Driving out to Trout Creek Hall on the western end of Francois Lake strikes home how vast the Lakes District is. To people that grew up here, or have lived here for years, this observation is probably so obvious that it’s easily passed over without much thought.
‘Burns Lake is a mill town,’ people told me before I moved here. A year later, that over-simplification seems almost false.
No one could deny that forestry was and remains the fundamental economic driving force in the Lakes District, and I’m not suggesting otherwise, but the richness and diversity of culture here is a never-ending surprise.
The narrow, winding road that leads to the west end of Francois Lake and beyond is a road into our collective recent past, metaphorically and literally.
Once you’re at the Trout Creek Hall, you might as well leave your cell phone in the truck, because there’s no service. Imagine spending an afternoon with 100 other people, and not one person answers a text or makes a Facebook update.
Instead of googling the history of the hall on your smartphone, you have to look at the photos hanging on the wall, read the captions, and ask someone who’s lived there for a while, or longer, to tell you something about the place.
Long before the large, industrial-scale sawmills in Burns Lake were around, small-scale logging and small mills were the norm. Ranchers, farmers and loggers where hewing out a way of life that has persisted – often against the odds – to this day.
One hundred years of beef ranching south of Burns Lake? Naturally. Area locals know all of this, and probably take it for granted as the natural weave of the fabric around here, but the Lakes District really is a deeply unique place if you can see it again as if for the first time.
What makes Burns Lake and the Lakes District great is the diversity of culture and ways of life that exist here. We all want to say that those ways of life are thriving, but that would be a quick gloss over the facts that serves no one.
Conversation at the hall last weekend sometimes turned to serious questions about the future of area ranching and the way of life it brings with it.
Woodlots that ranchers and farmers at one time relied on to supplement incomes have been devastated by the mountain pine beetle. Beef prices are so low that ranchers dread the day when aging equipment will need to be replaced, because the money won’t be there to replace it.
Ranchers who should be thinking about their retirement days after decades of work openly wonder where the next generation of ranchers will come from, and what they will face when they arrive.
A paradox that smart people will have to unravel someday is why our society seems to places the least value on the most fundamental things, like farmland, healthy livestock, clear water and clean air.
I don’t know how we solve this perplexing inversion of values, but it starts with finding out first hand what we stand to lose. You’ll need to shut your iPhone off to do that, and maybe take long drive for some leisurely conversation.