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Golden Miles of History

Vernon Pick and Walden North

"(Vernon Pick was) the greatest prospector, philosopher, mentor, employer, pilot and lifetime buddy I ever knew."

- Jack Langdon, The Prospector and His Protégé, 2009

Vernon Pick was one of Lillooet's most fascinating residents. Born in rural Wisconsin in 1903, he left home at age sixteen and a year later joined the US Marines. After working as a miner in Manitoba, Pick ran an electrical company in Minneapolis for seventeen years before moving back to Wisconsin to build a hydroelectric generator to power a derelict flourmill he converted into an electrical workshop.

Pick had very little formal education – one year of high school and some electrical courses – but he had an appetite for knowledge and spent his spare time studying philosophy, literature, science and religion. He was a multi-talented renaissance man with utopian ideals and a thirst for technological innovation but the quiet, self-sustaining lifestyle Pick and his wife enjoyed in Wisconsin ended in 1951 when a fire destroyed his workshop. The insurance settlement did not cover the cost of its replacement so the Picks decided to buy an Airstream and go west.

They got as far as Grand Junction, Colorado where Pick caught uranium fever. At age forty-eight, he had spent a grueling nine months prospecting in the rugged Utah canyonlands when he made the lucky strike that catapulted him into wealth and fame as the Uranium King of America.

Pick wanted to use his fortune to make a lasting contribution to the future of humanity and converted an estate in California into a research facility staffed with twenty scientists. He renamed it Walden West in honour of his hero, Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden; or Life in the Woods, but his dreams of a nuclear-powered future gradually faded.

In 1965, caught up in the Cold War paranoia and bomb shelter boom of that era, Pick decided to abandon Walden West and build a long-term survival retreat.

After scouting various locations, at the age of sixty-two, Pick chose Cayoosh Canyon here in Lillooet and proceeded to spend much of his fortune fulfilling this vision.

Pick was secretive about Walden North's true purpose. He told locals who helped build its two-foot-thick walls and install bulletproof windows that he was concerned about forest fires.

Vernon Pick died in 1986 and is still fondly remembered in Lillooet for creating many jobs in the construction of Walden North and then by producing photocopier drums, microchip components and fine furniture in his state-of-the-art workshops.

By all accounts he was a gentle and magnanimous man who embodied the American spirit of rugged individualism and do-it-yourself Yankee know-how.

After his death, most of his equipment and possessions were auctioned off. In 1992, Fortis BC purchased Walden North to run as an independent power project.

In 2016, Walden North was sold to a partnership between Innergex and the Cayoose Creek Development Corporation, the economic arm of Cayoose Creek Sekw'el'was First Nation.

Walden North is not open to the public.

Want to learn more of the epic history of British Columbia? Pick up a map of Lillooet's Golden Miles of History Tour at the Lillooet Museum & Visitor Centre or at participating merchants.