Buffalo near Vanderhoof Photo SimonSees.com
Burns Lake, heart of the scenic Lakes District, is a community with big dreams. Residents are confident the region’s wealth of natural resources – particularly its 3,000 miles of fishing – hold the promise of future prosperity. After one visit to the area, you’re sure to agree.
The community of Francois Lake is just 23 km (14 mi) south following highway 37. This beautiful lake is well worth the trip, at 110 km (68 mi) long, it is the second longest naturally occurring lake entirely within British Columbia. The lake is popularly fished for Rainbow Trout and Char.
Burns Lake is located within a 90 km (56 mi) radius of the geographic centre of British Columbia. It is approximately 500 km (310 mi) from the BC-Alberta border, 500 km (310 mi) from Prince Rupert, 1,000 km (620 mi) from the BC-Yukon border, and 1,000 km (620 mi) from the BC-Washington State border. Burns Lake and the Lakes District cover an area of approximately 1,564,191 hectares in total, with 9% of this figure comprised of lakes and 2% consisting of the northern portion of Tweedsmuir Park.
The body of water from which the community derives its name was officially “discovered” by the Borland Expedition, whose members passed through the area while surveying a route for the Overland Telegraph. Legend has it that shortly before the Borland Expedition arrived, a tremendous forest fire swept through the area, blackening trees and generally turning the countryside into a sooty mess. The charred landscape prompted members of the expedition to dub the long, narrow body of water lying at the bottom of this unknown valley as “Burnt Lake” – a name that over the years became “Burns Lake”.
Reports of the forest fire deterred settlers from coming to Burns Lake. As a result, Settlers didn’t arrive in the area until 1911; when construction crews arrived to begin work on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad. Many of these men, upon seeing the area’s potential, elected to remain behind when railroad construction moved westward; others, lured by the promise of inexpensive land, arrived by train to begin a new life.
Judging from early accounts, life in the Lakes District during those early years was (to say the least) a challenge. There were few permanent residents of the area, and even fewer homes. The train arrived three times a week, stopping only long enough to unload mail and what meager supplies the settlers could afford. The area’s train station was merely a wide spot on the rail grade, with no permanent structure.
Into this scene swaggered red-haired Trygarn Pelham Lyster Mulvany, who was more commonly known as “Barney”. He arrived in the area with the contents of a construction camp he’d won in a poker game. He pitched two tents in a conspicuous location along the rail line not far from the lake; one became a cook tent, the other a 12-bed hotel. Twenty-four transients arrived for dinner the day he opened for business.
Canvas-walled tents gave way to sturdy log cabins as more settlers arrived in the area. In 1923, Barney’s old “tent town” was incorporated as the Village of Burns Lake. I was at that time a small, but vibrant community of 150 people – most of them men.
Burns Lake has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Although the community has retained its pioneer spirit and small town charm, today it is a modern community. It is also the largest village in British Columbia. Forestry, farming, and tourism fuel the area’s economy, giving it the kind of stability other communities can only dream about. Meanwhile its strategic location in the middle of BC makes it an ideal service centre.