Thursday, June 25, 2009

Following Alexander Caulfield Anderson around British Columbia, part 1

My sister said to me, "I want to go driving, where shall we go?" I said I wanted to follow the Hudson's Bay Company's brigade trails -- and Alexander Caulfield Anderson's explorations -- around the province. That is exactly what we did. It's not hard to do. If you want to follow the fur trade around British Columbia, here's the route that worked for us.
If you are from the coast, begin with Fort Langley where the fur trade is celebrated all year around -- google the Fort Langley National Historic Site of Canada for more information. The town of Fort Langley is well worth a visit, too, especially if you are interested in antiques.
In Hope, visit the Hope Visitor Centre and Museum at 919 Water Avenue. Volunteers in Hope are opening up the 1849-and-later Hudson's Bay Company Brigade Trail across the Coquihalla range for hiking. The name of their organization is Hope Mountain Centre, and website address -- on their website you will find information about the Hudson's Bay Company brigade trail project.

My sister and I then took an excursion to the east, not following the brigade trail but the track of Alexander Caulfield Anderson's 1846 exploration over the Coquihalla range to Kamloops. We paused at the Hope Slide, of course, and I have included photos of the valley that Anderson and his men walked up in the summer of 1846. The second is the view from the top of the Hope Slide west toward Hope along the Nicolum River valley; the first the view eastward up the Sumallo River valley, looking toward Manning Park.
This is not the view that Alexander Caulfield Anderson saw in 1846. More than 100 years after Anderson walked up this valley (January 1965) Mount Outram let loose an enormous landslide that fell into the valley of the Nicolum Creek and buried Outram Lake under 70-meters of rock and rubble. The landslide violently displaced the water and soft clay of the lake-bed, pushing it 30 metres up the side of the mountain opposite and knocking down all the trees. Four people died; two bodies still lie under the slide.
To the east of the Hope Slide lies Manning Park and our next stop -- Rhododendron Flats, where Alexander Caulfield Anderson began his climb to the top of the Coquihalla Range in 1846.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The early fur-traders' Carp

In the long, quiet winter of 1844-45, Alexander Caulfield Anderson reported to Governor Simpson that, in spite of being short of food as the result of the poor salmon run of the previous summer, the natives traded more martens than they had in previous years. Fortunately the vegetable and grain crops at Fort Alexandria had been "copious; a circumstance which has once more placed us entirely beyond the reach of want." Fur traders and natives alike lived off the harvest of the fort until the ice came off the lakes in March and freshwater fish could be caught. At Fraser's Lake, the sturgeon and Rainbow Trout fed the natives in the early spring -- at Fort Alexandria it was a fish that Anderson called the carp.

Alexander Mackenzie had also reported spotting carp, "both red and white," in the Blackwater River in 1793 -- and David Thompson had also found carp in the rivers of his territory, according to biographer Jack Nisbet. But there were no carp in British Columbia (or Washington) waters at this time. The common carp, cyprinus carpio, was introduced into the Columbia River system in the 1880's, and by 1928 this member of the minnow family had expanded into the Fraser River system. However, the bone-filled and edible member of the minnow family, the Northern Pikeminnow (ptychocheilus orogonensis), had always lived in these northern rivers and lakes, as did another carp-like fish called the Largescaled Sucker (Catostomus macrocheilus). In his youth, Anderson had become familiar with the cultivated carp in the ponds of his uncle's estate at Mounie. It is possible that he identified that fish's close relatives -- the Northern Pikeminnow or the Largescaled Sucker -- as carp.

With thanks from Michael K, who pointed out that carp did not exist in the Fraser River at that time; Virginia who told me there had been carp in the Mounie ponds; Jack Nisbet for identifying David Thompson's carp; and Susan Pollard of the Ministry of the Environment for giving me so much information about the Pikeminnow and the Sucker. The quote above comes from a letter from A.C. Anderson to Gov. Simpson, Feb. 13, 1845, D.5/13, fo. 129, HBCA.

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)


As most of you who are invited to this page know, I have been researching and writing the life of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, explorer and fur trader. In the process I have discovered some amazing things, and I am sure I will discover more as I progress through the final re-writes. This page will change as I find new items to explore -- but here is a list of a few of the things I have to write about:

The Smell of Furs -- One of my readers (Michael K.) asked me to expand on a statement in my manuscript, when I said that the furs stank --"What did the furs smell like?" This was probably the most difficult question I was asked, but I learned the answer and am delighted with it. One part of the answer came from one of Jack Nisbet's books, but the real answer I stumbled on (by accident) in an early edition of the Beaver magazine, when it was just a pamphlet put out for the staffmembers of the Hudson's Bay Company retail stores.

Flintlock and Percussion Guns -- At Fort Langley I met the Victoria Voltigeurs, who are members of a re-enactment group who shoot black-powder for pleasure. These people explained how the fur trade guns worked (or didn't work), and helped me understand some of the issues that fur traders faced when they explored territories that were inhabited by natives who far outnumbered them. Many of our modern day expressions come from the days of the flintlock guns: for example, "lock, stock and barrel," and "flash in the pan." These guns were, by the way, the same guns that the soldiers of the Honorable East India Company used, which makes the soldiers' stories even more interesting.

