The village at Harrison Lake

Dock 4 reduced For the visitor, the impressive view of the lake and surrounding mountains is a big part of the experience — and a dip in the hot pools, of course.

The resident has access to the same views and the poetic cycle of a climate that is on the soggy side*– 69 inches (175 cm.) of annual precipitation through the late 20th century, including the occasional dramatic snow event. There’s also the opportunity for regular visits to Agassiz, a larger hamlet about 10 minutes away in the District of Kent, since Harrison has no supermarket, drug store or bank. The BC Transit bus runs to Agassiz nine times per day.

The Esplanade in Harrison Hot Springs, looking toward the main hotel

The Esplanade in Harrison Hot Springs, looking toward the main hotel

Harrison Hot Springs is a quasi-alpine resort municipality in the Fraser Valley region. It’s about 75 minutes from the Port Mann Bridge at the entrance to Vancouver, and hosts conventions and weekend getaways at modest rates. The mountain surround is a bit of an illusion; Harrison sits almost on the Fraser River flood plain, or 30 metres above sea level, and there are no winter sports nearby.

The Harrison plan is dated 2007, and two themes emerge: first, how to find enough land for a growing population, since the village had doubled in size from 1991 to 2006, and the quality of residential development was very good; and second, how to foster a higher-quality tourist economy, with a greater variety of tourist attractions and services.

Harrison land use conceptThere was an assumption, I think, that the growing population would drive an improvement in retail services. But just as the plan was being developed, the population levelled off at about 1500. I suppose it’s a place for retirees, and for people who commute to Chilliwack, about half an hour away; but while people are still retiring, and Chilliwack is still thriving, Harrison stopped attracting new people on a net basis, and that is that. The plan contains no suggestions on how the community should recruit new residents, although it would help to prop up the local service economy.

Apartment housing on the Esplanade, facing the lake

Apartment housing on the Esplanade, facing the lake

The plan’s plea for better and more diverse tourist facilities is a reminder of the prominence, even today, of budget motels, lunch counters and RV parks in the village landscape. A couple of good hotels have been added to the mix since the mid-2000s, and the main hotel/spa continues to flirt with three-and-a-half-star status, depending on the changing ownership. My recent meal at the Copper Room restaurant was fine, and the service excellent.

Harrison Hot Springs is a resort for people who like to fish or hike, or for the undemanding who want to linger in a hot pool or visit the goat’s-milk cheesery down a country road. A packet of seven tickets to the public pool costs 55 bucks, while guests at the big hotel get their own pools with the price of their room. But I am more interested here in imagining the life of a resident: watching the rain on the lake, shopping at the gas station, and finding out about the people who live in those nice houses and why they stopped moving in.

[*Correction: we first posted this piece using the figure 39 inches or 97 centimetres of precipitation drawing on information from a tourism website. After checking Environment Canada data a day later, this was corrected to the higher amount. The weather station is located at the Agassiz research farm about 5 kilometres outside Harrison.]  

Residential street, Harrison Hot Springs

Residential street, Harrison Hot Springs

Dock 2 reduced

Hot Springs Hotel, interior

Harrison Hot Springs Hotel, interior

A rendering of the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel from the 1997 version of the village plan

A rendering of the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel from the 1997 version of the village plan

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