By Carol Stathers
Just south of Sicamous on Highway 97A sits the pristine Mara Lake. The summer months transform this quiet area into a tourist haven with campsites brimming with vacationers enjoying the beautiful lake. Renting houseboats is very popular in the area with Sicamous declaring itself the Houseboat Capital of Canada. Close by is the popular Mara Provincial Park, a day-use park great for swimming and picnicking.
The area we absolutely love is in the community of Mara, located just south of Mara Lake along the Shuswap River. This quiet little piece of paradise is often by-passed as tourists head north towards the lake or south to the agricultural community of Grindrod and then Enderby. For many years, we were one of those tourists until we discovered Mara.
Mara was named after John Andrew Mara (1840-1920) who not only owned a large portion of ranch land in the area, but was also a well-known merchant and politician.
Settlement in the community of Mara began in 1887/88, with many of the settlers arriving after 1892 when the railway was completed. The Shuswap & Okanagan Railway (later the CPR) ran between Sicamous and Okanagan Landing (at the north end of Okanagan Lake) where the paddle wheelers took passengers and freight further down the lake.
From 1915 – 1917 there were two internment camps located at Mara Lake which housed prisoners, Two Mile and Six Mile camps. Two Mile, located on Sicamous Creek (the winter camp), was the first to open and Six Mile, (also known as Hummingbird at Swansea Point) opened in the spring of 1916 as the summer camp.
A plaque has been placed at the location of the Two Mile camp (watch for signs two miles south of Sicamous on Highway 97A). The plaque marks the place in history where “thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans were needlessly imprisoned as enemy aliens”. For many, solitary confinement or food rations were the only alternative to the difficult labour of building the road on the east side of Mara Lake which eventually became Highway 97A.
Years later in the midst of the Great Depression, the federal government set up relief camps to provide employment for single unemployed men. Two camps, one at the current site of Mara Provincial Park and the second at Six Mile housed men who were tasked with widening the road (or later highway) between Mara and Sicamous.
With a population (2016) of just under 300 you can imagine how quiet this little community is. I think it is the peaceful, relaxing community feeling we get which draws us back.
You can enter Mara from one of two entrances, Riverside Road which actually loops through the community and then back out to Highway 97A. There is no “Welcome to Mara” sign but if you enter at the north end, you will see the sign for the Mara Community Church which you will find on your right as you drive down Riverside Road. Built in 1912, it served the community as St. Matthew’s Church for many years. It is a lovely little church with a very welcoming congregation. We stopped there on our last visit and had a picnic lunch on the benches outside the church.
If you follow Riverside Road a little further down, you will see the bridge which crosses the Shuswap River. We spent many lazy summer afternoons floating down the river. We would hold onto each other’s rafts, inner tubes or mattresses and float down under the bridge, often referred to as our “family flotilla”. As you approach the bridge you will see the Community Hall (built in 1911) on the west side of the river. The bridge was always a fun place to stop and try to hang on in the gentle current. For those with kayaks or canoes, they would continue down the river and get picked up at Mara Provincial Park.
No vacation to Mara would be complete without a trip to D Dutchmen Dairy for ice cream; located just off the Trans-Canada Highway in Sicamous. Don’t pass on the cheese curds, they are amazing!
Back at Mara we would have another dip in the river and a quick dinner before we headed off to the Starlight Drive-in (just a twenty minute drive down the road, south of Enderby and still operational). We would load up our trucks and cars with mattresses, pillows and blankets plus a few lawn chairs as there were often more of us than could fit in the back of the trucks. The concession kept the kids happy until it was dark enough for the show to start.
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Published: June 27, 2019
Carol loves being in the outdoors whether it is hiking, camping, kayaking or enjoying time at the lake. With a health background in nursing, she has written for many health-related journals and is also writing a historical non-fiction book about the Peach Valley area of Summerland where she lives. Along with writing, she and her family love camping. She grew up camping on Vancouver Island and has explored many parts of BC with her husband, three kids and their golden retriever. She and her newly-retired husband just upgraded to a newer trailer and are looking forward to more camping adventures throughout British Columbia.