Sunday, June 20, 2010

Why is this book important?

Fifteen years before the 1858 Fraser River gold rush, a Hudson's Bay Company clerk threaded his way through mountain passes and down rapid-filled rivers in search of a route through the mountains that separated the HBC fort at Kamloops, from Fort Langley on the Pacific Coast.
Half a century earlier, Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser had separately explored the Fraser and its tributaries in search of a safe canoe route to the Pacific, and both had failed.
More than fifty years after Mackenzie's exploration, and almost forty years after Fraser's downriver expedition, Alexander Caulfield Anderson succeeded in finding four routes to the lower Fraser, all of which bypassed the canyons and rapids that had foiled the earlier North West Company explorers.

In the end, only one of Anderson's four trails served as the HBC's brigade trail to Fort Hope for the next fifteen years.
However, in the years that followed, all four of Anderson's trails carried thousands of gold miners around the same rapid-filled canyons into the upper Fraser River gold fields.
This blog -- and my book -- tells the story of the fur trader whose four cross-country expeditions helped to carve modern-day British Columbia from the wilderness that surrounded Fort Langley, Kamloops, and Fort St. James.

Because Anderson was so interested in the early NWC explorers whose trails he followed, his story touches on Alexander Mackenzie's venture west to Rascal's Village in 1793.
It follows Simon Fraser's chaotic descent of the river later named for him.
It continues through the turbulent years after 1843, when the HBC men are forced to abandon old brigade trails and open new ones.
It also describes the 1858 gold rush and James Douglas' creation of the colony of Vancouver's Island which changed the HBC's old domain beyond recognition.
The story also tells of the arrival of the Royal Engineers, who built roads through the canyons the fur traders had been unable to negotiate in safety.
Those trails later carried British-born settlers into the wilds the fur traders had occupied for the previous fifty years.

I can't think of another fur trader whose story covers these important years of the fur trader after 1843, when most of the changes that created British Columbia occurred.
Donald Manson played an active role through these years, but retired to the Columbia and never came north to the new British colony.
John Tod played an active role in opening trails near Kamloops but had nothing to do with any trails to the coast.
Because of Anderson's important work during these years, this book becomes an immensely important addition to the history of British Columbia.
His story ties the history of New Caledonia to that of the colony of Vancouver's Island and British Columbia during the gold rush, and finally to the formation of a province.

This book will sell to local historians who want to know what happened in the fur trade after 1843, where Richard Mackie's Trading Beyond the Mountains: the British Fur Trade on the Pacific, 1794-1843 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000) ends. If Richard Mackie wrote a second volume covering the years after 1843, Alexander Caulfield Anderson would be a major character in his history.

James R. Gibson's The Lifeline of the Oregon Country: the Fraser-Columbia Brigade System, 1811-47 (Vancouver, UBC Press, 1997) covers only the history of the Okanagan and Thompson plateau brigade trails. Those who want to know more about the history of the Cariboo, Anderson's River, and Coquihalla brigade trails would purchase this book.

Local historians who purchased Marie Elliott's recently published Fort St. James and New Caledonia: Where British Columbia Began (Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing: 2009) would pick up this book to gain further information on the many changes that occurred in this territory.

So, too, would readers of Stephen Hume's Simon Fraser: In Search of Modern British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2008). Like others in this list, this book tells the story of the early fur trade and ends long before the pivotal years after 1843.

Readers with an interest in the gold rush of 1858 probably purchased The Trail of 1858: British Columbia's Gold Rush Past, by Mark Forsythe and Greg Dickson (Harbour Publishing, 2007).

Or they may have bought an older book, Netta Sterne's Fraser Gold 1858! (Pullman, WA: WSU Press, 1998). These same readers might purchase this book to learn more about the trails that carried the miners into the Fraser River gold fields.

Anderson had later careers after his fur trade career ended, and those careers are covered in two books -- Douglas C. Harris's Fish, Law and Colonialism: the Legal Capture of Salmon in British Columbia (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), and Cole Harris's Making Native Space: Colonialism, Resistance, and Reserves in British Columbia (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002). Students of history in the fields of fisheries management or settlement of Native Reserves might purchase this book to learn more about the man whose work is talked of (and sometimes criticized) in those books.

And people who like maps will purchase this book. Anderson was an artist who drew maps of the territory he lived in and explored, and historians consider that Anderson's 1867 map of British Columbia is one of the most significant maps in British Columbia's history.

