Alcina and Manuel's house on Borland Street,
Williams Lake, a block from the railway station. A
downtown "refugee," it backs onto commercial buildings,
and new apartments dot the adjoining blocks. It's a nicely
preserved old house, with two dormers set very high in the
south pitch of the roof, and would be easily missed except
for its extraordinary garden, which is entirely potatoes
in the back, side and front yards. The last two times I've
been in Williams Lake, in 1993 and 2003, the crop was
exactly the same. On the first trip, my wife Christine
asked Alcina if she ever rotated her crop, to which she
replied, "sometimes I plant red ones and sometimes I plant
white ones." On the second trip, Alcina gave me a glass of
juice, as it was a very hot June day, but as John Lennon
wrote, ". . . she doesn't have a lot to say."
update summer 2007: I
went through Williams Lake and went to see if the house was
still there. It was, but with a large For Sale sign in front.
I'd really appreciate if anyone can send me an update, and any
information about the old couple who lived there for so long.
Mary Forbes, 2015: Heritage BC is fishing for photos
and images of BC historic destinations and is focusing on
entrepreneurship (we are submitting an article for Heritage BC
Quarterly magazine on the topic in fact!) and we would
like to submit your watercolour of the Potato House for their
2016 Heritage Week Poster (it will be put up in Heritage
Sites all over BC)! Plus! Potato House received
funding from Heritage BC in 2015 to return our roof to an
original metal corrugated so Potato House is really their radar
right now. Potato House has some exciting things happening
and we have been considering doing a raffle/ silent auction of a
limited (or several limited) edition prints of the House.
Your Watercolor is by far one of our favorites…
[I have donated the above watercolour
to the Potato House: MK]
Mary Forbes, 2011: Go Potato Go!
Welcome to Williams Lake Website
Williams Lake Tribune
The Potato House project is coordinated by Mary Forbes,
250 855 8443
February, 2011: The Potato House Project has
SUCCESSFULLY RAISED THE CAPITAL TO BUY THE HOUSE!
The legal paperwork has started and an offer to purchase is
in the works. If you have or will donate to this
project and wish to have a charitable receipt please email
Mary with your mailing address asap! We are still working
towards start up capital for liability and legal
fees. Keep buying those memberships (or encouraging your
friends to) at the Station House or with any Potato House
January: "The Potato House Project and the Potato House
Sustainable Community Society would like to annouce we have
raised all the funds needed save $3300 to buy the house free and
clear! This Sunday January 16th we will be gathering
at Scout Island Nature Centre at 2pm to eat potato
inspired dishes at a Potluck Social where will will
brainstorm our way to the remaing $3300 to purchasing
our dream location for Williams Lakes Centre for
Sustainability! If the food doesn't draw you, our
fashionable and carbon neutral dress shirts sporting the
Potato House Project logos will. ( see image of Laurie Walters
on Poster sporting her fashionable and lovely PHP shirt).
Worried one of these vintage shirts hand selected by Mary wont'
fit? Bring your own shirt and we will silk screen it for
you with our logo for any donation over $10."
And a later note:
"We have the full purchase price minus $3300. Paid in full
thanks to our two silent funders and local business that have
"We have negotiated on the price but will not disclose what the
price is as we wouldn't want to be $3300 away and then have
someone else scoop us on the house!
"No grants-only community members like Laketown Furniture, the
Stew Magazine, Councilor Laurie Walters, the Screaming Carrot
Juice Bar, The WLCBIA, Cobalt Spas, North Shore Repair, Intrigue
Hair Salon, MP Fin Donnelly, Nurturing Roots Yoga, Dandelion
Interpretation, Robyn Louise Photography and two silent
private individual funders who have provided 95% of the
downpayment. We have a email list of over 100 people and have 33
paid members and 9 board members.
"When you donate at the RBC be sure to email Mary email@example.com with
name and mailing address so you can receive your charitable
reciept courtesy of the BC Rivershed Society."
