Sunday, July 19, 2009

The HBCo. brigade trails in British Columbia

Local historians are becoming interested in the many brigade trails that wind their way through the British Columbia countryside, and groups are now working to preserve and develop the pieces of trail that still remain. There are six trails in all, and Alexander Caulfield Anderson rode over every single one of them during his years in New Caledonia. At times, he was the first gentleman to take the New Caledonia brigades out over a newly established trail.
Building a brigade trail through this heavily wooded and rocky country was not a simple task of finding a trail and cutting down a few trees. Through experience good and bad, the Hudson's Bay men had developed strict requirements for their brigade trails. These Company men looked for trails that hundreds of horses could safely pass over without injury, and a trail that might work well for a native man on foot would not work for the heavily loaded brigade horses. Sharp rocks on the trail-bed was only one of many hazards -- if the ground was too soft, the passage of so many horses through a muddy streambed could turn the trail into a quagmire the animals could not easily cross. Safe fords over rivers and creeks were essential, especially as so much of the early summer travel was done in the season of high water. Gradient was important, but a steep slope might be overcome by switchbacks if the hillside allowed room. The horses needed food and water, and the trail-builders sowed alfalfa and white clover along the edges of the horse-road. Finally, on sharp corners where the pack animals liked to rub their loads, the men attached protruding triangles of wood that forced the animals to swing wide, thereby preventing damage to the packs they carried.

The first trail -- Okanagan trail to Kamloops from Osoyoos Lake
The oldest trail led from Fort Vancouver, by boat up the Columbia River to Fort Okanogan, where the Okanagan River flowed south into the Columbia. This trail was built in 1826, and today its few remnants are 183 years old.
(Note: the Americans spell the fort's name Okanogan; the Canadians use Okanagan. On his entry into the country in 1832, Anderson learned to spell the fort's name Okinagan, and pronounced its name O-kee-na-gan.)
North of Fort Okanogan, the brigade trail led up the east bank of the Okanagan River. Above the Okanagan's junction with the Similkameen River, the men of the brigade waded across the Okanagan River to its west bank at a place where an active native fishery flourished. They continued to follow the river through its open grasslands to pass west of Lake Osoyoos, and northward still. According to both Sam Black's pre-1841 map (CM/B2079, PABC), and A.C. Anderson's 1867 map of British Columbia (CM/F9), the trail did not follow the Okanagan River north of Osoyoos Lake. Instead it passed west of the spectacular rock bluff south of Lake Vaseaux (possibly passing through the area around White Lake), and joined Okanagan Lake where modern-day Summerland stands.
Four km. of this brigade trail still exist near Summerland, and there must be more pieces in the area that remain unidentified. The concern is that no part of the Okanagan brigade trail is protected, whether identified or unidentified, and the Summerland portion is now severely damaged by mountain bikers and other recreational riders. This is the portion of the brigade trail piece that we will be attempting to find protection for, and I am planning a quick visit to Summerland to walk the trail and photograph it. Then I will post the photos so that others can easily view the damage that has already been done.
But to continue: When the brigades reached the western shoreline of Okanagan Lake, they entered a rocky terrain where many creeks tumbled across their trail. At the north end of the 70 mile lake, they rode past Lac Ronde (Monte Lake) and climbed the ridge of land that separated the Okanagan watershed from the Thompson River. From the top of the hill they followed Monte Creek to the South Thompson River, and followed that river west until they reached the Thompson's River post. Before late 1842, the Thompson's River post was located on the east bank of the North Thompson River at its junction with the South Thompson.

The second trail, Thompson's River (Kamloops) to Fort St. James before 1843
This brigade trail led up the rocky east bank of the North Thompson River, and some (but not all) sections of the trail were very rugged and dangerous for the horses. The Traverse, where the men crossed the North Thompson River to its west bank, was forty miles north of the Thompson's River post where the town of Little Fort now stands. Immediately west of Little Fort, the trail mounted the grass-starved Thompson plateau (the Big Hill) and passed through the Grand Muskeg. From that swamp the trail travelled along the north shore of beautiful Lac des Roches, the north shore of Lac Tranquille (Bridge Lake), and well to the north of Salt Lake (Sheridan Lake), though that lake appeared on their maps. It then swung north to follow the north shore of Drowned Horse Lake (Horse Lake). West of Horse Lake, the brigaders followed Bridge River on its north bank to pass to the north side of Lac en Long (Lac la Hache). The brigaders then followed the San Jose River west, passing on the north side of Fish Lake (Williams Lake), before cutting north and west to reach the banks of the Fraser River at the Atnah Rapids (near Soda Creek). From there they jogged around White Earth Lake (McLeese Lake), touched the Fraser again at Le Barge (near Macallister), and followed the Fraser north to Fort Alexandria.
From Fort Alexandria the voyageurs took canoes (before 1835) or boats (after 1836) north to Fort George (Prince George) and Fraser's and Stuart's Lake, by way of the Nechako River.