Derek Hayes, author of numerous books on historical maps, will be featuring Anderson's 1867 map in his next publication, due out in 2010. Hopefully my book will also include parts of this map, and others.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Time and the Fur Trade in British Columbia

Fifteen years before the gold miners invaded Fort Victoria in 1858, a Hudson's Bay Company clerk threaded his way through mountain passes and down rapid-filled rivers in search of a route through the mountains that separated the HBC fort at Kamloops from Fort Langley, on the coast.
Alexander Caulfield Anderson knew that the North West Company explorers Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser had already failed to find a route to the ocean for the export of furs.
But Anderson succeeded where they had failed, and opened four trails to Fort Langley -- though only one successfully served as the Company's brigade trail for the next fifteen years.
But in the years immediately after summer 1858, all four of Anderson's trails guided thousands of gold miners around the rapid-filled canyons of the Fraser River into the gold fields of the Cariboo.
Anderson's four cross-country expeditions helped to carve modern-day British Columbia from the wilds that surrounded Fort Langley, Kamloops, and Fort St. James.
Because Anderson was so interested in the early North West explorers whose trails he followed, his story begins in the years that Alexander Mackenzie ventured west to Rascal's Village and a view of the open North Pacific Ocean.
It includes the years when Simon Fraser followed a river later named for him to the open waters of today's Salish Sea (Georgia Strait).
The story continues as the Hudson's Bay Company abandons its old trails and opens new.
It swings through the 1858 gold rush and James Douglas' creation of the colony of Vancouver's Island.
Only a few years later, the Royal Engineers arrived to build roads through the canyons the fur traders had been unable to travel through in safety, and these roads carried British-born settlers into wilderness that the fur traders had occupied for only fifty years.

One of the discoveries that most surprised me as I researched and wrote this book was how quickly the fur trade changed.
North West Company explorer Alexander Mackenzie descended the Fraser River in search of a route to the west coast for the export of furs.
At about the place where the North Westers later built Fort Alexandria, Mackenzie was advised by the Natives to turn back and follow another river trail to the Pacific Ocean.
Mackenzie followed the Natives' advice and paddled down his West Road River, reaching his Rascal's Village and the salt waters of the Pacific Ocean in July.
He considered his exploration unsuccessful, and left the territory.
In 1833 -- forty years after Mackenzie's visit to the coast at Rascal's Village -- Anderson helped to built Fort McLoughlin in the estuary of the waters Mackenzie had visited, and read Mackenzie's newly published journals.
Fifty years after Mackenzie visited the place where Fort Alexandria was later built, Anderson took charge of the fort the North Westers had named for Alexander Mackenzie.
In 1844 Anderson set up a new fur trade post at Thleuz-cuz, a lake on Alexander Mackenzie's historic West Road River.
In 1881 -- ninety years after Mackenzie's visit to the coast and fifty after Anderson helped to build Fort McLoughlin -- Anderson visited Mackenzie's Rascal's Village, and listened while the Natives told him the story of Mackenzie's visit to their waters.

The North West Company fur traders, Simon Fraser and John Stuart, entered the territory they named New Caledonia in 1805, and set up their first fur trade fort.
In 1808 the two North Westers descended the Fraser River to its mouth and, considering their exploration unsuccessful, returned to Stuart's Lake.
In 1831 the apprentice-clerk Anderson met Simon Fraser at Lachine, and a few months later met John Stuart at the stone fort at Red River.
In 1836 Alexander Caulfield Anderson arrived at Stuart's Lake -- thirty years after Fraser and Stuart established their first posts in New Caledonia.
In 1847 -- forty years after Fraser's descent of the river named for him -- Anderson led his first expedition down the Fraser River through its canyons and rapids.

The old brigade trail over the Thompson plateau north of Kamloops was constructed about 1824, and used for about twenty years -- not a long stretch of time at all!
In 1843 this trail was replaced by a new brigade trail south of Fort Alexandria and passing through Loon Lake and Green Lakes.
Twenty five years after Anderson first led the first Fort Alexandria brigade over the new brigade trail to Kamloops, the new Cariboo wagon road replaced the company's brigade trail and ploughed past road-houses, cattle ranches, and settlements all the way to Barkerville.

The brigade trail through the Okanagan has a longer history; it was first used by John Stuart when he made his way south to the fur trade post at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1812.
When the fur traders of New Caledonia adopted a new trail to Fort Langley in 1848, the Okanagan trail was more or less abandoned and only used as a route to Fort Colvile on the Columbia River.
The various brigade trails through the Okanagan used several routes; the early trail followed the chain of rivers and lakes closely but a later trail was constructed in the hills to the west of the lakes.
But it did not matter what famous person rode the trails, nor does it matter which Okanagan trail we speak of -- their total life span as brigade trails was less than forty years!

