Olalla’s Auntie Doll’s memories of early life in Olalla

Auntie Doll is a 95 year old resident of Olalla, and has graciously shared her view of Olalla through the years

Auntie Doll is a 95 year old resident of Olalla, and has graciously shared her view of Olalla through the years.  She was born in 1918 and her first memories were of school, and the school building was in what is now known as “Lower Olalla” which is the portion below the highway. The road through town originally came in from the north as it does now, but on the lower west side ( where Cherrywood MHP is) and then turned east, towards “Lower Olalla” where Main Street is now.

Mining was big in Olalla in the early 1900s, but as all gold rushes it only lasted a short time, 10 years at most, before the mines were tapped out. There was one gold mine in Olalla; there was also a copper mine (known as Copper King) in the mountains behind, and  a third mine called the “Bullion” in Lower Olalla. There is talk that there is gold in Olalla – directly under the town itself!

In Dolly’s school days she actually did a school project on the history of Olalla called “Bachelors and Tin Cans.” The bachelors were miners that stayed after the mines closed, and the tin cans were actually antiques that people came into Olalla to find, buried by past residents.

Dolly’s best memories come from the early days of carefree living, when the town was less populated. As people from the crowded cities came into the country and Olalla became more populated, life became less carefree and more stressful.

The most exciting events in Dolly’s eyes were the two floods of 1948 and 1972. The whole area became flooded, and the local authorities came in quickly to get people out during these times. As a result changes were made to the road, some bridges were built, and now we see Highway 3A built above the marshy valley floor, aligned straight through the community.

One of the earlier gathering place during the busy gold rush was the “Big Grand Hotel,”which was situated near Seventh Street past the creek. Dolly remembers peeking into the hotel on her way to school.

Concerts and plays were held at the school, and at one time there were cafes, a local hall and store,  and a post office. What is now known as Zack’s used to be called “Chuckers” (after  the local birds). This place has changed hands many times, and  has been many things including a gas station, garage, cafe, and dance hall.

The winters before 1944 were severe, bitterly cold and lots of snow. But since that time the weather has shifted to what is now moderate temperatures and little snow. Dolly and her family used to go sleigh riding by walking up the mountain road, which took about an hour, then piling three to four onto the sled and speeding down the mountain, getting as far as Olalla Creek.

The original land developers, including Dolly’s grandfather Frank Surprise and his partner, Mr. Barslow, came from the California gold rush days in Sacramento, California. They came to Olalla, staked claims and mined them, and also raised cattle. When the Olalla mines tapped out they moved on to the Fraser, Cariboo and Hope areas. The land developing process worked in such a way that, when unclaimed land was discovered, it was staked out with a sign or tag identifying the owner. After a period of time this was registered, and the land had to be shown to improve over time

Frank Surprise had a ranch north of Olalla which stretched all the way to Olalla. The community had drainage problems in the spring. Surprise used manual labour, mostly Chinese  ( who came here to work the mines and railroads) to clear the area so the water could flow freely into the creeks. This clearing was done every few years to keep the land from flooding, and the fields were sown with hay at the time.

The Chinese community worked in the mines, especially in Tulameen. Some of the native Indians worked in the town but not in the mines. There was actually a Chinatown in Lower Olalla, behind the Big Grand Hotel. There was some noteriety about a particular Chinese man who was reported to have shot his two partners in town after a card game went bad.

Keremeos has changed its location over the years. Originally located close to where the “Tree to Me” complex is, it moved to the Bears Fruit Stand area before moving to the present location after the railway came into the Similkameen.

In times past there was’nt much interaction  with local wildlife, but in recent times we’ve seen cougar and bears because they are getting used to people.


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