Through countless winters, a few natural disasters, and even a pandemic, Harrison Hot Springs is ‘Still Standing.’
The fifth season’s third episode of Johnny Harris’s deep dive into small towns across Canada featured Harrison Hot Springs and some of the residents that make the community truly special. Nine months after its premiere, almost to the day, the episode aired again on CBC on Sunday, July 5.
“Harrison Hot Springs is famous for a couple of reasons, one of which is being the epicentre of Sasquatch activity in Canada,” Harris said in the episode, on Memorial Hall’s stage in front of at least a few familiar local faces. “Nobody has actually found one, but the reverse may be true. You’re surrounded by mountains and your town is only one square kilometre. Maybe Sasquatch is having a hard time finding you.”
The CBC hit featured appearances from a number of Harrison Hot Spring’s stand-out characters, including Sasquatch researcher and author Thomas Steenburg, Chehalis master carver Claude “Rocky” LaRock and German food connoisseur and owner of The Black Forest Restaurant, Sunny Manihani.
The first bit of the episode went over the basics of Harrison Hot Springs, including the natural healing and relaxing springs its known for. Stephanie Gallamore of Tourism Harrison guided Harris through.
“July and August is the peak season in Harrison,” Gallamore said. She added more than 700,000 visitors came through the town every year, prior to the pandemic.
Since COVID-19 and well after Still Standing’s episode wrapped filming in Harrison, tourism locally and throughout Canada has taken a significant blow. Village officials at one point estimated the loss of business to be at least $300,000 in parking revenue, boat launch revenue and Memorial Hall rentals; this doesn’t even factor in the business losses incurred in what normally would have been an increasingly busy time of year. The cancellation of Sasquatch Days as well as the Harrison Festival of the Arts (outside of intimate concerts) has also delivered a crushing impact.
Tourism Harrison is working closely with Destination B.C. for long-term solutions concerning recovery for a suffering tourism-based economy. However, executive director Robert Reyerse encouraged businesses and residents to be “positively prepared” and to plan safely and carefully as the province begins to reopen.
Meanwhile, in the episode, Harris jokes that during the summer, you don’t so much as throw a beach towel down to save your spot as you carefully place a washcloth on a tiny patch of sand.
“It’s sort of hard to tan in the fetal position,” he added.
Harrison barred access to all visitors to the beach, lake and several attractions in late March in an effort to keep the vulnerable population safe during the pandemic. Pictures surfaced of the starkly empty streets of Harrison, normally bustling in the spring. Were it not for a lack of snow, the pictures could easily been mistaken for the off-season.
Now, the beach is open again with physical distancing rules in place, but with earlier-than-expected spikes in E. Coli numbers, going back to the usual aquatic activities has proven complicated, to say the very least.
“In the winter months, I hear Sasquatch comes here to see if humans exist,” Harris joked. His remark essentially came to life when Harrison Beach Hotel ran a series of social media posts in the spring featuring the legendary primate, who partook in human spotting, among other comical activities.
Harris explored the forest near Harrison with dedicated Sasquatch expert Steenburg.
“Something I’ve appreciated about Thomas’s take is even though he’s dedicated his life to this and investigated hundreds of case files, and discovered impressions and mouldings of footprints, he’s not trying to convince you. I thought that was pretty good for a guy who’s authored three books and co-authored two more,” Harris joked to his audience. “I think he keeps writing books hoping the Sasquatch will come out of the forest to demand royalties.”
While Sasquatch Days was cancelled, as the province opens back up, there may be more explorers hoping for a glimpse of the legend itself as Phase 3 continues.
“We respect [Sasquatch]. We feed him in ceremony. We pray to him,” local artist “Rocky” LaRock of the Chehalis First Nation told Harris. The two men sat near a fire, surrounded by LaRock’s intricate artwork. “We hear him when he screams when he crosses a river. If you see Sasquatch, it’s because he let you see him. To have seen it is a good omen.”
Harris enjoyed schnitzel at The Black Forest Restaurant, sharing a dinner with Sunny Manihani.
“I gotta say, not that I’m an expert, but when it comes to German cuisine, it’s the best I’ve ever had, I schnitz you not,” Harris exclaimed.
Black Forest is a prime example of several restaurants that adapted to COVID-19; they along with Milos Greek Taverna, Lori’s Catering and others offered an element of comfort during the pandemic by way of their signature cuisine.
Harris continued his adventures by reeling in a sturgeon with Tony Nootebos, CEO of the B.C. Sportfishing Group and famous “Man in Motion” Rick Hansen. He wrapped up the itinerary by relaxing at Harrison Hot Springs Resort with visiting artist Aileen Penner.
Harrison Hot Springs Resort shut down reservations at the end of April due to the pandemic. While the resort did not have to close per provincial guidelines, management said they closed to protect their 300-plus employees and the villagers. Several employees were laid off during this trying time with the resort reopening phases again at the end of May.
Harris ended the Harrison episode on a hopeful note. Though the episode premiered several months ago and Harris referred to a physical winter rather than the pandemic-related off-season now, the ending seems more emotional – poignant, yet optimistic – now.
“Even if the winter months remains a struggle for some residents and businesses, Harrison Hot Springs will survive,” Harris concluded.
View the whole episode online at www.cbc.ca.
Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.