In 1848 the fur traders came out over a new brigade trail down Anderson's River to Fort Yale.
Within a year or two they replaced this difficult trail with another that went over the Coquihalla mountain range to Fort Hope.
The Anderson's River trail had a life span as a brigade trail of only two years.
But in the years after 1858, thousands of gold miners trudged over the trail into the gold fields on the Thompson and Fraser river.
When in the 1860's, the Royal Engineers carved a good road out of the cliff faces between Yale and Boston Bar, above the rapids and falls that had so troubled the brigaders of the HBC in 1848 and 1849, the Anderson's River trail was no longer needed.
Probably the only people who used this trail after the construction of the Cariboo Road were the Nlaka'pamux people who occupied the banks of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and the Nicola Valley.

The trail over the Coquihalla Mountains was first explored by Alexander Caulfield Anderson in 1846.
In all of his other expeditions he was guided by Natives across Native trails.
On this occasion he and his men travelled with Native men who supposedly were to guide them, but none of them had travelled over the mountain range from the west.
Anderson met a Thompson's River Native trapper who showed him the beginnings of his pathway up the mountainside, but that man did not guide him across the mountain.
The fur traders stumbled across the mountaintop on the frozen snow, and followed the narrow Tulameen River valley in a curving route down the north side of the mountain.
Anderson knew that this could never be a brigade route, and thought he had failed.
But the fur traders met a Similkameen Native named Blackeye, who told them there was a good Native road up the north side of the mountains.
In 1847 Blackeye's son (or son-in-law) guided a HBC clerk across the mountains by a different route than the one Anderson had followed.
In 1849 the fur traders followed this new route on their return from Fort Hope, and though no work had been done to make this trail a brigade trail, they had no difficulties in making their way over the mountains.
By 1851 the fur traders had completed the trail, building bridges over boggy land, falling trees to widen the trail, and carving long switch-backs up steep slopes.
But this trail also had a short shelf life -- only ten or so years.
In 1858 the Fraser River gold rush brought miners northward up the Okanagan brigade trail into the Similkameen; in 1859 they discovered gold at Rock Creek; by 1860 hordes of Americans mined there.
Governor James Douglas moved quickly to ensure that this territory remained British, and hired civil engineer Edgar Dewdney to build a wagon road across the Coquihalla to Rock Creek.
The trail passed through modern-day Princeton and followed the north bank of the Similkameen River east toward Osoyoos Lake (along the path of the brigade trail from Fort Colvile to Tulameen).
Beyond Osoyoos Lake it climbed Anarchist Mountain and crossed that plateau to Rock Creek, on the mountain's east side.
By the end of 1861 the trail was complete, replacing the brigade trail.
But by the time, even the fur traders no longer used their old brigade trail.

After he left the fur trade in 1854, Anderson never again rode over the trails that he had known as a fur trader.
But in 1877 he was carried to Kamloops by stage-coach over the roads that replaced those trails; he travelled by steamboats up rivers he had formerly followed on horseback; he might have followed the remnants of the new brigade trail to the Bonaparte River Native reserve.
The one brigade trail he did ride in 1877 was the Okanagan brigade trail, which still served as the colonists' route up and down the Okanagan valley.
When he took to horseback at Osoyoos to visit the Native chief who lived at Avona, on the old brigade trail between Fort Colvile to the Coquihalla, he might also have followed the old Kettle Valley brigade trail (I will speak of this trail in a later posting).
He was sixty three years old when he revisited this part of the world; he had last ridden these trails twenty five years earlier.

In writing Alexander Caulfield Anderson's story I find I am writing the entire history of the fur trade in British Columbia, from Alexander Mackenzie's time to its end.
Anderson's story covers most of the history of early British Columbia, from the time the first fur traders entered the territory they called New Caledonia; through the many changes that occurred when the HBC took over the NWC and as they replaced old brigade trails with new.
Time moved even more quickly once the gold miners entered the territory, and the Royal Engineers built roads that enabled British settlers to claim and settle on lands that, in the past, only the Natives had lived in.
The fur traders occupied the Natives' territory for only fifty years, yet the fur trade is so important to British Columbia's history.
I cannot think of another man, other than Alexander Caulfield Anderson, whose story encompasses so much of the early history of British Columbia.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pere John Nobili, James Birnie, and Alexander Anderson

Although in his writings, Anderson wrote nothing of Pere John Nobili, it is obvious that this Roman Catholic priest was an important man in Anderson's personal history.
Moreover, Nobili is one of the few men who knew both Alexander Caulfield Anderson and his father-in-law, James Birnie.
In this posting, I will tell you both stories, and Nobili's as well.

