to the ground previously. As for the sawmill fire, the damages were estimated to be $35,000, or $350,000 today.

In 1965, a century after 100 Mile House first started to appear on the landscape, the community was incorporated as a town. At the time, the town had a population of 800 people. Today, it has seen its population increase to almost 2,000 people.

The same year that 100 Mile House became a town, it would make nationwide news when there was a tragic plane crash in the area.

It was on July 10, 1965 when a DC-6B crashed near the community, becoming the fourth-worst air disaster in Canadian history at the time. The crash was believed to have been caused due to thunderstorms in the area but the true cause was much more malicious.

Flying from Vancouver to Prince George, the plane was piloted by John Steele, a Second World War veteran. As the plane flew over Ashcroft, three mayday calls were heard on air traffic control. Then, an explosion occurred in the left aft bathroom. This caused the tail to separate from the fuselage and the aircraft spiraled out of the air and crashed in a wooded area. All 46 passengers and six crew were killed in the crash. The crash site was about 40 kilometres west of 100 Mile House. Today, remnants of the crash remain at the site. A coroner’s inquest investigated and found that there was an explosive substance foreign to the normal contents of an aircraft, which caused the crash. Witnesses on the ground stated they saw the tail separate from the plane and debris came out the back of the aircraft. The debris they saw turned out to be bodies of passengers flying out due to the depressurization of the aircraft. The tail would fall 500 metres away from the rest of the plane, which had been engulfed in flames as it fell. The RCMP investigated the explosion and focused on four passengers on the plane but none was brought forward as a suspect. To this day, no one has claimed responsibility, no charges have been laid and the source of the explosion remains unknown.

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