REVIEW: ‘Tom’s Gray Creek’ a history of Kootenay Lake community by treasured author

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The cover of a book by Gray Creek resident and historian Tom Lymbery.

The cover of a book by Gray Creek resident and historian Tom Lymbery.

As chatty and anecdotal as the author himself, Tom’s Gray Creek: A Kootenay Lake Memoir, is a welcome addition to the local literary scene.

Tom, of course, is Tom Lymbery, longtime proprietor of the Gray Creek Store, which itself closely intertwined with the history of the East Shore. A postcard from 1932 is reproduced in the book, with a ferry looming in the background. Gray Creek Store served as the east shore ferry terminal until 1947, when the Kootenay Bay terminal was constructed.

For as long as most of us can remember, Gray Creek Store has been an anachronism, one of those “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it” kind of places that are now more commonly found in the movies. Customers could be assured of getting a good story from Tom as he made his way unerringly to find what they were in need of.

Tom’s Gray Creek is constructed in the much the same mode. It has something for everyone — wonderful photos, great maps, local history, reproductions of posters, maps and newspaper stories, and many anecdotes, all designed to bring the area’s colourful history to life.

A forward by Nelson Star staff writer and historial Greg Nesteroff sets the tone:

“Every small community should be so lucky to have a Tom Lymbery.

“Well, make that Tom Lymbery-like — there can only be one Tom.

“Everything quirky and unique about Gray Creek — from the metric-free zone to the gold boulder (supposedly) lost in Kootenay Lake — seems to have his fingerprints on it.

“He’s the chief booster of the East Shore (which he calls the Best Shore) and the second-generation proprietor of a country emporium where you can buy a fireplace and loaf of bread at the same time.”

It seems almost redundant when Nesteroff mentions that Lymbery has been the president of the Gray Creek Historical Society since its inception. No offense intended to others, but Tom Lymbery is the historical society, a living, breathing compendium of all that has happened in the area’s known (and perhaps even unknown) history.

One photo in particular says a lot about the author, giving readers a clue about Lymbery’s personal history. The photo shows a sign, once posted by Tom’s dad Arthur: “This gate, erected in 1913, is maintained as a legal protest against the acquirement of any unauthorized rights of way.” His dad, Tom writes, waged a 25-year battle against the provincial government over landowner rights. He first had land expropriated to provide access to the ferry landing at Gray Creek and then, in 1947, to the new landing at Kootenay Bay. Doesn’t this sound like a man who would father a fellow who declared Gray Creek a metric-free zone back in 1970?

Tom’s Gray Creek also provides lessons in the area’s economic history. A page from Arthur’s account book shows that in 1920 he sold 1,700 pounds (measured in Tom’s beloved Imperial system) of fruit — black cherries, sour cherries, strawberries, apples, plums, pears and the like — for a net gain of $70.67.

“But any revenue at all was welcome in those years, and this was substantial for the times,” Tom points out.

Perhaps the most powerful testament to the book is that the more I went through it the more I wanted to linger on each page. The layout is gorgeous and inviting, with a brilliant selection of photos, illustrations and maps that that make this memoir a visual treat.

When part 2 is released (part 1 only takes us up to 1945) we will have a comprehensive history of Kootenay Lake’s East Shore. Even more important, we will have another book to treasure by an author who is one of the Kootenays’ great treasures.

Tom’s Gray Creek is available at the Gray Creek store on the East Shore, and at Black Bear Books in Creston.