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Page last updated November 6, 2015

© Michael Kluckner

2003: 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.


From 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]

From Mary Forbes, 2011: Go Potato Go!

Welcome to Williams Lake Website
Williams Lake Tribune

2011: The Potato House project is coordinated by Mary Forbes, 250 855 8443

Update 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 Board Member.

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 pitched in.
"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 with your 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
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 was published.
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."

Note 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 the ground. 
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 email 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 ‘Potato House’
By Erin Hitchcock - Williams Lake Tribune
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 community’s future.
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 says.
She also asked city council to establish a heritage registry that could help save other buildings like the Potato House in the future.
Forbes says many other communities in B.C., including those the same size of Williams Lake or smaller, are getting heritage registries.
“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 his yard.
“Everyone knew him for this incredibly profuse market garden, especially his potatoes,” Forbes says. “Hence the name the Potato House.”
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 heritage registry.
“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 sources.
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 corporations.
“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 parking lot.”
She notes council is not prepared to make a decision at this point, as it needs to further investigate costs, funding, and viability.
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 relatives. 

I don't know if this is true.  I can ask around some more. 

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 of weeds. 

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 alley.

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Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, 2001, 2002, 2003