What makes Harrison Hot Springs, Harrison?
For many years, resident Veronique Astles thought it was the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, the hotel that had put Harrison on the map with its exclusive access to the area’s hot springs. But when she started volunteering at the Agassiz-Harrison Museum, she realized the community’s identity could be so much more.
“I’ve lived in Harrison for about 20 years, and moving around in the community, you start asking what’s the identity,” she said, sitting at a table in the museum’s archives.
The hotel, a powerhouse in the village, has dominated the dialogue, Astles said. But as she did research for the museum, she discovered that Harrison’s history has so much more to offer: through the McPherson House and farm, the old hospital site, the Miami River and importantly, the old Raake/Rivtow Boating Co. building on Rockwell Drive.
“My main point is what is our identity in Harrison,” Astles said. “I think that this building may have the answer.”
On Oct. 21, Astles gave a presentation to Harrison council about the importance of the Rivtow building, which has fallen into disrepair over the many years since it was last used.
Built in the 1940s by Paul Raake, the float house operated for many years, providing towing, tour, fishing and delivery services. It was the largest two-storey float house in North America at the time, and operated under Raake’s leadership until 1954, when it was bought by Rivtow Marina. The building was hauled ashore in the 1970s.
“In my own opinion Raake’s building is the voice of our community’s past, larger than the Ranger Station neighbouring its site and the McPherson and Wilson homes,” Astles’ report to council reads. “It is the voice of the lake — the working lake — involving many people and events.”
During Astles’ presentation, she asked council to consider developing a policy on how Harrison would preserve its history for the future.
“These buildings are going to get old, these places are going to get older,” she explained. Focusing on how best to preserve Harrison’s history will not only save the buildings from falling to pieces, but also give Harrison a stronger sense of self.
“I think if we put all this heritage together, then we would have a voice,” she said. “We have a lot of tourists that come, and when I walk or do my running by the water, they are curious about our heritage. Not just the hotel.”
“You realize our identity was just in a lot of events and a lot of families that were in Harrison,” she continued. “And it would be nice if we spoke up in that sense.”