There are so many different kinds of love stories in this life journey. I’ve been so privileged to witness some of the most beautiful memories. I bet you have your own memories as you think about those couples in your life who made such an impact.
I am proud of my name, Hettie, and proud to be called Het or Hettie. I was named after my aunt Hettie; a beautiful, strong, intelligent, courageous woman who many admired in the North Thompson.
Aunt Het and uncle Bob Miller raised my cousins, Anne and Peter, at Murtle Lake in a small cabin in the early years. Murtle Lake is located in Wells Gray Park on the Blue River side of the park. She and uncle Bob were a truly remarkable love story.
As the story goes, uncle Bob’s parents, Otto and Gertie Miller, owned what was then known as the ranch — a family homestead and farm bordering Dutch Lake in Clearwater. Our great aunt Grace McGaw and her partner, Dorothy Bell, were retired journalists from the Vancouver Sun and had the vision of turning the ranch into an exclusive resort, which they fulfilled and named Dutch Lake Resort.
On the surface, the two partners said they were partners in business only; however, as time evolved, we realized they, too, had a wonderful love story of their own, sharing life, love and the dream of the resort becoming a reality. They spent their lives together, dedicated to offering the highest degree of hospitality at the base of Wells Gray Park. Their ashes are scattered on our family hill in Clearwater with many other family members there as well.
Not long after buying the resort from Otto and Gertie, who owned more land across the lake and moved there after selling ‘the ranch’ to our aunts, our mother, Mary, and her younger sister, Hettie, moved to Clearwater to work for the aunts at the resort. As we were told the story growing up, uncle Bob’s parents nudged him on the regular, telling him he’d better get back across the lake because there were two very pretty single girls working at the ranch now.
“Who was I to ignore the good advice from my parents?” uncle Bob would smile when telling us the story again, saying, “I’d paddle or row over to visit often. It wasn’t long before the question was asked, and we married there on the lawn of the resort. Best decision I ever made.”
Our mother, Mary, was maid of honour, and the day was perfect, according to aunt Het. They began a life living off the land — their early years at Murtle Lake. They were often flown in by float plane and stayed in touch via ham radio when needing to call out or hiking in; portaging their canoe and paddling the rest of the way in summer; and snowshoeing, skiing or later on travelling to the cabin by snow-machine. It would be years later, when our cousins, Anne and Peter, needed what they felt was public schooling, that the family moved to Mountain Terrace and started a beautiful nursery there.
There is no argument in the valley when I say that uncle Bob was the Johnny Appleseed of the North Thompson Valley, an expert gardener in every sense of the word. Aunt Hettie was a bird and butterfly expert in her own right, documenting birds, butterflies, and moths for the University of British Columbia. She was also an excellent taxidermist and could hold her own hunting and fishing alongside any man in the bush. She and our mother often took pack horses into Wells Gray Park when working for our aunts, with guests for overnight trail rides and campouts. Quite often they were joined by Ida DeKelver with her mules on those trips.
Aunt Hettie and uncle Bob loved their land — a legacy from his parents and grandparents, growing flowers, fruits, vegetables, and trees. Many in the valley still remember their winter treks to aunt Hettie and uncle Bob’s to get their Christmas trees each year, which usually came with some of uncle Bob’s locally famous deluxe caramel, a nice hot cup of wood-stove tea or hot cocoa and possibly some of his Scottish shortbread.
Even though these two remarkable humans rarely showed public displays of affection, the love was unmistakable, and their partnership in caring for their own land was so impressive. Aunt Hettie owned her own bulldozer and performed all the mechanics on their vehicles, and uncle Bob was an amazing cook and baker. He was very social, always entertaining whoever happened up to the place and aunt Het was known to be a little more introverted, often ducking out of sight when a vehicle could be heard approaching, but once company arrived, a gracious hostess.
Aunt Hettie left suddenly of ovarian cancer within three months of diagnosis. Uncle Bob lived for quite a few years following her passing, speaking of her often with colourful tales of their early years together. He was known in the valley as a charmer and had many female life friends bringing him baking, taking him out to lunch and visiting often until he headed up the heavenly trail to find aunt Het once again.
This, an undeniable lifelong love story that brings me joy to share with you just before Valentine’s Day this year, from their niece, who used to be called Little Het.