The history of the trail from Fort Vancouver to Fort St. James is told in the book: James R. Gibson, The Lifeline of the Oregon Country; the Fraser-Columbia brigade system, 1811-47, (UBC Press, 1997). By the way, those of you who want to purchase a copy of Alexander Caulfield Anderson's 1867 map of British Columbia, you can now do so. It has been unavailable until now, but the Provincial Archives of British Columbia has finally scanned it into their computer and it can be ordered.

Third trail -- the new trail from Kamloops to Fort Alexanderia
This newer trail, first used in 1843, replaced the difficult trail up the North Thompson River and over the Thompson plateau. It started from the new fort of Kamloops, which replaced old Thompson River fort on the west side of the North Thompson River. The trail led along the north shore of Kamloops Lake to Copper Creek, up Copper and Carabine Creek and over the hills to Criss Creek, down Criss Creek to Deadman River, and up the east (and west) bank of the Deadman River past Mowich Lake -- possibly as far as Vidette Lake, according to book by Liz Bryan, Country Roads of British Columbia (Heritage House, 2008). However, I think it more likely the brigaders left the Deadman River before they reached Vidette Lake, and followed Brigade Creek (why else would it carry that name?) from Mowich Lake to Loon Lake's north end. From Loon Lake, the trail followed a northwest loop to avoid a height land, and reached the south end of Green Lake. West of Green Lake are one or two eskers -- raised ridges of land left behind by glacial stream-beds -- and Michael K. theorizes that the brigadiers would have found travel along these eskers easy to follow. But this trail is mostly undiscovered; it will take men on the ground to uncover exactly where the trail leads -- not an impossible task by any means. It was traversed twice a year for fifteen years, by two hundred loaded horses every year. Their regular travel would have left a permanent impression in the ground.
Green Lake is close to Drowned Horse Lake, on the old brigade trail, and the brigaders joined the old trail at Bridge River and followed it west and north to Fort Alexandria. In 1843 some brigade horses went missing from the outgoing brigade, and the Fort Alexandria man found them at Horse Lake. For a while I wondered how horses missing from the new brigade trail were found on the old, but when I realized how close to each other those two lakes were, I understood how the brigade horses could have browsed their way to the familiar trail they had followed in previous years.
Sources for this information: my uncle Elton's letters, 1972; a historical-geographer's unpublished thesis, A.C. Anderson's various maps, and Michael K (whose name will remain mysteriously unfinished until he indicates otherwise).

Fourth trail -- Anderson's River trail from Fort Langley to Kamloops
This trail is closely connected to Alexander Caulfield Anderson's 1847 exploration, and there is an active group of historians, business people, and native groups working to preserve it. The society's name is the New Pathways to Gold Society, at, address P.O.Box 29, Lytton, B.C. V0K 1Z0. Their overall goal is to have a park created that will include the remaining brigade trails; the suggested name for the park would be the Fraser Canyon Park, and a proposal has been presented to the Provincial Government. If you want to know a little more about the history behind this trail, order the booklet The HBC Fur Brigade/First Nations Trail of 1848-49, by Charles Hou, from Moody's Lookout Press, 3378 West 39th Ave., Vancouver, B.C. V6N 3A2, for $5.95 per copy. Charles also hopes to have the booklet made available at Hell's Gate, Yale Museum, Hope Museum, and Fort Langley, so look for it at those places.
The 1848 brigade left Fort Langley and travelled to Fort Yale in eight or nine boats. At Yale men and horses carried the loads across the Douglas Portage, arriving at Simon's House, a small post on the west bank of the Fraser near Spuzzum Creek. They ferried their loads and horses across the Fraser River at this point, then travelled north on the east bank to Kequeloose, the native village then in the area of modern-day Alexandra Lodge. From Kequeloose the brigaders climbed the long hill to the top of the plateau (Lake Mountain), and descended the bluffs on the plateau's north side to Anderson River. They then followed Anderson River down to Uztlius Creek (behind Boston Bar), and followed Uztlius Creek on its northwest (left) bank up the range of hills toward the Nicola Valley. At the height of land, the brigaders rode along the base of the mountains northward to the pass where it was easier to cross than anywhere else. From this point they could follow Spius Creek into the Coldwater River valley, and the Coldwater River all the way to the open grasslands that surrounded Nicola Lake. From there it was an easy hop over the hills to Kamloops.
The brigade trail as far as Spius Creek is clearly mapped on the 1939 Hope Princeton sheet, (CM/724, PABC). You can also find this exploration on A.C. Anderson's Original Sketch of explorations between 1846 and 1849, CM/B1094, PABC.

