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Family that built Mabel Lake Resort recalls what life was like 100 years ago

Helen Brandt holds a photo of her relatives gathered at Kingfisher for a wedding in the early 1900s.
September 08, 2017 - 6:30 PM

KINGFISHER - Today, Mabel Lake Road is a busy corridor packed in the summertime with RVs and boat trailers, but 100 years ago when Helen Brandt’s adventurous grandparents came to the area, the route was nothing more than a narrow wagon road winding through the forest.

Brandt’s family was instrumental in establishing the popular Mabel Lake Resort and even donated a parcel of land known as Mackenzie Camp to the United Church, which operates the well-loved facility to this day. The resort is a major destination for tourists and vacationers, but 100 years ago things looked pretty different. 

Brandt’s grandparents, Joshua and Emma Large, left Winnipeg and journeyed west to the Kingfisher area east of Enderby in the fall of 1917 with their five kids and several other relatives.

“At that time, the federal government was really encouraging people to go west and populate the area. I think they (grandparents) were painted a very rosy picture of what a garden of Eden it was, and in the end, it wasn’t quite that,” Brandt says.

It was beautiful, to be sure, but the going was tough in those days. They subsisted on a large garden, trapping wild animals, and making periodic visits to Enderby for supplies.

Large family members gathered for a wedding at Kingfisher.
Large family members gathered for a wedding at Kingfisher.
Image Credit: Contributed

“In those days, everybody had to walk places,” Brandt says. “For instance, three of my cousins wanted to go to a dance in Enderby so they walked there. That was like 20 miles. When they got to Enderby their feet were so sore they couldn’t dance,” she says.

Another family tale tells of an aunt who was being courted by the bank manager in Enderby.

“In order for him to see her, he had to walk all the way up to Kingfisher to see his girlfriend. It’s not exactly what anybody would do in this day and age,” Brandt says.

By 1928, a small park was cleared at ‘Dolly Varden Beach’ on Mabel Lake and in 1935 Brandt’s parents Russel and Alice Large took on the fledgling resort business. Over the years, more land was cleared and in the 1950s, Russel opened up an airstrip for those wanting to fly in by plane. Cabins equipped with wood stoves rented for $1 a day, and water was gathered from the lake, the spring, or by rowing across to the waterfall.

Helen Brandt as a child.
Helen Brandt as a child.
Image Credit: Contributed

“It has changed quite a bit,” Brandt says of the resort where she grew up. “There’s just way more people now, way more boats, way more development than there was. But there are parts of the lake that have stayed the same.”

Because much of the lake is surrounded by Crown land, Brandt says it has retained a pristine quality lost in other places.

One parcel of land near the resort was eventually donated by the Large family to the United Church for use as a children’s camp.

“They (family members) thought Mabel Lake was heaven and they wanted everybody possible to enjoy it,” Brandt says.

The camp was the chosen location for the family’s 100 year reunion this past August.

“When I was doing the family history and realized it was 100 years this year that we came here, I thought that calls for a celebration of some kind,” Brandt says.

About 30 family members gathered at Mackenzie Camp and shared stories that have been passed down through generations.

You can learn more about the history of the Kingfisher area at the Enderby and District Museum and Archives.

Helen Brandt with a quilt she made featuring old family photos.
Helen Brandt with a quilt she made featuring old family photos.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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