By Kelsey Wiebe
Plagued by flood, fire, and economic depression, the Lakelse hot springs property lay dormant from the mid-1930s until 1958, when it was purchased by local logging entrepreneur Ray Skoglund, who immediately began implementing a visionary, multi-phase development.
Skoglund, who was widely accepted as a local man working to better the area, took over the 320 acres comprising the Lakelse hot springs property from Lloyd Johnstone in the late 1950s, and operated the resort from 1958 into the 1970s.
Johnstone had purchased back the hot springs property after his father had lost it in the 1930s, but, busy as Terrace’s mayor and also as a business owner, he had allowed the property to stagnate.
Skoglund immediately began an ambitious tiered development for the Lakelse Hotsprings Resort, which were later rechristened Skoglund Hotsprings Resort.
Skoglund, who along with partner Sandy Sandover-Sly, simultaneously operated a successful Terrace logging company from the mid-1950s through the early 1980s, envisioned a family-oriented, local operation with global appeal. He was renowned for his enthusiasm and vision, and implemented the first two major phases of his plan within eight years.
“His formula is basic,” reported The Terrace Omineca Herald in 1966. “[T]ake a liberal amount of enthusiasm, add an even more liberal amount of hard work and determination and you come up with a job well done.”
Kitimat’s Northern Sentinel praised Skoglund’s resort as not being “owned outside” in a 1959 editorial.
“When a country has treated you well, then you must return the favour,” Skoglund said. At the same time as he employed his children in the resort, Skoglund marketed it worldwide, sending articles and promotional material as far afield as Buckingham Palace.
“Ray had the courage, vision, enthusiasm, equipment, credit and know-how to work a miracle,” Stan Rough said in the Northern Sentinel in the spring of 1961.
Purchased in June of 1958, by the middle of August, Skoglund had constructed a large gravity-fed concrete pool complete with change rooms. It measured 23 by 5.5 metres, and sported hot springs water cooled to about 32 degrees Celsius. Fourteen duplex cabins with private baths were under construction, as was a snack bar.
Over the first winter, the original pool was covered when the snow failed to discourage visitors from the surrounding region.
“I used to shiver just watching them,” Skoglund wrote of the intrepid swimmers. “We decided to cover the small pool to make things more comfortable for those who preferred life a little less rugged but to leave the large pool uncovered for the hardy types.”
A Gothic-style arch frame of laminated spruce was covered with plastic, which kept the pool warm and the snow out.
In 1959, Skoglund continued to expand the hot springs into a resort. With much fanfare, he opened a $125,000 extension in the autumn of 1959.
A second, slightly cooler outdoor pool measuring 30.5 by 15 metres featured underwater lighting, two diving boards, and a windbreak. Change rooms with a capacity of 400 guests were flanked by a steam room and Roman baths for guests with health issues.
Ten deluxe furnished housekeeping suites were located on a second storey, and 24 cosy tents complete with a stove, tables, and chairs in a clearing west of the buildings provided lower-budget accommodations. Renovations converted an earlier building into a lounge and coffee bar. A 731-metre manmade canal allowed for lake access to and from the hot springs.
By 1962, a new fine dining room and state-of-the-art kitchen were opened. The Northland Dining Room boasted an impressively large stone fireplace, in keeping with the rustic setting. There were 26 guest suites in total, including the 10 deluxe housekeeping suites.
More than 125,000 people had visited the resort in the first three years of operation. Following the completion of Skoglund’s first phase, local newspapers marvelled that “wilderness has been turned into a luxurious resort.”
In September of 1965, Skoglund announced his plans for a $500,000 expansion to the property, heralding the resort’s second phase of development. A third Olympic-sized swimming pool was completed in 1966, as was a ski hill across the highway from the main spring.
More campsites and spaces for trailers were added. A planned marina service with rental boats complemented the existing canal to the lake. A new hotel complex with 48 new units, cocktail lounge, stone fireplace, dining room, and lobby was slated for construction.
The Power Corporation Development Company of Canada provided financial assistance for the expansion. “However large the place may grow,” Skoglund promised, “it has always been my wish that families of the northern area may never be out priced for a relaxing holiday at the springs.”
