Saturday, August 29, 2009

A short chronology of the fur trade in the New Caledonia district (northern British Columbia)

One of the things that most interested me as I wrote this book was that the fur trade in the territory we now know as British Columbia had such a short life. New Caledonia's fur trade began with the North West fur trader, Alexander Mackenzie, and his attempt to reach the Pacific Ocean. Alexander Caulfield Anderson's fur trade experience west of the mountains began less than 40 years after that event.

Below I list some of the dates that I feel are important to readers interested in the New Caledonia fur trade -- New Caledonia being the area north of Kamloops, including Fort Alexandria, Fort George, Fraser's Lake, Stuart's Lake, and McLeod's Lake.

In the eyes of the furtraders of the Hudson's Bay Company, New Caledonia was always a part of the Columbia District. Hence, though Alexander Caulfield Anderson spent only a few years in the part of the world we call the Columbia District (modern-day Washington State), he wrote to Governor Simpson in 1849: "I have for some years past had a strong desire to visit home; and it was at one time my intention to apply for leave of absence next year. The unsettled state of affairs, however, has induced me to defer doing so until things are in a fairer train. I have now been so long a resident in the Columbia, that I almost begin to identify myself with its interests ..." (A.C. Anderson to Gov. Simpson, Apr. 17 1849, D.5/25, fo. 122, HBCA).

June 1793: The North West Company was, at this time, looking for a fur trade route to the Pacific Ocean to provide them access to their China trade. In an attempt to find an easy route to the Pacific Ocean, Alexander Mackenzie followed the Fraser River south as far as the place where Fort Alexandria was later built. There the natives advised Mackenzie to follow the West Road River to the Pacific and, following their advice, he successfully reached the Pacific Ocean at modern-day Bella Coola. However, Mackenzie found the route so difficult he did not encourage the North West Company's fur trade to enter the new territory.

1805: Seven years after Mackenzie's exploration, Simon Fraser and John Stuart, also of the North West Company, arrived at McLeod Lake to found the Trout Lake Post -- the first fur trade fort in New Caledonia.

1806: John Stuart, Fraser's second in command, founded Stuart's Lake (later Fort St. James) and the Fraser's Lake post.

1807: Fort George was built at the junction of the Nechako and Fraser River by Simon Fraser and John Stuart; in 1808 it was abandoned, apparently until 1821. (If this was true, than Joseph Rondeau did not spend a winter on the Fraser River at this post.)

1808: Fifteen years after Alexander Mackenzie was advised by the natives in the area of Fort Alexandria to turn back and follow the Blackwater River (Mackenzie's West Road River) to the Pacific Ocean, Simon Fraser and John Stuart ignored those natives' advice and followed the Fraser to its mouth. Fraser's party flew from one hazard to another as they descended the river through its many rapids and canyons. At the mouth of the Fraser they found themselves in danger and quickly escaped upriver. They returned to New Caledonia and did not make any further attempt to find a route to the Pacific Ocean by the Fraser River.

July 1812: John Stuart was ordered to bring the New Caledonia furs to the mouth of the Columbia River. In May 1813 began his journey south, and travelled by the North Thompson River (possibly) and the Okanagan, arrived at Astoria in October.

1814: Fraser's Lake post was founded permanently by the North West Company; it was 21 years old when Alexander Caulfield Anderson took over its charge.

1821: After years of conflict, the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company merged under the name of the Hudson's Bay Company. In the same year, the North West Company men built Fort Alexandria on the east bank of the Fraser River, unaware they were now working for the Hudson's Bay Company.

1824: In the Columbia district, the HBCo's new headquarters was built 100 miles upriver from Astoria (now called Fort George) and called Fort Vancouver.

1824: In New Caledonia, Fort George on the Fraser River was again abandoned.

1826: From this year onward, the New Caledonia brigades brought their furs down to Fort Vancouver by the old brigade trail founded by the men of the North West Company. This trail would be used every year until 1847; it would be only 21 years old when it was abandoned for the new Anderson River trail to Fort Langley.

1827: Fort Langley built on the lower Fraser River.

1827: From the Thompson's River Fort (later Kamloops), Francis Ermatinger explored Seton and Anderson Lake and followed the Lillywit (Lillooet) River, obviously looking for a route to Fort Langley.

1828: Clerk John McDonnell of Fraser's Lake made a cross country journey southward to a river he called the Salmon River, according to Alexander Caulfield Anderson's 1867 map of British Columbia. The only way Anderson could have known of McDonnell's journey is that when he arrived at Fraser's Lake in 1836, he read the old journals of past furtraders -- journals that no longer exist.

