How Deep is the Lake

A Century at Chilliwack Lake

By Shelley O'Callaghan

Categories: Memoir, BC History
Imprint: Caitlin Press
Paperback : 9781987915396, 288 pages, March 2017


Curious about the previous inhabitants of the lake where her family has spent the summer for over one hundred years, author Shelley O'Callaghan starts researching and writing about the area. But what begins as a personal journey of one woman's relationship to the land and her desire to uncover the history of her family's remote cabin turns into an exploration and questioning of our rights as settlers upon a land that was inhabited long before we came. In her research, O'Callaghan uncovers a history that runs as deep as the three hundred metre lake itself. Eager to pass on her discoveries, she shares her journey with her six grandchildren. Together they learn of her grandfather's intriguing connection with the First Nation's chief, whose ancestry goes back to the earliest recorded history at the lake, and her grandmother's attendance at a school where First Nations girls were taught servitude instead of knowledge. They find the headstone of an American scout with the 1858 International Boundary Commission Survey, a 1916 silver mine set up by Chief Sepass and the remnants of the original Indian Trail. They learn about trapper and prospector Charlie Lindeman, who introduced her grandfather to the lake in the early 1920s and rescued her mother and grandmother from a fire that engulfed the lake in the 1930s. After a summer of discoveries, O'Callaghan and her grandchildren consider the impact of the legacy of white settlement in the area-what is received from the past and what is given to the future. As they reflect on the essence of a "summer cabin," a place that brings family together and that nourishes the soul with its solitude and beauty, they gain a new perspective on the inevitable repercussions of privilege and the nature of change.


"... one of the most charming titles I’ve picked up since starting this weekly review column at the beginning of the year."

—Bob Kronbauer, Vancouver is Awesome

How Deep is the Lake is a welcome surprise for a memoir-weary reviewer, and this well written, closely observed memoir is both a family album, a love letter to a stunning natural environment, an account of First Nations history, and the testimony to the author’s burgeoning awareness of the great Canadian land theft that made land on Chilliwack Lake available to her family.”

—Tom Sandborn, The Vancouver Sun

“Only someone with O’Callaghan’s intimate attachment to ‘the lake’ could have written such an appealing history-cum-memoir of this out of the way corner of the province. A charming portrait of family life set against the historical changes that threaten the tranquility and isolation of so many unique wilderness retreats. Highly recommended.”

— Daniel Francis, editorial director, Encyclopedia of British Columbia

“Part Walden Pond, part Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, part girls’ own adventure, How Deep is the Lake tells of author Shelley O’Callaghan deep attachment to her family’s land and cabins on the shores of BC’s Chilliwack Lake. Warm, discursive, inquisitive, thoughtful, O’Callaghan explores the geography and history of a beautiful part of BC, not far from the US border, and long home to displaced aboriginal inhabitants. Like life, the stories O’Callaghan shares aren’t neatly bounded, but branch off into other narratives and open the reader to fresh perspectives and intriguing mysteries.”

—Anne Giardini, author of The Sad Truth About Happiness and Advice for Italian Boys