Fifth trail -- the Coquihalla Trail from Kamloops to Fort Hope
This trail is closely connected to Alexander Caulfield Anderson's second 1846 exploration, but in no way follows the route he took over the mountains. From Kamloops, the New Caledonia brigaders crossed the hills to the Nicola Valley, and waded across the Nicola River at the east end of the lake. From there their trail continued south-west to the top of the hills by Quilchena Creek, then following the native trails that cut through fine open country to modern-day Tulameen. Again, their trail is not recorded, but it is likely they found their way past Courtenay Lake to the headwaters of Otter Creek, and followed that Creek south past Thynne Lake to Otter Lake and the Tulameen river.
The Coquihalla trail started from the Tulameen River just south of Otter Lake, and followed the narrow Soaqua (sometimes Manson) River valley to the top of the mountain. The first stopping place for the brigade was on the plateau near Lodestone Mountain, twelve miles from Campement du Femmes (Tulameen). Another twelve miles brought them to their camp on a bend on the east bank of the Tulameen River at Podunk Creek, and the next day they followed Podunk Creek west, making their way to Encampement du Chevreuill (Deer Camp), just below the summit on the Sowaqua Creek side of Manson Mountain. Nineteen miles further on, Manson Camp lay at the head of Peers Creek, and on the next day they rode down Peers Creek and the Coquihalla river valley into Fort Hope.
This brigade trail is also shown on the above-mentioned Hope Princeton Sheet, PABC. The trail already has heritage protection and is close to being open for hiking its entire distance -- but not yet! The group that is managing to do this is Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning; their website is and contact name and number is Kelly Pearce at At the moment they are waiting for funding and will begin work in the late summer or fall. Considerable work has been done on the east end of the trail, and only 30 km. requires work on the west side.

Sixth trail -- the brigade trail between Fort Colvile and Campement du Femmes (Tulameen)
This trail ran along the Kettle River, over Anarchist Mountain (I assume), across Osoyoos Lake, and over the hills to the west of Osoyoos into the Similkameen River valley. Normally the Fort Colvile men took their furs downriver by boat to Fort Vancouver, but in 1848 they were forced to bring them out by horse over the difficult Anderson River trail. The brigades first used the Coquihalla tail in 1849, but the Fort Colvile men had ridden first to Kamloops, then south through the above-mentioned trail to Tulameen. That summer, Donald Manson and Alexander Anderson had a noisy argument in front of all their men at Fort Langley; after that, the New Caledonia and Fort Colvile brigades were encouraged to come out to Fort Langley separately. Hence, Anderson brought the Fort Colvile brigades across country directly to the base of the Coquihalla rather than taking the long diversion north to Kamloops, and the new brigade trail was born.
From Fort Colvile, the brigaders swam their horses across the Columbia River and followed the Kettle River west, crossing the river twice near its big bend. Once in modern-day British Columbia, they followed the Kettle River west along its north bank, crossing Rock Creek (and Anarchist Mountain?). At Osoyoos Lake they crossed the lake by its shallow sandbar, then mounted the hills to the west of the lake and rode into the Similkameen River valley. The brigades followed the Similkameen west until they could ride across country to the base of the Coquihalla mountains at Campement du Femmes, where they rested for the night. The following day they mounted the Coquihalla trail and made their way to Fort Hope.
This trail continued to be travelled until 1852, when the Fort Colvile men again brought their furs down to Fort Vancouver by boat. This almost forgotten brigade trail is shown on Alexander Caulfield Anderson's 1867 map of British Columbia, which few people have had access to.

I am a firm believer that these trails must be re-discovered, uncovered, preserved and protected, but open to the public. This is our history, and we must not lose it. Fortunately, it sounds as if others feel the same and are working to save some of the trails. Thank you.


  1. We hiked what is likely the fifth trail in '81. It was completely overgrown at that time... a historian by the name of Murphy Shewchuk from Merritt had done the reconnaissance and located enough old blazes to get us through. It was about a week of tough slogging. My understanding (from his comments) was that this trail was abandoned soon after it was cut because it was too tough on horses. It was very steep and wet in places, so I can believe that!

  2. Brave man to have hiked that trail. It was shown on the Hope-Princeton sheets of Department of Lands, British Columbia, in 1939 (CM/C724, PABC) and later removed because the trail was overgrown. I later found a reference to a very steep grade not mentioned by any fur trader of Anderson's time -- I'll dig up the papers and make this my next post. Thanks for reading and commenting. Nancy

  3. I would like to know where exactly the Brigade Trail crossed Osoyoos Lake. Was it at the current Haynes Point Provincial Park (did they cross the spit there where the lake narrows?) Is the current road known as Lakeshore Drive (45th street) part of the Brigade Trail?