Most recent arrivals in Quesnel are not familiar with a riverside acreage which has had an interesting history.
It’s a large bench of land on three levels in a gentle section of the Fraser River above Quesnel where stern wheelers worked their way upstream to Prince George and beyond.
Who first settled there I have not found out, but neighbouring land parcels are District Lots 82, 83 and 84, very early numbers for the Cariboo.
The land reached it’s greatest fame when a Quesnel couple, the Jim Donnellys acquired it in 1950, putting in a picnic site, horse stables, a horse racetrack, a main house on a small rise, rose gardens, cabins and more.
Many Quesnel people took part in the games, races, picnics and used the cabins. Children especially were treated to a memorable weekend among the flower gardens and games. In winter, skiing and snowmobiling were also popular there.
Old Age Pensioners Tribute to the Past gives a good description of Hidden Paradise, as it was named.
The Donnellys sold out in 1969 and left Quesnel – few people have left a legacy as they did.
The 1,500 acres (607 ha) is returning to nature now in some areas, with trees where hay once grew.
Several attempts were made to restore the land to its former glory including one group, led by George Owens in Dec. 1968, who wanted the newly formed CRD to take it over as a park.
John Ernst bought the site, logged and cleared a lot of the land and ran a cattle ranch there. He put in a better access road and built large hay barns.
Many of the Donnelly buildings are still standing.
A Lower Mainland company now owns the property, although minimal ranching is carried on.
Sadly, as times change, the community gathering spot has declined as the photos show, even though the horse barn Dutch doors still swing at the numbered stalls.
The access road originally built by the Donnellys, is lined now with large cottonwood trees, which seems like a path to an 1800s gentleman’s estate.
An old preemption map shows a trail connection between the Quesnel Golf Course and Hidden Paradise, following the Fraser River – no longer used as a better path has been found.
During the hippie era, many rough shelters were erected and now 50 years later, lie in ruins. It was home to many youth and much evidence of their passing is here. Each pile of wood, appliances and junk tells where each cabin was, although some of the Donnelly’s cabins are still sided by rough slabs.
Currently, it is private land. Permission may be granted
by a caretaker at Gunner
It saddens me to think of the past and wonder at the future for this Hidden Paradise.
Andy Motherwell is an amateur historian and regular Observer columnist.