Saturday, June 13, 2009

Anderson's Tree

In 1846, the British and American governments negotiated the placement of the new American boundary line through traditional Hudson's Bay Company lands west of the Rocky Mountains. The HBCo's governor, George Simpson, suspected that the new boundary line might interfere with the company's traditional route down the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver. It was easy to reach Fort Langley from Fort Victoria, and Governor Simpson already envisioned making Fort Victoria the headquarters of the Company on the west coast. But the rich furs of the interior must reach Fort Langley, and the rapids and canyons of the Fraser River prevented the brigade boats' passage downriver. George Simpson and Peter Skene Ogden assigned Fort Alexandria's clerk, Alexander Caulfield Anderson, the chore of exploring for a new brigade trail over the mountains that separated Kamloops from Fort Langley.

From Kamloops, Anderson took five men on a cross-country exploration to Fort Langley, confident that he could find a good horse road. His first exploration brought the party through Anderson, Seton, Lillooet and Harrison Lakes to Fort Langley, but the route was far too difficult to ever become a brigade route. On Chief Trader James Murray Yale's advice, Anderson decided to follow another path across the Coquihalla Mountains to the area the fur-traders called the Similkameen.

On May 28, Anderson's party left Fort Langley, and two days later began their journey up the Coquihalla and Nicolum Rivers. A week or so later they followed an easy trail to the top of the Coquihalla mountains where, to their dismay, they found a deep layer of snow. The party hiked away from the summit at 2.30 in the afternoon and crossed the plateau to the north. At last the exhausted explorers set up camp in a clear spot among the pines, on the banks of a creek that flowed from a lake Anderson named the Council's Punch Bowl.

In a map drawn more than ten years later, Anderson indicated the position of 'Anderson's Tree,' which stood slightly to the southeast of the lake they camped on. It is possible that Anderson's Tree was the French-Canadians' maypole -- a tree lopped of all its branches except for a puff of greenery at the top. Making a maypole tree to honor a man or a special occasion was a tradition among the French-Canadian voyageurs and, like all traditions, it was done to inveigle a drink of rum from the gentleman the tree honored. On this occasion they almost certainly succeeded. It was a historic moment, and this group of explorers had reached a height of land that no other non-native man had seen.

It was unlikely that Anderson ever saw his tree again, nor did any other fur trader. The route across the Coquihalla mountains eventually became the new brigade trail, but the trail bypassed the Council's Punch Bowl Lake and followed a different trail down the mountains to Fort Hope and Fort Langley. Nor will we know that Anderson's Tree was a maypole tree; one hundred and sixty three years later little of the tree will remain.

In an aside -- Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery produces a bottle of wine they call the Council's Punch Bowl Sauvignon Blanc. On their label they have a drawing of the lake, and the note: "This lake was discovered by Alexander Caulfield Anderson of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1846 while searching for a route to the interior from the coast." You can probably view this label online, but the wine is only sold through the company's specialty stores.

Sources: Anderson's Tree is shown on A.C. Anderson's "Map showing the different routes of communication with the gold region on Fraser's River," CM/A78, PABC
The information on the maypole tree comes from "Making the Voyageur World; Travelers and Traders in the North American fur trade," by Carolyn Podruchny (UofT Press, 2006)

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