Senior Happenings: Looking deeper behind place names

Observer columnist spurred onto new hobby by 'wild old west' town

What’s in a name? Usually a lot! I am not writing about personal names however, I am writing about names that have been given to places — mountains, lakes, villages and cities.

It will be my new hobby which I discovered just recently when writing about Truckee in California, a town roughly the same size and age as Agassiz.

When I heard the name first, I thought it had something to do with trucking, a truckers’ place, so to say, but I was wrong and here is a portion of its real history, courtesy of the Truckee-Donner Visiting Center: “The colourful history of Truckee dates back to the year 1844, when the Murphy-Stephens-Townsend Party was migrating west, trying to cross the Sierra mountains before winter set in. A friendly Paiute Indian offered his assistance in guiding the party to California. The Indian’s name sounded like “Tro-kay” to the white men, who dubbed him “Truckee.” Truckee became a favorite of the white settlers after they found his intentions to be honest and true. In fact, Truckee was an Indian Chief and the father of Winnemucea. The party reached the lower crossing of a river near what is now Wadsworth and named it “Truckee River”. Also a lake was called after him in 1846, when the ill-fated Donner Party camped there.”

I will spare you the gruesome story of the Donner Party and go straight to the late 1800s, “when the town of Truckee gained a reputation as a wild old west town, with plenty of saloons and a red light district.”

After the 1920s Truckee began a 40 year period of little development. But finally, in 1960, The Winter Olympics were held 10 miles to the south at Squaw Valley, putting the Truckee-Tahoe area on the map as a major destination resort for year-round recreation.

The name of our own, still relatively-small village, Harrison Hot Springs will, I am sure, be in the future as known and inspiring as Truckee is now. We, too, have a very colourful history with a magnitude of colourful people!

Luckily, one of our longtime contemporaries, John Green — author, journalist and politician — to name only a few of his many talents, lives among us.  He covered our own colourful story in great detail and accuracy. His book, A History of Harrison Hot Springs, is available at the Agassiz Museum and it makes fascinating reading.

To me, Harrison Hot Springs has always been a place not only of great beauty and the Hot Springs, but also a place of heightened perception. Perhaps it has something to do with the lake, large and deep, home of ancient sturgeons.  Sometimes the lake looks green, at other times blue or, on a stormy day, almost black. Or is it the mountains, foothills of the mighty Cascades? Mostly undeveloped as the area still is, it is a photographer’s paradise and no wonder that one gets the feeling of being in a very special place.  Or, as someone who had just retired and moved here said at one time to my husband:  “I think I died in my sleep and then awoke in paradise!”

Sometimes you have to go away and come back to fully appreciate what you have!  I think this will be a fascinating hobby!

Note:  While the Village of Harrison Hot Springs celebrated its 50th birthday in1999, the community is more than twice as old but was only incorporated in 1949.

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