It was in 1908 that the American entrepreneur Charles Barnes convinced the British Columbia Development Association (BCDA), a London-based investment syndicate, to purchase 6000 acres of land to establish a farming community for British settlers next to the Thompson River.
Walhachin officially 'opened' for business in 1910.
It was, said the newspaper ads and glossy brochures, "the ideal
place for men of a better class". In the place the Thompson Indians
called 'bountiful valley' (it translates as 'land of the round
rock') the company promised to build houses and manage ready-made
estates for a modest fee so that "people of education and
refinement" could enjoy the fruits of the soil and their leisure in
the New World.
A life of tennis, cricket, polo, fancy dress parties, theatre
productions and paid servants from the nearby Chinese or native
But by 1914 this experimental horticultural colony had attracted
only 300 of these affluent settlers - mainly bachelors and retired
army officers - and the start of the Great War would spell the
beginning of a speedy end for the colony. As many inhabitants
returned to England to enlist, Walhachin became financially
unviable and by 1922 was nothing but a ghost town.
A rare reminder of the fleeting community in B.C.'s Gold Country
surfaced at Lincoln auctioneers Thomas Mawer on
March 1. An album of over 50 black and white photos relating to the
Walhachin project was consigned for sale by a local vendor who had
been given it by an octogenarian named Mrs Wilkinson, for whom he
worked as a painter and decorator in Hertfordshire 30 years ago.
Mrs Wilkinson, it emerged, happened to be the sister of C.E.
The album (only a handful are thought to have been made)
includes many evocative images, including the planting of orchards,
the building of houses and town buildings plus the construction of
a complicated irrigation system. The desert terrain in the interior
of the province wasn't easily conquerable, but a team of engineers
constructed a series of elaborate canal systems and wooden flumes
to carry water to higher ground for irrigation from Bull Lake
The vendor was hoping the album might generate £2000-3000
(towards the purchase of an engagement ring), although the market
for such things is surely very small. In the event a London dealer,
acting on behalf of a collector who, it is believed, is from
British Columbia, was able to buy it on its reserve of £1500 plus
By Roland Arkell