What's the story behind that old McNair Park sign?

YOU ASKED:There is a dilapidated, but official wooden sign, (complete with dogwood logo), on the Mount Lolo Road. It says McNair Park but there is only a small, rutted turnaround and no sign of any upkeep having been done for years. I can't find any mention of the park through the City or provincial websites. Hopefully you can find something.

- Sue Huddart

OUR ANSWER:This was a fun mystery to hunt down for two reasons: It got us out of the office (always a good thing) and it involved our favourite subject, history.

The journey began on Monday, when yours truly embarked on a quest to find the McNair Park sign. I had wanted to get a photo for readers who hadn't yet seen the sign, but I also wanted to satisfy my own curiosity (this would be my first trip to Mount Lolo in my six years here in Kamloops).

I found the park sign about 16 kilometres up Mount Lolo Road, which is off Paul Lake Road on Kamloops Indian Reserve No. 1.

Mount Lolo is well known to longtime Kamloops residents. Most remember it as a Cold War era radar station - part of a network of radar stations (called the Pinetree Line) meant to warn the United States of a missile attack from the Soviet Union.

This was no small operation. Canadian Forces Station Kamloops, as it was called, was like any other military base, a self-contained miniature city with roads, sewer, hydro and all the amenities one would need to live comfortably.

There were dozens of structures on site - barracks, offices, junior and senior mess halls, utility and storage buildings, a fire hall, a church and a greenhouse among them.

There was even a pool, a tennis court and a ball diamond.

"There's quite the history up there," said Paul Legace, who worked at CFS Kamloops from 1979 until the station was decommissioned in 1988.

Today, the only hint of prior life on Mt. Lolo is a telecom tower at the summit and that rustic McNair Park sign lower down the hill.

By the way, to answer your original question, McNair Park was actually a trailer park that housed up to 90 mobile homes during the peak staffing years at CFS Kamloops.

It was named in honour of Second World War flying ace Robert (Buck) McNair.

In the 1960s, 300-some workers manned the Kamloops radar station and many lived onsite.

"If you had your own personal trailer, you could take it up there and park it," said Peter Hayes, former warrant officer in charge of operations.

"Anybody who lived in the barracks was usually single. Anybody married would either be living in those trailers or they'd be living in Kamloops somewhere."

As the Cold War threat died down and as technology began to replace radar personnel, staffing levels at CFS Kamloops' dwindled.

There was just a handful of workers left in 1988 when the station was closed.

Hayes stayed on as a B.C. Corps of Commissionaires member to monitor the site and its boarded-up buildings, "trying to keep the vandals out, which was an impossible task," as site remediation got underway.

In 2005, he meticulously recorded the final stages in the demolition of CFS Kamloops, taking hundreds of photos and posting a compelling diary of dispatches as building after building came down that spring.

"The real blow happened today," Hayes wrote on March 22, 2005. "Up to now they had been prepping the buildings, removing hazardous material and gutting them. Building #2 Supply went down a 0800hrs and Building #9 MSE Transport at 1400hrs today."

In the days that followed, Hayes would post several more dispatches, chronicling what must have been difficult to watch for anyone who had served at the base: the slow, systematic deconstruction of their own history at Mt. Lolo.

" All the buildings slated for phase one are now down," wrote Hayes on March 28, 2005. "As for the big trees on the property, they are being preserved. The fish pond will also not be touched. The McNair Park sign will be left in place "

Of course, many would argue that Mount Lolo is now back where it belongs, both environmentally and ethically.

For more than 20 years, the Tk'emlups Indian Band had fought to regain its spiritual and cultural property. In July, Mount Lolo officially becomes part of Kamloops Indian Reserve No. 1.

"We've finally got it back from the Department of Defence," said band chief Shane Gottfriedson.

"We've shown a great deal of patience getting the property under our name."

What does this mean for the McNair Park sign?

Nothing, said Gottfriedson. The band does not have any plans to remove the sign. It will remain as the last standing reminder of CFS Kamloops.

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Fun fact:It was customary to name one of CFS Kamloops' employees as Mayor of McNair Park. The last mayor was Paul Legace. He still has the large, cast iron key that was presented to him in 1986. Legace presided over a community of seven trailers.

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