Sylvia Derkatch receives a hug and flowers during her 80th birthday party March 16 at Sylvia’s Cafe. Lindsay Chung photos

Celebrating Sylvia

Owner of Sylvia’s Cafe between Quesnel and Nazko celebrates 80th birthday with family and friends

There were lots of laughs and lots of hugs, as friends, family members and customers who have turned into friends came from near and far to help Sylvia Derkatch celebrate her 80th birthday March 16.

“I don’t know how to put it in words,” Derkatch said, taking a few moments to reflect in between hugs and well wishes during her party, held behind Sylvia’s Café and General Store, which she opened 32 years ago.

Derkatch was amazed by the amount of work that went into the festivities. Her family had plowed out paths in the snow behind the café, and decorated with lots of balloons and polka dots — which were Derkatch’s favourite when she was younger. There was a live band and a barbecue, food and a bonfire, and her staff members volunteered to serve grub at the concession.

“I told them not to bother; it’s only a number,” said Derkatch. “The only thing is, I don’t feel 80. I have got lots of energy.”

Gloria Flanagan, who has known Derkatch for 40 years, was at the party to celebrate her dear friend, and they laughed a lot as they shared stories.

“We worked together in the bush, we went firefighting together, we planted trees together — we did lots of things together,” said Flanagan. “We used to work hard and play hard, and it really was enjoyable. No matter what happened, we always had a lot of fun, and we never got in an argument.”

Derkatch was born March 16, 1939, in Stenen, Sask., the second-youngest of eight kids. Interestingly enough, her mother ran a store as well.

Derkatch and her brother, Jim, moved to Quesnel in 1953. Once here, she worked at the Mule Train Drive Inn, Bus Depot Coffee Shop and Watt’s Bakery.

Derkatch got a job at Western Plywood in 1956, and she worked there as a patcher, a sheet turner and a forklift driver.

In 1974, she left Western Plywood to work in silviculture.

All this time, Derkatch also had a ranch that kept her busy, and she was raising four children.

Derkatch built Sylvia’s Café right from the ground up and opened its doors Jan. 19, 1987.

She decided to let the store and café go, through two leases and a sale, but she bought it back again in 1999. She also ran a music festival on the grounds for 10 years.

She says her best memories from the past 32 years revolve around the people she has met.

“The people really made this place,” she said. “I get a lot of truckers and a lot of people from town. I’m well-known here. It’s amazing.”

The 100-acre property, which is 47 kilometres from Quesnel on the Nazko Highway, boasts a café, general store, campground with spots for RVs and tents, gas station, liquor outlet, post office, laundromat, a cabin for rent, showers and two trailers that sleep 20 to offer accommodations for work camps, crews, hunters and recreationalists.

“I don’t think anybody has ever seen any person run a business like this and carry on,” Tom Smith said as he wished Derkatch a happy birthday. “I’ve lived here 13 years, and, probably, if you add up how many times I sat here and played Keno, I’d have to credit one year to just sitting here. But what I noticed in the 13 years of all that Keno playing and sitting there is everything was always in order, everything, and the service was indescribable. When a working guy came into this store, if there was ever any recognition for a working person, it came from this gal.”

Lindsay Chung
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Sylvia Derkatch, owner of Sylvia’s Cafe on the Nazko Highway, celebrated her 80th birthday March 16. Photo submitted

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