Spillimacheen: there’s something happening here.

Driving north from Invermere, past Radium, past Edgewater,

past Brisco, you arrive at the northern frontier of

the upper Columbia Valley. To an outsider, sometimes

blurry are the lines distinguishing Spilli as the northernmost

community of the Invermere centric Columbia

Valley or the southernmost community of the Golden-

Shuswap district. Not so for locals. To them, perhaps

more accurate is an identity expressed as: The Independent

Republic of Spilli.

Perched on the Columbia banks with Bugaboo glacier

towering to the west, Spillimacheen is in the heart

of the Pacific flyway for migratory birds travelling from

the Arctic tundra to South America’s Patagonia National

Park. It’s a rootsy, folksy agricultural outpost with an

eclectic array of entrepreneurs offering Texan cream pie,

dehydrated backcountry snacks, all natural honey and

antiques. Those who call Spilli home have a reverence for

the land and revel in their own brand of collaborative


“It’s a magical place,” said Patty Derbyshire. She and

her husband Bernie made the move to Spilli from Calgary

four and change years ago. Since, they’ve been busy establishing

their own entrepreneurial contribution: Flyway

Farm and Forest. “Flyway is a five acre refuge, creative

garden, and vintage trailer park,” said Patty. “Our vision

is for Flyway to be a destination retreat. This year we had

an intimate music festival planned in June called Newt

Fest, but with COVID, we had to put that on hold.” Also

on hold is their Newt Golf Art Invitational Putt Putt: a

creative mini-golf tournament entirely unto itself. Think

a collision of urban putt, holoscene mini-golf and folkart


They both have interesting backgrounds. Patty’s career

was in higher education. For twenty-five years, she

taught at Mount Royal University. Most recently teaching

social innovation at MRU’s Bissett School of Business.

“I’ll be leaving the university after this academic

year, but I’ll continue to help at the College of the Rockies.

Meanwhile, Bernie was for a time in software – he was

the software lead on land mine detection systems for the

Canadian military effort in Afghanistan. After, he pursued

executive coaching and motorcycle engineering.

“When we first moved here, we ended up hauling

three tonnes of metal off the property,” said Bernie. Flyway

was a diamond in the rough with its own charming

idiosyncrasies. “We didn’t have electricity when we

first arrived. One day we had the generator going and

Patty heard someone singing in our basement.” Curious,

Bernie went downstairs. There, he found a stranger. “He

asked me why I turned the light off, I asked him why he

was singing in my basement,” Bernie said, laughing. It

was a local just offering a free renovation. “He was down

there innocently levelling our foundation.”

A partnership with the land is central to Patty and

Bernie’s focus. So is community. So much so that when

her neighbours Nola Alt and Nancy Fehr approached

with an offer they couldn’t refuse, they did exactly that,

they didn’t refuse. The offer was to take over ownership

of the Spilli Station Cafe. “It was a huge honour that they

approached us relative newcomers,” said Patty. “To be the

next stewards of that special cafe, it’s something we’re really

excited about.”

To prepare, Patty apprenticed under Nancy and Nola

this past spring and summer. “I learned the recipes, the

menu, how to make the pie, all of that. It’s been a lot of

fun.” But the real lesson was in getting to know the community.

“Like how we have the fella’s gather on Wednesday

and the ladies on Thursday. What I learned this summer

is the importance of sitting down and visiting and

learning about what’s going on in people’s lives. It’s as

important as the food.” Which, by the way, is mouth-wateringly


“They have exciting ideas for the cafe,” said Nola.

“I’ll be around to help next spring when they reopen, but

I know they’re going to do a terrific job.” Will there be

any changes? “A few but not many,” said Patty. “We are

going to keep the Wednesday to Sunday schedule and

keep the menu. But we are going to open a month earlier

in April. We also want to add more of a grab-and-go

menu for the increase in traffic we’re going to see with the

closure of the Trans-Canada.”

They’re also going to try adding an eggs and bacon

weekend breakfast. “Lots of the changes are just from

what we hear in the community, like ‘are you going to do

a breakfast again?’ that kind of thing,” said Bernie. “And

maybe a once per month dinner too.” Bernie’s family lineage

traces back to the French area of Switzerland. “So I

would love to try doing a beef bourguignon and steamed

yeast dumplings.” The Spilli Station Cafe is central to

the community of Spillimacheen. “That’s something we

won’t be changing,” Patty said.

It’s clear. There’s something happening in Spillimacheen.

The Derbyshire’s are proud to be part of the community’s

continued economic, cultural resurgence.