Sunday, August 9, 2009

Following Alexander Caulfield Anderson Around British Columbia, Part 5

In 1847, James Douglas and Peter Skene Ogden asked Alexander Caulfield Anderson to make his third exploration between Kamloops and Fort Langley -- this time by the Fraser River. On May 19, Anderson left Kamloops and travelled on foot through the Nicola Valley and down the south bank of the Thompson River. Where the Nicoamen River flowed into the Thompson from the south, Anderson met his native guide, Pahallak, who led him west toward the Fraser River.

From the Thompson's River junction with the Fraser, the party walked south along the east bank of the Fraser River, passing by a number of native villages as they made their way. When the explorers set up camp that evening on the rocky shores of the Fraser River, all were exhausted by their long hike over the hot, dry hills. Anderson estimated they had covered 28 miles of rough ground, and it was 90 degrees in the shade.

At every village, the fur traders' presence was announced by the high-pitched barks and howls of the woolly-coated and bushy-tailed dogs that lived in the villages up and down the Fraser River and all through the Thompson River district. These were the Salish wool dogs, and these dogs were shorn like sheep and their wool used to weave the fine blankets for which these native tribes were celebrated. Simon Fraser had reported seeing these animals years earlier, and Alexander Mackenzie mentioned them. Now it was Anderson's turn to comment on these historic and now extinct dogs that appeared to him as ghostly and mysterious animals that gamboled around the villages, some shorn while others sweltered under a crop of flowing fleece that shone white in the sunshine. It was only when the explorers approached the villages that they could identify these animals as dogs.

In his 1855 essay, "Notes on the Indian Tribes of British North America, and the Northwest Coast," Anderson wrote:

"The dogs in question are of a breed peculiar to the lower parts of Frazer's River, and the southern portion of Vancouver's Island and the Gulf of Georgia. White, with a long woolly hair and bushy tail, they differ materially in aspect from the common Indian cur; possessing, however, the same vulpine cast of countenance. Shorn regularly as the crop of hair matures, these creatures are of real value to their owners, yielding them the material whence blankets, coarse it is true, but of excellent fabric, are manufactured. My habits of life since early manhood, have possibly tended in some degree to blunt the power of appreciation in these matters, but I confess I could not witness without satisfaction, the primitive approach to textile manufactures which here first recurred to my view after the lapse of many years. An additional interest was afterwards created in my mind, when on examination, I found the implement used for weaving, differed in no apparent respect from the rude loom of the days of the Pharaohs, as figured by modern archaists."

Vulpine -- "like a fox." These dogs no longer exist. They disappeared almost immediately after Fort Yale and Fort Hope were built because the lower Fraser River natives no longer had any need to weave their own blankets. But in some places the traditions lasted longer. The Cowichans, for example, had no access to the fur traders' blankets for many years and kept their native craft going. Eventually they substituted wool for dogs' hair, and knitted sweaters instead of weaving blankets.

The photograph at the top of the page is of the mouth of the Anderson River as it flows into the Fraser.
The second and third photographs are of the Fraser somewhere between Boston Bar and Lytton, and we look both up and downriver.

In the final photograph we are looking up the Fraser River from the junction of the Thompson River, which flows in from the east. At the bottom of the photograph, you can see the blue water of the Thompson which mixes in with the silted water of the Fraser River.

For more information on the Salish Wool Dogs, see: Barbara Huck, "The Hair of the Dog," Beaver Magazine, April-May 2007, or Barbara Huck, In Search of ancient British Columbia, vol. 1, (Winnipeg, Heartland, 2006) p.139-40.

1 comment:

  1. This post has been updated and is found at:
    Thank you.