How Deep is the Lake

A Century at Chilliwack Lake

Shelley O'Callaghan

Curious about the previous inhabitants of the lake community where her family has vacationed for over one hundred years, author Shelley O’Callaghan starts researching and writing about the area. But what begins as a personal journey of one woman’s relationship to the land and her desire to uncover the history of her family’s remote cabin, soon turns into an exploration and questioning of our rights as settlers upon a land that was inhabited long before we came.

O’Callaghan’s research discovers a depth to the history of the Valley that runs as deep as the 1000 metre lake. She discovers her grandfather’s intriguing connection with the First Nation’s chief whose ancestry goes back to the earliest recorded history at the lake, and her grandmother’s attendance at a school where First Nations girls were taught servitude instead of knowledge.

Through the summer of her research, she shares her discoveries with her six grandchildren as they set off on expeditions that make the past come alive. Together they find the headstone of an American scout with the 1858 International Boundary Commission Survey, a 1916 silver mine set up by Chief Sepass, and remnants of the original Indian Trail. They learn about trapper and prospector Charlie Lindeman, who introduced her grandfather to the lake in the early 1920s, and rescued her mother and grandmother from a fire that engulfed the lake in the 1930s.

Together with her grandchildren they consider the impact of the legacy of white settlement in the area–what is received from the past and what is given to the future. And as they reflect on the essence of a “summer cabin,” a place that brings family together and that nourishes the soul with its solitude and beauty, they gain a new perspective on the inevitable nature of change and privilege.

How Deep is the Lake is a welcome surprise for a memoir-weary reviewer, and this well written, closely observed memoir is both a family album, a love letter to a stunning natural environment, an account of First Nations history, and the testimony to the author’s burgeoning awareness of the great Canadian land theft that made land on Chilliwack Lake available to her family.”
—Tom Sandborn, The Vancouver Sun

“Part Walden Pond, part Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, part girls’ own adventure, How Deep is the Lake tells of author Shelley O’Callaghan deep attachment to her family’s land and cabins on the shores of BC’s Chilliwack Lake. Warm, discursive, inquisitive, thoughtful, O’Callaghan explores the geography and history of a beautiful part of BC, not far from the US border, and long home to displaced aboriginal inhabitants.  Like life, the stories O’Callaghan shares aren’t neatly bounded, but branch off into other narratives and open the reader to fresh perspectives and intriguing mysteries.”
—Anne Giardini, author of The Sad Truth About Happiness and Advice for Italian Boys

Only someone with O’Callaghan’s intimate attachment to ‘the lake’ could have written such an appealing history-cum-memoir of this out of the way corner of the province. A charming portrait of family life set against the historical changes that threaten the tranquility and isolation of so many unique wilderness retreats. Highly recommended.”
— Daniel Francis, editorial director, Encyclopedia of British Columbia

“In her memoir, How Deep is the Lake: A Century at Chilliwack Lake, Shelley O’Callaghan invites us into her family’s private paradise. In lucid and graceful prose, she traces almost 100 years of her family’s cabin on the lakeshore, seamlessly revealing the history of the area and the strength of her family traditions. O’Callaghan’s evocation of what it’s taken to create and maintain the cabin, as well as the joy it brings to her extended family, makes this a delightful read for anyone who dreams of one day finding their own piece of paradise.”
— Judy McFarlane, author of Writing with Grace, A Journey Beyond Down Syndrome

“If you live in the Fraser Valley or have ever spent any time at Chilliwack Lake this is a must read. If you have ever had a family cottage you will be warmed by the incredible sense of stewardship and dedication generations of this family have given … I would highly recommend this book.”
Fraser Valley News

“… one of the most charming titles I’ve picked up since starting this weekly review column at the beginning of the year.”
— Bob Kronbauer, Vancouver is Awesome