Week 14: #52 Ancestors – Water
By Eilene Lyon
Priest Lake, near Canada in Idaho’s panhandle, has long been a popular recreation area. In the 1920s, actor/director Nell Shipman “discovered” the lake and established Lionhead Lodge and her own film production company there. Though she stayed only a couple years, her movies introduced the country to the beauty of Idaho’s northern lakes.
While my mom (“S”) was growing up in Spokane, Washington, her family would take vacations regularly at Priest Lake in the 1940s. My aunt (“B”) shared some memories of that time with me:
“We had a kayak that we enjoyed taking out on the lake. Once when [second cousin] Peggy Myrick Hansen and family were visiting us at the lake, they were trying to get into the boat just off shore and in shallow water, and the boat kept tipping so that they couldn’t get into it. They got to laughing so hard that they had to just give it up.”
Peggy’s husband, Ralph Hansen, worked as a forest ranger at Priest Lake after returning home from World War II.
B recalls that the family rented a cabin for the time they stayed at the lake. S, a voracious reader, could sometimes be difficult to pry away from her latest book to partake in family activities.
“There was a stationary raft some distance from the shore.” said B. “Many of the kids that were there when we were would swim out to the raft. S swam out there and had a great time with the kids. Mom, Dad, and I watched from the shore. I wanted to go, too, but wasn’t permitted. I was too young.”
My aunt did get to swim closer to shore, though:
“The water was very cold, being near a mountain, and was crystal clear. I played in the water near the beach. The humidity is very low there, and when I got cold I was still comfortable. I would actually be shivering. My mother tried to get me to get out of the water; but I said I wanted to stay. I also enjoyed picking up smooth rocks that sparkled on the beach.”
S remembered that, “Dad [Laurence Smith] borrowed a wooden-framed trailer, no top, used for hauling. Got there and cut up ferns and stuffed them into stitched canvas. B and I slept on it. It was really hard. Not soft at all.” She also recalled a scary incident when she thought her little sister, B, then about age 2, was drowning. She ran to get their mother, Clare (Davis) Smith, and all was well.
My mom must have had an overall favorable impression of Priest Lake from her childhood. She and my dad spent their honeymoon there!
I’ve never been to Priest Lake, though I have visited other lakes in the region. From photos, I’d say it is just as picture-perfect today as it was when Nell Shipman made it the scenic backdrop for her films.
Feature image: Kayaker on upper Priest Lake, Idaho (Wikimedia Commons)
Email from my aunt, May 11, 2020.
Interview with my mom, July 12, 2013.
Peterson, Keith C. 2019. Idaho: The Land & Its People. Idaho State Historical Society, Boise, ID, pp. 15, 46.
“Rites Friday for Former Valley Man.” Obituary for Ralph H. Hansen. Ravalli Republic (Hamilton, Montana), July 17, 1958, p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.