Multiple owners across more than a hundred years. A logger’s lodge way back. A lodge for tourists today. And, now an informal museum too.
As we drive up the steep and winding gravel road, we can’t help but wonder what we will find when we arrive at our destination. It seems like a long way to go for a story and to see where it all began. But, here we are making our way to the rustic, and rather remote, Chute Lake Lodge. Located in the South Okanagan in British Columbia, about 100 kilometers up in the backcountry past Naramata, the lodge and its now defunct “museum” is what brought us all together for this journey. That and our curiosity to see what treasures we might find.
It all started a few months back, when my friend Elaine, who lives in the area, called and said she had met this antiques and collectible dealer named Blaine Gibson who had just purchased several interesting artifacts from a man who had salvaged the items from an old logger’s lodge. “There might be a fun story there,” said Elaine, knowing that I was on the hunt for something with a “West Coast” twist. Intrigued by the idea of what might still be left to salvage from a remote lodge, I decided to do some digging. And, I won’t lie. I was also fascinated with the notion of talking to a weathered old salvager and his seasoned dealer friend, Blaine.
Turns out the salvager is not old at all, but a 30-year-old man who already established himself as a well-respected salvager in the area. As for Blaine, he is only 26 but has been actively pursuing his passion for buying and selling for the past five years and is now making his living doing this work full time. So like the road up to Chute Lake, this story is already hitting some interesting turns.
The drive up to the lodge takes about 30 minutes once we leave the main road, just past Naramata. Elaine is driving and we have invited Blaine along for the adventure. We met Blaine yesterday at his home in Summerland. I had arranged to interview him to gather background information for the story. Although only in his 20s, Blaine is an old soul and a historian at heart.
Blaine loves learning about the providence of items and has already developed impeccable instincts for sourcing rare and valuable collectibles, and then finding the right buyers. He currently sells online, at the Penticton SPCA Flea Market and has a stall at the Carousel Collective in Summerland.
“I had posted online that I was looking to buy antiques and collectibles and this salvage guy responded,” said Blaine as we sat in his backyard. “I have all this stuff to sell the guy said. He mentioned that he originally had six ‘sea cans’ full of stuff, but now only had two left. I guess I was getting the leftovers.” By leftovers, Blaine was referring to one shipping container filled with a vintage jukebox and boxes stuffed to the brim with old bottles and Canadian Pacific railway lanterns and other railway memorabilia. The other container was full of boxes of old tools, “And 20 boxes of insulators that I have dibs on,” Blaine says with a smile.
While checking out the two remaining containers, Blaine managed to purchase a few items such as a small pistol, which the salvager initially thought was a replica. However, Blaine was not convinced because it was covered with elaborate etchings. “I brought it home and did some research and found out that it was an original black powder pistol and even though it was broken, I was able to sell it for $300 to someone locally.”
He spoke of his other purchases with enthusiasm, but when asked if he had been up to the lodge, he said no. He and his partner had only recently relocated back to the Okanagan and have not had much time to explore. As a result, we thought it would be fun to have him join us on the drive up to the lodge.
As were speaking, we heard the rumble of a train approaching and then, as the shiny black steam engine hauling passenger trains passed above us on the ridge, it announced its arrival with a distinctive whistle. “This is the Kettle Valley Steam Train,” said Blaine as we all waved to the people who waved back to us.
Now a tourist attraction that runs on the ten remaining miles of the track, the train used to be part of much larger railway line that connected the Okanagan to the rest of British Columbia and is an important part of the area’s history, and this story.
Chute Lake was once a critical stop on the railway line in the early 1900s. As this was the halfway point between Kelowna and Penticton the steam engine, pulling both passengers and freight at the time, would need to stop there to replenish its water supply. At the time there was an already established sawmill on site along with a bunkhouse for loggers and at times railway workers.
People came and went, and along the way, many of their belongings were left behind. Items were stored, and sometimes sold, in a building that would eventually become known as the “museum.” Over the years, it grew and became the home for old sawmill machinery and tools, as well as items from the railway.
The passenger service ended in the 60s, and by the late 80s, the freight service also concluded. Most of the railway’s original route has since been converted into a popular cyclist trail, the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, which is part of the Trans-Canada Trail.
Doreen and Gary Reed purchased the property in the 70s and spent forty years transforming the lodge, cabins and surrounding area into a popular resort for outdoor enthusiasts, a labour of love for them both. As it happens, Gary Reed was also an avid collector, especially of electrical insulators. Makes sense as he spent many years before working as a lineman for BC Tel, the local telephone company.
Unfortunately, the Reeds had to sell their beloved resort because of health reasons a few years back. By that point, they had amassed quite the collection of antiques and memorabilia, many of which were kept on display in the “museum” and throughout the property.
As part of preparing to put their property up for sale, the Reeds made a tough decision to sell many of the contents from the “museum” to the salvager, but wanted to keep some on the site to remind people of its history in the area. In a 2013 article in the Penticton Herald by Craig Henderson, Reed was quoted as saying, “I have always felt the collectibles should stay here on the mountain. Visitors love coming up to see the old stuff. I hope a future buyer will keep the museum and the antique store going.”
Once we arrive at the lodge, we are surprised to see how busy it is. There are several cars in the parking lot, including an old rusted Ford truck left as a nostalgic reminder of a bygone era. In fact, scattered throughout the property, like a well-curated exhibition, are corroded tractors, machinery and tools—all left behind to tell the story of a once busy sawmill and railway stop.
The lodge itself has an idyllic and charming feel. Staff direct us to the restaurant where the lodge owner, Kelly-Rae Kenyon has set aside some historical books for me to go through. Kenyon, who purchased the resort from the Reeds in 2018, is also quite passionate about maintaining the historical integrity of the site.
“I don’t plan to tear down the museum,” says Kenyon, “I do find it adds that extra rustic charm to the place and it is important for me to keep the history and buildings the same as much as possible. Guests do enjoy viewing them.” When asked if she has any favourite items, she says she likes it all but specifically appreciates the old wood stoves that were in use right up until 2018. “I also love the insulators,” says Kenyon. “As does my daughter. She wants to decorate her room with them.”
With the exposed wooden beams, thick log walls, and worn wooden plank floors, there is no mistaking that what is now the restaurant was once an important room in the logger’s bunkhouse. After a tasty lunch of Rubin sandwiches and an Italian wedding soup made from scratch, we head out to explore the property.
Our first stop is the “museum.” The lean-to type structure is larger than we expected and there are old saws, ladders, buckets, pulleys, drill bits and so much more, literally coming out of the rafters. It needs some work, as it sustained some damage during a winter storm, but for the most part, it still stands as a wonderful backdrop for Reed’s impressive collection and a tribute to the lodge’s history as a working sawmill in the backwoods of British Columbia.
Blaine is like a kid in a candy store, looking up and down, and all around, with awe and admiration. “Did you see that insulator,” Blaine says as he takes several pictures through one of the dusty windows. “It’s huge. I have never seen one that big before.” In fact, the insulator is just one of many found around the property—in various shapes, sizes and colours. I imagine that Gary Reed would be thrilled to know that his collection of vintage tools and equipment, as well as his cherished insulators, continue to inspire and thrill people of all ages.
Reprinted with permission from Canadian Antiques & Vintage magazine. For subscription information to Canada’s only national antiques and vintage publication, please call toll-free 1.866.333.3397