Over 50 years ago Gordon and Ethel Bell started their lifelong pursuit of preserving Western Canadian history on a once swampy piece of land west of Revelstoke.
“I believe we can’t move into the future without understanding our history.” Bell would say. “It’s important that we preserve our history for future generations. I’m just doing my part.”
His dream was to have a place that he and his family could work in a healthy environment. A place of self-sufficiency, self-reliance and independence. And so Three Valley Gap has always served as a historical record dedicated to the men and women who built western Canada, but also as a testament to the dream of an average man whose grit, determination and hard work is captured and lives on in what you see at 3VG today.
For those that knew or met him, he had a special magic with people and had a gift at telling stories. So, it is with that in mind we dedicate this Founder’s Page to - our husband, father, grandpa and friend. Who better to tell the story of 3VG than Gordon himself.
Gordon passed away in November, 2007.
I was born in 1933 in Calgary, Alberta during the Great Depression. I experienced my parents’ marriage breakup in my infant years.
While I was growing up, I saw idle shops and machinery, hungry and unemployed men. I saw families with no opportunity, no imagination and no hope of improving their meager standard of living. My family moved to Revelstoke in 1940.
I was young when I imagined a valley in the rugged mountains near Revelstoke where I could build a complex, (for example, sawmill, ranch or lodge) that would offer the family life and opportunities for work, in a healthy environment. I envisioned self sufficiency, self reliance, and independence.
I started working when I was 11 years old at full-time summer jobs. I picked potatoes, hayed, and cut firewood for a farmer. I worked for the City of Revelstoke, BC Forest Service, Department of Highways, Wells Mens Wear, cruised timber for selective logging, had been a carpenter’s helper at the wartime housing project, washed dishes and peeled potatoes in a restaurant, and worked a variety of jobs at a sawmill. I built my first house at the age of 16 years. I graduated from Revelstoke High School in 1951.
I started looking for the right wife in my early teens. I found and married her in 1953. Ethel and I lived in Edmonton, Alberta. I sold suits in Tip Top Tailors in Edmonton, Alberta and was also the purchasing agent for a large house builder there. We moved to Regina, Saskatchewan in 1955, where I designed and built approximately 800 houses.
We had started our family in Edmonton and Regina, but our hearts were in the mountains of BC. We fell in love with Three Valley in 1956 because of its rich history and its proximity to the railway and the newly announced Trans Canada Highway.
The absence of sewage, water, and electricity was simply going to be an exciting challenge. We went ahead and bought approximately 7 acres of lakeshore property in September of 1956 from the late Russell Vestrup. We felt that this was about the right size to accommodate a small motel and museum complex.
The lack of services was just a fraction of the challenges that lay ahead. The property that we bought was a swamp, which along with the additional 20 acres we bought in 1961 would require 25,000 truckloads of rock and fill material.
Mortgage money was another challenge. We wrote to every bank and lending institution in Canada, and eventually obtained a very limited amount of money at 12% interest, which was almost double what the going rate in Canada was at that time (bankers like to drive by their investment on their way to work each day!). Privately owned museums were almost unheard of, and most of the other museums which were run by Society’s or Government were not only uninteresting, many were simply “black holes” into which taxpayers’ money could be thrown.
We have experienced some tough times over the years, but I believe that we were put on this earth to struggle for our daily bread, not to wait for someone else to put it on the table.
We have had help and encouragement from both Ethel’s side of the family as well as my own. We have been very fortunate to have excellent staff and most of them have shared in the family business accomplishments. A number of employees have been with us for more than twenty years.
Three Valley Gap is a dream come true for Ethel and myself. We have four children and twelve grandchildren. We are very proud that so much of our family has and continues to take part in the business.
Three Valley Gap is a result of imagination, opportunity, necessity, history, and determination.
- Gordon Bell
Gordon Bell’s influence on Tourism in B.C. was felt beyond the property line of 3VG. He and a group of friends and businessmen, created the province’s first Tourism Industry Association of BC (TIABC) organization in B.C. in 1975, precursor to Council of Tourism Association (COTA) Regions.
It was fitting that before his passing, he and the founders of TIABC, were recognized by the province with the William Van Horne Visionary award for their early efforts.
Like Van Horne, a visionary who brought the two ends of the railway together just up the road from 3VG at Craigellachie, so too did Bell create his own unique vision of linking B.C.’s present, past and future for all the world to see on the shores of Three Valley Gap. And it is there that he will always be remembered and have a place in the hearts and minds of all those that he touched.