Updated: October 02, 2017
Kilby Historic Site, a secluded gem many locals have never heard of, let alone visitors. Discover the intrigue behind this rural outpost nestled in the ghost town of Harrison Mills.
“We want two double scoops of strawberry cheese cake with cookies and cream, please,” said Anika and Sarah to the friendly lady, while still eyeing the tempting flavours in the ice-cream cabinet. Outside the Orientation Barn, the rumble of the freight train was a reminder of a bygone era in rural British Columbia (B.C.).
Kilby Historic Site is a treasure trove of memories of rural B.C. life in the 1920s. The Kilbys lived and worked on the five acre site in Harrison Mills, a Fraser Valley community from 1906 until 1977.
The B.C. provincial government bought the property and turned it into BC’s Museum of Rural Life. Built on a flood plain, several homestead buildings are raised on stilts and connected by boardwalks.
In the days of the steam locomotive, Harrison Mills was a water refuelling stop. The last passenger train ceased operation in 1958. Rail tracks that run in front of the Kilby Historic Site form part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s main Cross-Canada System.
Country-Style Culinary Delights
The Orientation Barn houses a gift shop selling interesting local artisan crafts and condiments – and the Kilby Cafe.
Hungry for a rural taste? Savour the delightful Birchwood Dairy ice-creams or a slice of Cabin Fever Junction pie, country-style lunches and home-made pastries. On Sundays, traditional roast beef lunch is served.
Tween travellers, Anika and Sarah said their delicious ice-creams were comparable to the gelatos bought at some of Vancouver’s top gelato shops.
Rural Living Attractions
Tools used by blacksmiths, saddlers, and wheelwrights; vintage buggies and other implements from rural life and agriculture lay exposed in the Farm Implement Shed. These rusty treasures provide a glimpse of the nuts and bolts of rural life.
Turkeys and chickens roam freely in the surrounding Chicken Coop. The Piggery is home to two hungry pigs who love rolling in the mud. Nearby, a lone goat and two sheep wriggle their heads through the wire to greet visitors, while Jersey cows happily graze on the green pasture by the Bull Pen.
Kids enjoy petting and feeding the friendly farm animals. A bag of animal feed costs a loonie at the gift shop. A tree fort and swings in the Orchard Playground keeps kids entertained. Over at the Milk House, visitors learn the low-tech method of milk processing.
Kilbys and Intriguing Collections
A must-visit is the General Store, Post Office, Living Quarters and Manchester House Hotel. Intriguing items, big and small, decorate the walls, shelves and cabinets of the rooms from floor to ceiling.
Artifacts and collectibles are well-preserved and meticulously arranged. Baby boomers may recognize objects from their childhood days.
Enterprising couple Thomas and Eliza Kilby opened their General Store, and Post Office cum Business Office in 1906. The store was the heart of the community – a place to shop and catch the latest news. Acton, the couple’s son and his wife operated the store from 1922 until 1977. They were certainly a collecting family.
In the tight Living Quarters, a mint-looking wood stove worked as a heater for the room, hot water and iron. The hotel’s creaking stairs led to rooms filled with stories of the Kilby family, history of the community and local First Nations.
Not to miss is the fascinating gallery of products and packaging displays over different decades.
Eliza Kilby launched the hotel in 1908 to accommodate workers in the thriving Harrison Mill mining, lumber and agricultural communities. The hotel was named after her English hometown, Manchester.
Camping and Events
A short walk to the Kilby Park, the 35-site campground offers a day use area, sandy beaches, nature trails and boat launch. For campsite booking, contact the charitable Fraser Heritage Society at tel: 604-796-9576 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Events are held throughout the year. Heritage Day is on September 03. Children can experience 1920s lifestyle through fun interactive games and activities. Learn hands-on life skills of settlers and make ice-cream the old-fashioned way.
On October 08 and 09, the Thanksgiving Dinner features a full course turkey dinner with roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, seasonal vegetables, gravy, cranberry sauce, dinner roll, apple or pumpkin pie and beverages for only $19.95 CAD.
Admission fees per person range from 20 to 22 Canadian dollars. Opening hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Check kilby.ca for updated opening times.
The museum is approximately 30 minutes either way from Mission or Harrison Hot Springs. It’s about a 90 minutes drive from Vancouver.
Kilby Historic Site is a wonderful living museum that connects British Columbians with a sense of place and identity. A quick getaway for rural experiences and family fun. Discover other fun places at Tourism Harrison Mills.