Lake Country is not only all about our beautiful lakes, orchards and vineyards, but also that craggy promontory that overlooks us called Spion Kop. Don’t take issue with this spelling as officially this name didn’t even exist until recently.
This may come as a bit of a surprise to locals who have always called it Spion Kop but the Dominion of Canada cartographers missed it. Duane Thomson tells me that it was officially known as Ellison Ridge and that Spion Kop in the Dutch language interprets as “Lookout”. The omission of the name Spion Kop was challenged by Sonja MacCrimmon, previously the Lake Country Museum archivist, who petitioned government for many years to make the amendment. It would seem like a simple thing to change but we all know how slow bureaucracy works.
In 2009 Elaine and I joined the local WALC (Walk Around Lake Country) group for the “official” opening of their new trail linking the upper area of The Lakes to the peak of the mountain. About forty or so people trudged up a new path system created by volunteers including Dev and Wendy Fraser, Duane Thomson and many others. They’ve done a marvellous job of accessing incredible panoramas of our lakes and community while ensuring minimal impact on this fragile environment. As you may note from the photo of us at the top the view is worth the seventy-five minute hike. I just hope that a few irresponsible trail bikers don’t destroy it in short order. I hiked up again a few days later with friend Jim Moody and bikes had already impacted portions of the trail.
As we climbed to the top I thought back to my first ascent, probably about fifty years ago in the company of Ken Witzke. A photo then and now would show the incredible change in the surrounding lands. One thing that hasn’t changed though is the labyrinth of roads that criss-cross the mountain. Over the years Spion Kop has had a lot of recreational uses including hiking and biking, hunting, snowmobiling and trail riding. My brother- in- law Wyatt Laing rode his horse up there for years. The subject of one of my first articles was the trap shooting and rifle range at Pollard’s Pond now the site of homes and condos.
Looking at the roads also reminded me of my own particular use of Spion Kop when I was a kid. It was the best place to drive without being arrested for not having a license. My first car was a ’37 Chevrolet, purchased from Frank Arnold for $30. I was fourteen at the time so I needed a place to drive and Spion Kop was only a ten minute bicycle ride from our house. I’d park the “Chevvy” on the slope just inside where there are now gates to The Lakes. The car had a non-functional starter motor so I’d have to coast down the hill and “bump start” it. I knew every road that was passable and there were quite a few. My favourite would take me to the south end of Old Mission Road in Oyama where there was a beautiful overview onto Wood and Kalamalka Lakes.
I could travel as fast as that old car would take me and never encounter another vehicle. If, however, I stalled it or got stuck, it was a long walk back to my bike and a longer wait until Dad came home from camp on the weekend to drive up and get me going again.
There are so many stories to tell about this beautiful landmark and I’ll share a few more some other day. Thanks so much to the dedicated group from WALC who have provided this new trail. Why not put on some boots, make a peanut butter and jam sandwich and treat yourself to “Lunch with a View” from the mountain we proudly call Spion Kop.1
1 Richard Gibbons, Director, Lake Country Heritage and Cultural Society.
This article first appeared in The View in Gibbons’ column Backward Glances. It has been updated slightly (re the now official use of Spion Kop name) by Carol Thomson, webmaster for the Lake Country Museum and Archives.