The 153 Mile Store has found a new home at the 108 Heritage Site near 100 Mile House.
Last week the 100 Mile and District Historical Society and longtime Cariboo rancher Roger Patenaude reached an agreement to move the historic building. Built in 1900 by Louis Crosina, the store contains well over 3,800 artifacts from the end of the Cariboo Gold Rush era all the way up to 1963.
Kelly Carnochan, president of the society, said they are excited to be taking stewardship of such an integral piece of Cariboo history. She described how the society’s “jaws dropped” when they first heard about the opportunity several months ago.
“It was very overwhelming and exciting. The store is packed with so much history and it’s going to be a great asset to the heritage site,” Carnochan said. “They have boxes of old shoes from floor to ceiling, old [Indigenous] baskets traded for food. It’s just amazing.”
Patenaude said his grandfather George Bryon Patenaude got to know the Crosinas in the 1930s and befriended the owner of the store, Alice Lillian “Lil” Crosina. Lil was the daughter of Louis and ultimately sold her family’s ranch to the Patenaudes, but kept her father’s old store open.
In 1963 Lil died of a heart attack behind the counter of her beloved store, and for the last 60 years the building and its contents have remained untouched. Patenaude said his family chose to keep the store closed after Highway 97 was rerouted away from it.
“It was just left as a time capsule,” Patenaude said. “Most of the stuff in the store is 100 years old, and it’s time for some professionals to look after it.”
Patenaude said he and his brothers, who have since passed away, wanted to preserve the store to honour their mother Peggy’s last wishes. When they made plans to sell their family ranch, Patenaude and his brothers started looking for a new home for the store.
While it is a suitable fit due to the store’s Cariboo Gold Rush roots, Patenaude said the heritage site was not his first choice. Since 2015 he and members of the Williams Lake community had hoped to move the store to Pinchbeck Park just above the Williams Lake Stampede Grounds.
Walt Cobb, then mayor of Williams Lake, said their original idea was to use the store as a basis for a larger heritage site. There were plans to relocate a blacksmith shop to the area and move the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin into the store.
However, when an archaeological survey found several Indigenous artifacts and a potential pit house at the Pinchbeck Park site, the Williams Lake First Nation objected to the project moving forward. Cobb said they have been at a stalemate for years, up until the 100 Mile and District Historical Society agreed to move the store to the 108 Heritage Site instead.
“It’s a huge loss for Williams Lake for sure, but I think it will be preserved (this way) and that was the main concern, that the artifacts and building be preserved,” Cobb said. “It’s one-of-a-kind in North America, and when it’s preserved and part of a museum it will be one of the Eighth Wonders of the World.”
With the death of Anita Crosina — a major advocate for the store — last year, Patenaude said he grew tired of “hitting his head against a wall” trying to gift the store to Williams Lake. When District of 100 Mile House Coun. Donna Barnett, a member of the historical society, approached him about moving the store to the South Cariboo, he decided to accept their offer.
“We had exhausted all our options in Williams Lake. I’ve been in contact with Donna Barnett for years and she knows what I’m trying to do with the store,” Patenaude said. “My brothers have passed away and I’m the only one left, so it’s time this thing gets taken care of before I’m gone.
“I’m just looking forward to it being protected and open to the public. It needs to be a public asset. There’s a lot of history there that I, my mother and the Crosina family want to see preserved.”
Carnochan said the society is currently busying itself in drawing up a plan for the transfer. They’ll be spending the next few months fundraising and applying for grants from the provincial and federal governments to raise the estimated $2 million to move the store from 153 Mile to the 108 Heritage Site.
“We are thinking it’s going to be placed (in the empty space) near the ice house, post house and telegraph warden’s area behind the food cantina. We’re going to have to put a basement foundation in first and it’s probably going to be two to three million dollars in expenses to get it down here,” Carnochan said.
The actual move itself won’t happen for at least two years, Carnochan added. The society will need to spend at least a year cataloguing the store’s contents and packing them before they can move the actual building itself.
Cobb noted that the society will have to coordinate with the provincial government to close Highway 97 down during the move.
Patenaude said there is a mover in Prince George the society can reach out to that specializes in moving large buildings. This will be done in two pieces, with the roof being taken off first before the rest of the store is moved in one piece.
“Maybe it’s optimistic thinking, but I think we can do it within two years,” Carnochan said. “We’re going to reassemble it the way it is and it’s going to blow probably every tourist’s mind who takes a look at it. I think the whole area should be excited and really proud of this addition to our community.”