Note from Sage Birchwater, 2011: I'm a freelance
writer in Williams Lake and I was asked to do an article on the
Potato House for welcometowilliamslake.ca.
Anyway back in 2007 I did a feature article for the Williams
Lake Tribune's annual supplement Casual Country on Manuel and
Alcina's potato patch. My story was published in June 2007 but
unfortunately Alcina passed away a few weeks before the article
Manuel was pretty protective of his wife and wouldn't tell me
her name and Alcina refused to let me take her photograph. I saw
her in the garden shortly before she died and I stopped by to
say Hi and tell her how nice her garden looked. "Oh you got to
do something to pass the time," she told me. "It's okay."
from Mary Forbes, 2010: I am the City Interpreter for
Williams Lake and am the force behind saving the Potato
House. We now have a nine member board of directors and
will be an official society shortly. We have a silent
partner who is helping us purchase the house ($80,000) but we
are still searching for final funding to get the purchase off
I noticed a lot of people are interested in the Potato House on
your website and we are in the process of creating a Potato
House website and facebook page. For more information
or call Mary Forbes 250 855 8443
Note from Sherry Broomfield,
2010: I worked with Alcina at the Chilcotin Inn in
Williams Lake for 10 years from 1976 to 1986. She was a
chambermaid there. I would be sad to hear she has passed
away but she was quite old when she worked at the Chili.
I know she and her husband owned another home in town and maybe
he is living there now. Alcina had said that her husband
always wanted her to move there because it was a nicer home.
Also Alcina used to make her own wine and would always invite
me over to visit but I could never make it. "Sad."
They originally are from Portugal and have family there. The
house is still there. No one is living in it. Her
last name is Quintela. A group of people are trying to
save it as a heritage home. It belonged to the Brokowskis at one
time. May be spelling the name incorrectly tho!
City asked to protect
By Erin Hitchcock - Williams
Published: July 01, 2010 8:00 AM
A house built in the 1930s is “teetering on a bulldozer
blade’s edge,” says city interpreter Mary Forbes, who is
trying to save it.
The house, known as the “Potato House,” is for sale at 49
Borland Street. Since the area is zoned commercial, there is
concern that, once sold, it could be demolished.
Forbes spoke to city council Tuesday night about the Potato
House and asked the City to help save the old home for the
Forbes wants the City to purchase the building and help to
turn it into a Centre for Sustainability that would have a
community garden, xeriscape and healing garden space, along
with green technology — such as solar — and green technology
and composting workshops. It could also be a library with
sustainability information, a cafe/meeting place for people to
come to and talk about composting or watch movies. It could
also be used an office space for not-for-profit organizations,
She also asked city council to establish a heritage registry
that could help save other buildings like the Potato House in
Forbes says many other communities in B.C., including those
the same size of Williams Lake or smaller, are getting
“There is a lot of funding available,” Forbes says, adding she
has identified 16 sources on the Rural B.C. website that could
help fund creating a registry.
While she has a list of potential funding sources, how much it
would cost to restore the Potato House isn’t yet known.
“They (heritage houses) are very expensive to maintain and
restore, especially a house that requires mitigation like this
one does,” she says, adding the house is listed at $139,000
and would likely cost another $139,000 to restore it. “If we
don’t preserve it, it’s going to turn into a parking lot.”
Built in the 1930s by Joe Borkowski, the house was bought in
1956 by Manuel Quintela, who had created a market garden in
“Everyone knew him for this incredibly profuse market garden,
especially his potatoes,” Forbes says. “Hence the name the
For medical reasons, Quintela can no longer keep the Potato
House and is forced to sell it, she says.
“He really doesn’t want the house demolished.”
Forbes notes she has looked to existing community
infrastructure to help since she wouldn’t want the project to
happen at the expense of other projects.
“I wouldn’t want funding to come from the Station House and go
to the Potato House,” she says.
Since developing a heritage registry takes time, the City
would have to purchase the house before the registry could be
created and before it’s too late, she says.
Following the meeting, Coun. Laurie Walters, who holds the
community services portfolio that includes heritage issues,
said the matter has been referred back to her portfolio for
further research and investigation.