In September 1965, Skoglund asked residents to “pray for snow” when announcing his $25,000 plans for a ski hill across the highway from the hot springs.
Apparently, the prayers were successful: on 30 January 1966, more than 1,000 people attended a ski meet at ‘Skogy’s Hill,’ easily matching the 1,000 people who attended the opening day the week before.
Skiers from across the region competed in the ladies’ junior and senior events, and men’s juvenile, junior, and senior events. According to the Terrace Omineca Herald, Skoglund himself had intended to present the Skogy’s Ski Hill Cup, but broke his ankle while being towed behind a snowmobile earlier in the day.
The ski hill boasted 380 vertical feet serviced by a seven-tower T-bar tow. The hill’s 1,500-foot ski run had a slalom run, “sizeable” jumps, and a mercury vapour floodlight system for night skiing.
“Some of the more seasoned hickory buffs reached speeds of close to 50 mph as they sped down,” Ruth Hallock wrote of the opening day in the Terrace Omineca Herald, “with bright jackets, earmuffs and gauntlets creating an abstract color streak on the sun-tipped hillside.”
The proximity of the hot springs and the ski hill at Skoglund Hotsprings Resort was remarkably unique. The resort was promoted as “the only one of its kind on the North American continent.” Unlike at Banff, for example, one could be soaking in the hot pools within minutes of skiing to the bottom of Skogy’s Ski Hill.
The T-bar, installed by Hall Ski-lift of Montreal in less than two weeks, could handle 400 people per hour. Eventually, Skoglund planned to expand the resort’s serviced area to 4,000 feet. The doubled T-bar would increase capacity per hour to 900 skiers. He also envisioned a bunny tow for children.
But, along with the final phase of his plans for the hot springs, Skoglund’s dreams of expanding the ski hill were never realised, and it was relegated to the fond mythology of Terrace history. The towers, seen occasionally by hikers, stood as sentries to Skoglund’s visions.
Skoglund’s final ambitions for the property ranged from arcades and more camping sites to an 1800-foot landing strip so planes could land within the confines of the resort: eventually, the complex would envelope guests, who would not need to leave for any amenities.
Phase III would see the expansion of the total room count to 500. A beauty parlour, physiotherapy rooms, an expanded ski hill, a 40-acre golf course, and a new Olympic-sized outside swimming pool for summer were other items on Skoglund’s agenda.
According to the local newspapers, Skoglund was even considering installing a drive-in movie theatre that could be viewed from the interior and exterior of the complex.
This visionary transformation of the Lakelse Hot Springs into a glamorous, self-contained international attraction was never finalised: before Phase III began, Skoglund’s financial backers balked, and his overall vision was sidelined.
Ray Skoglund was the sole operator of the Lakelse Hotsprings Resort into the later 1960s, when he sold interests in the company to finance the enormity of his vision for the resort. Following a fire in November 1966 that destroyed three of the duplex cabins, the holding company who owned much of the property balked at his plans for further expansion.
Relegated to the position of one director among several, Skoglund continued to provide guidance on the operation of the property, but his advice was not always heeded. “I’ve been trying to convince the holding company people for a long time that we had to cater to the local people,” Skoglund told the Terrace Herald in 1968.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the property changed hands several times, finally falling into disrepair and receivership. Skoglund slowly disengaged himself, and the hot springs fell apart without the guiding force of his enthusiasm, hard work, and determination.
In 1978, a flood completed the long decline, and the resort was closed to the public. In the following year, the property was turned over to the provincial government by the Canadian-American Loan and Investment Corporation. The Lakelse hot springs property was dormant once again.
This is part two in a three-part series. Read part one.
Kelsey Wiebe is the curator of Heritage Park Museum. More photographs and stories can be found in A History of Lakelse Hot Springs, an exhibit available online through heritageparkmuseum.com. The exhibit was assisted greatly by Merilyn McLeod, Alice Gellner, David Skoglund, and Ella Goodlad. Wiebe will be speaking about the History of the Lakelse Hot Springs at UNBC’s Terrace Campus from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. on February 11th.