It’s easy to romanticize the life Pat and George Ardley led for over 35 years.
The couple ran a popular fishing lodge in Rivers Inlet and lived most of the year on a floating home off B.C.’s rugged central coast. They saw whales, had close encounters with grizzlies and spent the shoulder seasons soaking in the coastline around them.
“I look back on it and feel very honoured to be part of that kind of wilderness,” says Pat Ardley, who now lives in West Vancouver. “There’s not an awful lot left in the world.”
She always knew her story was unique — she was a prairie girl who was afraid of open water, after all — but it wasn’t until she received some encouragement from friends that she finally decided to put pen to paper to write her memoir.
The result is Grizzlies, Gales and Giant Salmon: Life at a Rivers Inlet Fishing Lodge, released by Harbour Publishing this month. The book is split into three parts: part one delves into the couple’s early years as lighthouse keepers, part two chronicles their time at their Rivers Lodge and part three is in the form of letters to George, after he died.
“The first (writing) class I took was in 2008,” Ardley says. “I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to get serious about this. I’m going to write things down.” But life got in the way. By that time, George had passed away unexpectedly from cancer and she was running the lodge on her own with help from her children, Jessy and Casey (who now lives in Whistler). On top of the overwhelming job, there were other deaths and, at one point, she broke both her arms. “It maybe took longer than it should’ve, but it helped me remember more details,” she says.
While the book pays homage to the work George did — and the impressive outdoor skills he had gleaned — it’s entirely from Pat’s point of view. “The men saw George out in boats every day enjoying the country,” she says. “I was in the background planning and cooking for many years. I got a letter today from one of our past guests. She came up with about four couples many years ago for a week at a time. She said, ‘I had no idea how much you went through to run the lodge.’”
But it wasn’t just the logistics of operating a remote business; the couple also raised their two children in that compelling, but challenging setting. In fact, both kids were quickly taught not to step out of the door of their floating home without a lifejacket on.
“My kids grew up at the lodge,” Ardley says. “They went to school in town from fourth grade on, for the most part… It’s still their favourite place on earth.”
That was part of the reason why she carried on running the lodge after George’s death. “I wanted to run it as long as they were happy,” she says. “When it became clear it was time to move on, that’s when I’d put it out to the universe, ‘OK, someone out here wants my lodge.’”
Still, it was a hard choice. In part three of the book, Pat writes about the moment she finally let that difficult decision go. She was cross-country skiing at Lost Lake in Whistler and stopped for a moment to look up at the sky. “I became anchored to the spot,” she writes. “I flung my arms out wide and in that moment, gave the lodge up to the universe. I gave thanks for still being able to look after it, but suggested that it was time to sell and move on to my next adventure.”
Whistler might have played a pivotal role in taking that next step, but the family spent plenty of time in the resort over the years as well, Ardley says. “We’ve had a place at Whistler for many years,” she says. “The kids grew up and raced with the ski club. Whistler was a big part of our lives — it still is… I loved my time in Rivers Inlet and I loved my time in Vancouver and I loved my time at Whistler. Some say we had the best of both worlds, but my kids had the best of three worlds.”
Catch Pat Ardley on her book tour through the Sea to Sky corridor in April and May. She’ll be at the Squamish Public Library on April 5, the Pemberton and District Public Library on April 6 and the Whistler Public Library on May 10.