She says council is highly interested in establishing a
“It’s a sign of the times, and I think it’s so important for
our community to create this registry,” Walters says, adding
the City will investigate Forbes’ list of potential funding
With regard to the Potato House, Walters says the City needs
to look at the viability of restoring it versus doing
something different with the property.
She says she hopes there will be a way to preserve the
building with the City receiving income from it.
“I love, love, love the idea,” she says, adding that Forbes’
ideas fall into the City’s sustainability plan. “But we’re not
at that stage yet.”
She says the City will need to be creative with searching for
ways to find funding to restore the building and says the City
will likely need assistance from the community and
“We have to come up with a plan,” she says, adding that she
will discuss the matter more in depth with Forbes. “I think
there’s ways to get bits and pieces (of funding for
restoration), but we need to sit down and take it to the next
step. … I’m certainly not in favour of turning it into a
She notes council is not prepared to make a decision at this
point, as it needs to further investigate costs, funding, and
Forbes said after the meeting that council’s response was
positive and supportive.
“The challenge, of course, still is funding, but because there
are more people aware and they’re enthusiastic, I think it’s
really, really positive,” Forbes says.
Notes from Dell Wheeler, 2009,
who is curious, too, about the owners of the Potato House: I
came across your site a few months ago. I know the gal who grew
up in the Patricia Ranch house on Kal Lake Road in Vernon, Pat
Nuyens. I grew up in Vernon too. I have lived for 30 years
at 140 Mile House. I like your paintings of the 137 Mile
House. When the Fishers lived there, I used to buy farm
produce from them.
About The Potato House in Williams Lake, I too noticed that the
house was suddenly empty, with a For Sale sign on it. I
too wondered what had happened.
I was in the Field's Store just after this past Christmas, and
happened to ask a clerk, I think she is Jackie, if she knew
anything, seeing the distance between Field's Store and the
Potato House was small. Jackie perked right up and said her dad
used to work on the railway with the old man from the Potato
House. Apparently Jackie's dad is retired now from the
railway, and meets other old rail roaders for coffee. She
volunteered to speak to her dad.
Jackie asked her dad, he asked the old railroad coffee gang and
what they said was -- the nice old lady at the Potato House
died, and the old man went to live with friends or
I don't know if this is true. I can ask around some
Alvin Shields ran his brake and muffler shop just down the hill
from the Potato House for many years, Alvin must know what
happened. The Shields family always watched the Stampede
Parade from right beside the Potato House.
It is sad to see the old house empty like that. I guess
the old couple had nobody to leave it to. I presume it
will be torn down and another building put up. Sad.
... [a week later]
Just to report that my husband and I parked across from the
Potato House on Wednesday, and sadly there is no real estate
company 'for sale' sign on it. I think I saw a ReMax red
and white 'For Sale' sign on it a few months ago.
There are 2 'House For Sale' bought plastic signs on the east
side of the house, and on the front, but no phone number to
call. Which is weird. If someone is interested in
buying it, who are they supposed to contact? It doesn't
make any sense.
The house looks okay, I don't think anyone has vandalized it,
which is good. Someone must go there every so often, the
fruit trees along the east fence look like they have been
pruned, and the earth where the potatoes always were is not full
On the weekend I will try phoning Irene Stangoe, she has written
books on Cariboo History and for many years has had a column in
the WL Tribune about local history and folks. Irene knows
me, she wrote a chapter in one of her books about a gold rush
murder near our home.
Irene and her husband ran the WL Tribune for years and it was on
mainstreet then. The potato house was not far away and
hopefully Irene knew the couple who lived in there. I will
ask. Irene is 90 now and hopefully her memory is still
good. I talked to her 2 years ago and then she was
still as sharp as a pin.
I have a faint memory of someone saying long ago that the lady
from the Potato House used to get called across the alley to the
old Famous Cafe to cook when it got really busy. That cafe
was long gone when I moved here in 1978. The back of the
cafe faced the south fence of the Potato House right across the