Originally, the Nicola Valley was a winter encampment for the Interior Salish First Nations people for centuries before European settlers arrived.
The name Nicola was given to the famous chieftain Hwistesmetxquen by the early fur traders for the obvious reason that they couldn’t pronounce his native name. When they tried it phonetically, it sounded vaguely like Nicholas or Nicola, and their mispronunciation has remained.
Initially discovered by pioneers searching for a route between the Coast and the Interior, the valley was used as a brigade trail by the 1850s. What they discovered here was a vast expanse of grasslands where livestock could roam. The ensuing settlement originated at the meeting of the Nicola and Coldwater rivers, with ranchers, loggers, prospectors, merchants, and businessmen all making a living.
With the completion of the railway in 1885, the coal interest at The Forks was heightened. Originally called Forksdale and Diamond Vale, Merritt was renamed in 1906 in honour of railway promoter William Hamilton Merritt. Today, the Nicola Valley incorporates the communities of Merritt, Quilchena, Douglas Lake, Aspen Grove, Spences Bridge, and Logan Lake.
The first settlers arrived in neighbouring Nicola Lake in July 1868, with the establishment of the community of Nicola Lake in 1882. Shortened to Nicola in 1905, it was the government and commercial centre of the Nicola Valley. The Nicola Courthouse was built in 1886, and the cookhouse, still operating today, was built in 1906. From 1907 to 1916, it provided meals for ranchers shipping cattle on Canadian Pacific Railway.
At one time part of the Nicola Ranch was purchased by English born Charles Sydney "Major" Goldman on his return from an assignment in Africa. He named the property the Nicola Stock Farm in 1919. He also purchased the Nicola townsite, now the headquarters of the 300,000 acre Nicola Ranch. Both the property (DL 530) and the ranch were purchased by the Parker Brothers and they operate as an active ranch, even today. The property (Nicola Lakeshore Estates) is ideally situated amongst the sprawling ranchland and the majestic beauty of Nicola lake.
The History behind Quilchena
The history of the Guichon Brothers and Descendants…
Pursuing the gold rush, Laurant, Pierre and Charles Guichon all left the wine producing region of Savoie, France and arrived in California in 1857. They immediately began the trek north to the active gold fields of the Cariboo. Here they were joined by Joseph, their brother of sixteen.
Quickly concluding that the rewards of the prospector were marginal, the older brothers established a supply and pack train out-fit, and catered to a growing influx of fortune seekers.
Joseph, meanwhile, hired on with Cateline, the largest pack train operator, and first rancher in British Columbia. Charles returned to France to marry, and never did return, although he remained involved as a financial backer.
As the population grew, the brothers anticipated demand for food and invested their profits in the purchase of cattle. Just ten years later, the brothers relocated and began ranching at Mamit Lake, where Pierre died and Laurant and Joseph brought their brides; two sisters Perrone and Joaephine Rey, from the French community near Victoria.
In the late 1870s the Guichon families moved to previously purchased property at Chapperon Lake, where they expanded their innovative ideas into agriculture. By enclosing their vegetable garden in a frame and covering it at night, they were able to enjoy produce well into October.
The brothers were well liked and respected in the community and often played the role of diplomat settling disputes and negotiating land sales.
In 1882 Joseph left Chapperon to settle at the mouth of the Nicola River, and shortly there after Laurant sold Chapperon to move to the Ladner area near Vancouver. The holding acquired by Joseph was called the Home Ranch, and became known for its quality, imported live-stock.
By 1890 the Guichon Cattle company was the largest stock operation in the area with 2000 head of cattle. Joseph introduced the first Hereford to the region; it was purchased from Quebec.
In 1904 he added to his holding the land which features the current Hotel and General Store, which were completed in 1908 and 1913 respectively. In 1911, the land known as the Triangle was purchased from the BC Cattle Company, adding another 10 000 acres of hay and grazing land, and seventeen hundred head of stock
History buffs love Quilchena. On the stage coach route Quilchena General Store was a bustling depot of activity and news since 1912. Gas pumps have now replaced the hitching rails but you can still swap stories around the pot bellied stove.
The Coldwater Hotel is one of Merritt's most famous landmarks, with it's copper dome and pressed-copper bar ceiling. Built by William McIntyre in 1909, the Coldwater Hotel served a booming ranching and coal mining economy as was 'one of the finest dollar-a-day hostelries in the interior'. Locals say this is where the whole town would come to meet on Saturday nights, with cowboys and miners coming from all around.
Renovations have restored this magnificent structure closer to its original form.
Nicola Valley Railway
The Nicola Valley Railway (NVR) was chartered in 1891 to build from Spences Bridge to the coal deposits near Merritt. Originally backed by the CPR due to a coal strike on Vancouver Island, the railway charter was abandoned when the strike ended.
Bereft of the CPRs financial support the original charterers forged on. Money was found, rails and equipment were scrounged from used equipment dealers across the continent and a rickety line of track was built along the Nicola River valley to Merritt. Coal was the reason the railroad was built and coal was its main source of revenue.
Lumber soon became the second major source of income. Coyle shipped copper concentrate. The branch to Brodie was built to supply logs to the Canford mills. The branch to Nicola was built to service the cattle ranches in the area. The money ran out before the line reached Quilchena and the railway stopped construction at what is now its current size. The NVR settled down to a life of genteel poverty as a CPR feeder line.