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A backcountry treasure



Historic Church of the Holy Cross in bad repair

On a trip to the St. Agnes Well hot springs, my son told me to drive a few kilometers further to the small Indian town of Skookumchuk on the Lillooet River to see the picturesque Church of the Holy Cross. "Picturesque" does not even describe half of what this church is all about. It sure is photogenic – it’s also an exceptional artistic work, odd and bizarrely out of place. But all that makes this delicate wooden structure worth a visit.

In the mid-1800s this Skookumchuck, not to be confused with all the other places by the same name in B.C. that are near "swift moving waters," must have been a little boomtown since it was right on the Harrison-Lillooet gold-rush route that provided the initial access to the goldfields and the settlements of the Interior.

About 55 kilometres off the Duffey Lake Road, along the logging road on the east side of Lillooet Lake, one suddenly finds – totally unexpected – three tall church steeples below the road on the right in the small Skatin First Nations Reserve that borders the Lillooet River. The town, with only about 15 or so homes, was sizzling in the midday sun. Two very cute children were playing on a veranda in the shade; a few stray dogs were the only other signs of life. The girl, Baby Darling, said she was living across the street next to the church. I am not a churchgoer by any means and only visit them if I can find historical or artistic value. I was happily surprised this time.

It is rarely that you find a treasure of this significance on a backcountry road in B.C. Seen from the logging road, there is the graveyard with its Gothic arch halfway down the hill, and the church below that looks almost surreal with its octagonal, cathedral-like spires, incongruous against a backdrop of forest and coastal mountains.

This church was built exactly 100 years ago by local craftsmen under guidance of Oblate missionaries, most likely from Quebec, and after French design. Once I got closer, around the bends and down to the front entrance, I could see the poor condition of this historic church. The harsh climate has taken its toll and the plain white paint is flaking everywhere. Some smaller windows are patched with cardboard or triplex but the large rosette window on the front and neo-gothic windows on the side are still in fairly good shape. Most impressive, however, are the three tall steeples and the fact that everything is still standing and not burned down after 100 years. That is a miracle by itself.

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