The Sasquatch story -- A.C. Anderson was the first man to see a sasquatch (David Thompson was the first white man to see a Sasquatch footprint). I know where part of the story came from, and it comes from a most surprising source -- his grandson.

The Scarborough Estate -- Captain James Scarborough died near Cathlamet about 1855, and Anderson and his father-in-law, James Birnie, were executors of Scarborough's estate. Many years later descendents of Scarborough charged Anderson with theft of their ancestor's gold and money. I know nothing about the gold, of course, but I do know where his money went.

The Readers -- I cannot think of anything I did that had more value for me, as a writer, than handing my manuscript out to four readers, for their comment. I learned so much from that simple process, and I think their comments improved the book to a tremendous degree.

The Collins Telegraph Trail and our family's connection with it.

James Anderson (A), Alexander Caulfield Anderson's brother who also joined the fur trade

Alexander Caulfield Anderson's lost manuscripts -- there were many of them; Anderson's correspondence with John Stuart (N.W. Co. and HBC) and Stuart's notes on Anderson's lost manuscript -- notes which give researchers a good idea of what Anderson had to say about the early fur trade.

The California Rhododendron, a flower which differed markedly from what I expected it to be. I had a picture in my mind of a grove of flowers in an open meadow -- they were anything but!

James Birnie's story, and that of Charlot Beaulieu. After years of service in George Simpson's Hudson's Bay Company, Birnie retired to Cathlamet in 1846. His home quickly became the social centre of the country around Fort Vancouver, and Birnie considered himself to be the Laird of Wehkiakum, with his wife the Lady. Both came from humble beginnings and were unlikely royalty. Neither James nor Charlot began their lives at the top of the social ladder -- anything but, in fact.

Trade Blotter

There was no money in the early fur trade. and in his Fort Alexandria post journals, Alexander Caulfield Anderson often noted that he entered his trades with the natives in 'the blotter.' One imagines that the blotter might be a large piece of blotting paper lying flat on his desktop, but it is not. Quite by accident, I discovered the Fort Rupert Trade Blotter for the years 1876-1881, in the Provincial Archives of British Columbia, filed under the number A/C/20/R2.3.

The Fort Rupert Trade Blotter is a ledger, and it lists all the furs traded in on the left side of the page -- with the products the furs were exchanged for on the right side. Sometimes even the name of the native hunter is recorded. It is an amazing document, and I am not sure that many of these Trade Blotters have ever made it to the Hudson's Bay Archives. For a fur trade historian, this document reveals a wealth of information about the fur trade of the fort they were researching -- and native genealogists might enjoy finding their ancestors' trades recorded in the pages of the post's Trade Blotter.

If anyone else has run across a Trade Blotter anywhere, please let me know.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Beginning

This is the beginning of a blog which might make it easier for me to communicate with the many branches of my fur trade family -- the Scottish Anderson-Setons who had four brothers and one cousin in the fur trade of the Hudson's Bay Company, and the Scottish and French-Canadian Birnie-Beaulieus who had (at least) three generations in the fur trade of the North West Company. The Anderson-Setons are spread around the world; for the most part the descendents of James Birnie and Charlot Beaulieu (and Charlot's sister, Josephine, who married Joseph Rondeau and ended up in St. Paul) have remained in North America.

For those of you who are Anderson-Setons: you might look for the book, "The Unfortunate Ship; the Story of the H.M. Troopship Birkenhead," (George C. Harrop & Co. Ltd), which has lots of information about Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Seton of the 74th Highlanders, who drowned when the Birkenhead struck a rock off South Africa in 1852. (Note: not everything on this blog will be about the fur trade, but it will be about families who had members in the fur trade.) I found photocopied pages of this book in the Annie M. Angus files (PABC), but they were waterdamaged and I could not order copies. Also in her files I found another A.C. Anderson manuscript, apparently published in the 1871 Geological Magazine, and titled: "On changes of climate and Extinction of mammalia," sent to Prof. Rupert Jones in a letter dated Dec. 10th 1870. I also discovered that Annie Angus learned that James (A) gave A.C. of Cathlamet power of attorney in matters connected with the firm of Allen, Lowe & Co. of San Francisco, to assume a share of their business. In a November 1855 letter to Governor Simpson James (A) said that A.C. could invest money in the company with an 18-20% annual interest (3% per month).

My manuscript (the biography of A.C. Anderson) is almost completed and ready for submission to publisher -- again. Every time I complete this project the book is better. My sister and I are planning a quick trip through the interior of British Columbia, following the brigade trails around the province. I should get some excellent photos, and we'll have fun, too. This summer I'll also find out if the Royal B.C. Museum has more A. C. Anderson artifacts and will get photos of them too. Next week I am travelling to Vancouver to view a black & white copy of A.C. Anderson's 1867 map which was owned by R.C. Harris -- a fur trade historian/geographer. Harris wrote notes all over the map and I will discover if he learned anything important that I do not already know. I hope so. I look forward to learning something new.