1828: Twenty years after Fraser and Stuart descended the Fraser River, HBCo's Governor Simpson and a few of his Chief Traders frightened themselves in their descent of the river. Everyone survived, but Simpson declared that bringing the brigades down by boat would result in certain death nine times out of ten.

1829: Chilcotin Post built on the Chilco River south of Fort Alexandria.

1829: Fort George on the Fraser River was re-occupied.

1835: Alexander Caulfield Anderson entered New Caledonia for the first time, travelling over the old brigade trail to Fort Alexandria. From Fort George he collected the year's leather supplies from Tete Jaune Cache (an adventure he was fortunate to survive), and later took charge of the Fraser's Lake post.

1836: Fort Alexandria was moved from its location on the east bank of the Fraser River, to a position on the west bank. The fort was then 15 years old.

1837: Alexander Caulfield Anderson's soon-to-be wife, Betsy Birnie, travelled with her brother Robert up the brigade trail to Fort Alexandria, to be married. The Okanagan natives gave the brigaders some trouble, and Kamloop's Sam Black galloped south to assist them. Somewhere on his ride southward, the natives ambushed the party and shot Black's horse.

1840: Alexander Caulfield Anderson left New Caledonia by the old brigade trail, travelling all the way to Fort Vancouver. For a few years he was in charge at Fort Nisqually, Puget Sound.

1841: Sam Black was murdered at Kamloops, and Chief Factor John Todd took over. John Todd is credited with exploring and opening up the new brigade trails between Kamloops and Fort Alexandria, about 1843.

Winter 1842: Alexander Caulfield Anderson returned to New Caledonia by the new brigade trail, and took over the charge of Fort Alexandria and the Chilcotin post.

1843: Anderson led the brigade to Kamloops by the new brigade trail, past Green Lake and Loon Lake.

Summer 1843: The all important salmon fisheries up the Fraser River failed, except at the Barriere on the Chilcotin River. Fortunately the vegetable and grain crops at Fort Alexandria were copious and fed everyone, native and white man alike.

May 1844: Fifty-one years after Alexander Mackenzie's journey to the Pacific Ocean, Anderson made a cross-country journey to the isolated cluster of lakes on Mackenzie's West Road River, to choose the place where a new trading post should be constructed. In September the Thleuz-cuz post was finished, and the troublesome Chilcotin post closed down.

Summer 1844: Because of the high water of the Fraser River, the Company's salmon fisheries failed entirely.

Summer 1845: The salmon fisheries on the Fraser River had an excellent year, and the post stored thousands of dried salmon for their winter supply. On one occasion an employee traded for 75 horse-loads of salmon, about 15,000 fish; four days later the same employee again departed the fort, and returned with an additional 11,000 salmon.

January 1846: Fort Alexandria was in process of being moved from the west bank of the Fraser River to the top of the hill on its east bank, possibly because of landslides which had threatened its safety.

1846: 19 years after Francis Ermatinger explored the Lillywit river, Anderson followed his path along the north shore of Seton and Anderson's Lake, and continued down the Lillooet River all the way to Harrison's Lake and Fort Langley, on the Fraser River.

1846: Anderson's return journey took him by the Nicolum River to Snass Creek and over the Coquihalla mountain to Blackeye's camp. The exploration was not considered a success, but Anderson did learn from Blackeye that another trail existed that would lead him to the top of the Coquihalla mountains by an easy route.

1847: 39 years after Simon Fraser made his exploration down the Fraser River, Alexander Caulfield Anderson explored the same river and arrived at Fort Langley in early summer. He considered that it was possible to traverse the canyons of the river both up and down between the native village of Kequeloose and Fort Langley.

1847: Anderson returned to Kamloops on his return journey, travelling up the Fraser River through its canyons and rapids before following native trails that led him over modern-day Lake Mountain to the Nicola Valley. Much work was needed on this trail before it would be a good horse road, but Anderson felt that it would eventually make a good brigade trail.

1848: To the fur traders' surprise, they were forced to use Anderson's 1848 trail before it was ready. No one kept a journal of the outgoing trip, but Anderson said it was harrassing. The incoming brigade had a tougher time, and many modern-day historians have written of this difficult journey up the river that the fur traders now called "Anderson's River." When the gentlemen reached Kamloops, Anderson suggested that his 1846 route over the Coquihalla mountains by Blackeye's trail be used the following year. The idea was accepted, and a clerk was sent to find Blackeyes and have him show him the native trail to Fort Langley.

1849: The New Caledonia brigade travelled out by the Anderson River trail, and in by the new Coquihalla trail. By this time, Anderson was in charge of Fort Colvile and had no further interest in New Caledonia. In fact, when Peter Skene Ogden offered him his Chief Factorship if he took charge of New Caledonia, Anderson refused.

1 comment:

  1. This blog-post has been updated and is found at