How a nature-filled childhood in Bridge River Valley can shape your entire future
Kaitlin James grew up at picturesque Gun Lake. Now, many years later, she’s returned home for a promising new job and life playing outdoors
It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic place to grow up than Gun Lake.
From playing outside in pristine, untouched nature to searching for bugs, swimming, and camping, Kaitlin James recalls the experience fondly.
“If it was possible, I definitely think every kid should grow up in the bush,” she said. “The experience and appreciation it gives you for the world around you is amplified.”
While the Bralorne Mine was booming back in those days—creating a slightly larger population in the area—the elementary school only had around 15 kids total enrolled from Kindergarten to Grade 7.
Think that sounds stifling? For Kaitlin, at least, the opposite was true.
“Everyone was friends with everybody, there were no cliques or separation among students,” she remembered.It was such a tight-knit group that when she had to transition to high school in Lillooet—with a whopping school population of around 220 students—the experience was a bit jarring.
“I had to learn how to socialize in that bigger setting,” she said. “I missed the solitude and the close-knit feeling of home—so much so that I tried to base my education and my future in a way that I’d be able to survive in smaller communities.”
To that end, when Kaitlin graduated high school, she set out to find a post-secondary school that was close to nature, in a smaller hub, and offered a program that would allow her to live the quiet, remote lifestyle she had grown up with.
That search led her to the University of the Fraser Valley to pursue a Bachelor of Science in geography and the environment.
“I did a lot of research on where I wanted to go to university,” she said. “I chose Chilliwack because it was a city, but it wasn’t Vancouver and it had a farm and outdoor outlet. There’s Manning Park and Chilliwack Lake. It’s awesome.”
Her field of study was likewise influenced by a deep love of nature honed in her youth—only she never expected where it would end up leading her.
“I definitely wanted to be in the environmental field—either conservation or saving habitat or doing surveys on species. I never thought I’d be in the mining industry,” she said.
In a surprise twist, during her second year of university, Kaitlin was offered a summer job as field technician at Bralorne Mines—just a few kilometres from where she grew up.
“It was such a great summer they invited me back for the next four summers,” she said.
Now, on the cusp of graduating university, she already has a full-time job lined up at the mine for when she completes her studies this year—a rare accomplishment in any field.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, her classes have all moved online so currently she’s splitting her time working and studying from a distance.
She and her boyfriend officially call Bridge River home. When they’re not working, they’re out enjoying nature. In recent years, Kaitlin has picked up one of the area’s most popular past times: mountain biking.
“My boyfriend Cole got me into mountain biking on the coast,” she said. “I’m grateful for the sport. Biking is something I didn’t do much as a kid.”
While you might imagine kids who grow up in the remote area are ready to flee for bright city lights, the opposite seems to be true. Instead, the experience shapes who you become, your values, and passions.
Even Kaitlin’s best friend from elementary school wound up in the forestry industry, living just up the Hurley Forest Service Road in Pemberton.
“She still has a feel for the outdoors and comes back,” she added.
“If I had grown up elsewhere I’d probably be doing something different. I’m all about recycling and picking up trash wherever I go, trying to save some parts of planet where I can.”