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Harrison Hot Springs: Solo at a Spa Resort

Qwólts, meaning boiling water, was a well known Coast Salish healing spot for centuries. Now known as Harrison Hot Springs, this was, and continues to be, a well-travelled route by the Sts’ailes (Chehalis) people whose stories and traditions are abundant along the waterways including petroglyphs at Doctor’s Point and recently discovered ancient pit houses near Sts’ailes Beach. The mountain lake and tributary system are part of the larger Fraser River.

The first whites to arrive in this area were likely those seeking their fortunes in the Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858. At the time, the only travel choices to the gold sources was hiking through the mountains or paddling along the rivers. It is said that the springs were "discovered" when a group of miners capsized into the lake. Word of mouth soon spread and entrepreneurial types realized the potential of being able to commercialize the (restricted) use of the waters. The townsite was officially registered in 1859. It has had several different names over the years but officially became the village of Harrison Hot Springs in 1949. The area was named "St. Alice's Well" by BC's notorious Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie, in honour of the daughter of British Columbia's first Governor, James Douglas. From all accounts, the "Saint" part of the name may have been a wee bit sarcastic. I think I would have liked her.

When the transcontinental railroad was built, a branch trail was built out to the settlement and its reputation grew. After securing the exclusive rights to the local hot springs source in return for providing a branch pipe to a public pool, the first hotel was built in the area. The St. Alice Hotel burned down in 1920s and was eventually rebuilt as the "Harrison Hot Springs Resort". To this day, the only way to enjoy the healing waters is as a guest at the resort or at the public pool.

During it's heyday, the resort attracted the rich and powerful including the King of Siam, Prime Minister Mackenzie King and Golden Era movie stars such as Clark Gable, Lauren Bacall, Howard Hughes and Errol Flynn. In those days the stars stayed in the cottages behind the hotel where they were provided full staff and luxurious services. Those cottages today are advertised as self-catering and marketed to families. I shared my life-long connections to this little village with site members in the last newsletter. The community and resort is a place where many good memories have been made and I feel very comfortable. I chose to spend a couple of nights at the Harrison Hot Springs ResortHarrison Hot Springs Resort for my solo birthday getaway.

Over the years, two towers have been attached to either side of the original building adding many more rooms on mismatched floors and creating some challenging navigation. None of the floors line up and each tower has its own elevator system ... which doesn't open into the Main (Upper) Lobby. Do not get the Main Lobby confused with the Pool (Lower) Lobby, that's on a different floor and around the corner. Nor is the Main Lobby the same as the Reception Lobby, but it's close! You need to take a few steps down and around the other corner for Reception, the Coffee Shop, the little store, and the fishing tours office....

Covid protocols were clearly outlined during the booking and confirmation process. These same protocols were in the guest registration package. The venerable fine dining room "The Copper Room" has been closed since Covid began. Afternoon tea is not laid out in the afternoon. Rooms will not be serviced, unless specifically requested. Masks are mandatory in all areas inside the hotel unless in your own room or when seated in the restaurant or bar. Masks are mandatory at the indoor sitting pool. Proof of vaccine needs to be shown before entry to the lobby bar or the hotel restaurant. There are sanitation stations, floor markers and polite signs reminding guests to disinfect, social distance, and mask up.

The vast majority of guests followed the rules. A few did not and, when confronted by other guests, became agitated and aggressive. Staff never intervened and seemed eager to leave the area. It became noticeable how other guests gave these people plenty of social distance.

I booked a room in the West Tower with a lake view. It was a large room with a king-sized bed and a stunning view of the lake and mountains. The bathroom was spacious, with plenty of room to hang towels for drying. Two robes and 6 large towels were provided, in addition to the usual shower supplies. The room included a Keurig coffee machine with supplies for 4 coffee and 2 tea. The balcony would be a wonderful place to sit in warmer weather and watch as people walk along the lakeside.

The Main Lobby (the part of the heritage portion of the hotel that isn't the Reception Lobby or the Pool Lobby) includes a gorgeous stone fireplace, many welcoming seating areas, and the Islands Bar. It is not unusual to see a small wedding take place here. Pre-Covid, this also the area where a simple Afternoon Tea would be laid out for guests.

There are very limited dining and afternoon bar choices available in Harrison, especially in the winter season, but the Islands Bar in the lobby suited me well and I spent time there both days. After my afternoon soak, the idea of getting bundled up to go into the village didn't appeal so that meant finding a meal inside the resort was important. The server, Jaime, was hugely charming, made excellent recommendations, and made me feel like a welcome friend. I was hugely touched when she stuck a lit candle in a glass of whipped cream and orange slice garnish to present it to me as a "birthday cake".

In the pool area, the resort has 6 natural springs pools fed by the piped source water cooled to 35C/95F. One pool is specifically designated as the "adult" pool. Two pools (swimming and sitting) are inside a pavilion that also includes a steam room. In peak season, there is a pool bar available.

Guests were a mixture of demographics, mainly couples and families. I may have been the only solo guest. Adults were generally very quiet, moving and speaking in hushed tones in the more "natural" pools. In contrast, the families with children frolicked with great delight in the rectangular pools.

In the Quiet pavilion, in spite of abundant signage, few guests wore masks in the sitting pool or while moving around and staff were obviously choosing not to engage guests. Part of the services offered includes the "Healing Springs Spa". The spa provides a tranquil environment for a wide range of therapeutic treatments from manicures and pedicures in their lobby salon to massages and detox wraps in the Spa near the outside pools. Their menu of services is quite extensive and I treated myself to a relaxing massage which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Nearby Sasquatch Provincial Park offers many opportunities for recreation including camping, hiking, boating, and cycling. Riding snowmobiles, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing are usually popular winter activities but recent extreme weather events have caused so much damage that the park is currently closed.

I'm still taking baby steps in re-entering the world of travel. I want to support the industry and I want to feel confident that I understand the rules. Over the years, I have travelled in places where I really didn't agree with their politics, laws, or customs but, as a guest, I followed the rules and kept my opinion to myself. This doesn't seem to be the norm in regards to this pandemic. There are people travelling who have little regard for local pandemic restrictions or suggestions and actually seem eager to be confronted. The tourism and the hospitality employees are trying to figure out how to balance ensuring rules are followed without inviting confrontation. I really liked knowing that when I was seated in the bar or restaurant that everyone around me was fully vaxxed. I felt much more confident taking off my mask and chatting with the server and other guests. My recent domestic travels have shown great inconsistencies in policies and in the enforcement of those policies. For me, the Proof of Vaccine requirements are going to be important when choosing where I spend my money.

As far as Harrison is concerned, two days of hot springs soaks and massages made me quite slothful. I did very little except move from soaking pool to lounge as I read, people watched, or considered my next nap. Even including a couple of daily walks, my fit bit was looking to award me the Lard Ass Badge. Taking a spa trip is not my usual type of getaway and it is unlikely it will ever become a regular indulgence, especially as a solo traveller. On the other hand, Harrison Hot Springs is more than an indulgence to me as it is also a place where many good memories were made. It's good to remember those things that really are rejuvenating for body and soul.


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