Pere John Nobili was born in 1812 in Rome, and baptized Giovanni Pietro Antonio Nobili. He entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in November 1828 and took his first vows in 1835. After his inordination in 1843, Nobili volunteered for the Jesuit missions and joined a group of missionaries who was sailing on the Infatigable, in January 1844, for Fort Vancouver.
In early August,the missionaries spent several days in crossing the dangerous bar at the mouth of the Columbia River, and this is where they encountered James Birnie who was then in charge of Fort George, at the mouth of the river.
The following information is based on information I uncovered in a book by Sister Mary Dominica, "Willamette Interlude" (Palo Alto, CA: Pacific Books, 1959). This book tells the story of the missionaries arrival at Fort Vancouver, and has an excellent description of James and Charlot Birnie.
This was not the first time that James Birnie had to rescue missionaries from their own foolishness, but these missionaries were more foolish than most.
The Infatigable's captain sailed into the Columbia on the wrong side of the channel, over dangerous sandbars.
Birnie attempted to guide the ship into the safe channel with bonfires, cannon-fire, and flag-waving, but the captain ignored him and somehow made it safely over the bar.
At Baker's Bay, Birnie boarded the ship and agreed with the Catholic missionaries that "God had saved them .. but in order that a second miracle might not be necesary he would ... guide them through the banks that lay between them and the fort [Vancouver]."
Birnie also told the missionaries that "Mrs. Birnie would be expecting all the passengers as soon as they landed."
The Notre Dame Sisters found "Mrs. Birnie and her seven fine-looking daughters waiting to receive them. One in all, the girls were quite captivated by the Sisters, who in turn were delighted with the cordiality of this Protestant family."
The missionaries, including Pere Nobili, enjoyed two meals at the Birnie house, and commented on Birnie's "hospitable Canadan wife, whose French was very good."
But they were surprised by one custom; the Birnie women declined to drink wine, and the Sisters, unwilling to offend, also denied themselves their usual wine.

These missionaries went on to Fort Vancouver, and John Nobili began his trip to New Caledonia in June 1845, replacing Father Modeste Demers who had left the territory in 1843.
On the incoming New Caledonia brigade, Nobili and a second missionary separated John Tod and Donald Manson, two fur traders who hated each other so much they got into a fist-fight at Kamloops.
In 1845, Nobili noted the many landslides along the Fraser and Nechako Rivers, with the river banks constantly caving in and forcing the boatmen to instantly chart a new course upriver.
Anderson's son, James, wrote of such a landslide:
"The land slide whereof mention is made, occurred below the fort where the bank was carried bodily into the river completely blocking its course and flooding all the lands adjacent to the river.
"So sudden was the occurrence that an Indian village was swept away entirely.
"My recollection is that it occurred at night as I remember my father coming into my room in the early morning wet and his coat, a cotton one, torn beyond recognition, he having torn bandages from it to bind up the wounds of those natives most badly hurt.
"I do not remember that there was any great loss of life, one or two only I think, but I do remember the story told by my father to the effect that a child who was missing was found after the subsidence of the water, suspended by its clothes in a tree, safe and sound." (Source: James Robert Anderson, Notes and Comments on early days and events in British Columbia..., Mss. 1912, box 9, folder 1, BCA).
Pere Nobili told a similar story, but he said the child had died.
I suspect that Anderson told his son a white lie, to comfort him and protect him from the cruelties of life in New Caledonia.

Nobili spent the winter of 1845-46 at Fort Alexandria, and Anderson took advantage of Nobili's constant presence to practice his Latin, especially important to him since he now owned a Bible written in that classical language.
But Nobili was an Italian speaker, and Anderson also studied the Italian language under him.
In later years, his son James reported that Anderson spoke Italian well, and Pere Nobili is the only man he could have learned this language from.

Pere Nobili also baptized two of Anderson's children in August 1845, and the witnesses to that baptism were Peter Skene Ogden and Donald Manson.
What an important collection of individuals at Fort Alexandria! Peter Skene Ogden, Donald Manson, Alexander Anderson, and Pere Jean Nobili.
One of the two children baptized on that day became famous in his own right -- Henry Anderson grew up to become Constable Henri "Harry" Anderson of the British Columbia Police and was well known in the British Columbia Kootenays.
Perhaps it is appropriate that I tell his story in my next posting.

Nobili left Alexandria with the outgoing express to Fort Colvile, and returned to spend the late summer and winter of 1846-47 at Fort St. James with Donald Manson.
But the missionary had a stubborn streak that frustrated the fur traders.
In March 1847 he left Fort St. James against Manson's advice, and travelled on snowshoes down the frozen rivers to Fort Alexandria.
Nobili and his novice arrived on Anderson's doorstep so exhausted that the fur trader removed Nobili's tattered leggings and shoes.
Anderson arranged that a retiring Fort Alexandria employee accompany Nobili on the rest of his journey, and when the missionary left Fort Alexandria he was accompanied by the French-Canadian, Jean Baptiste Vautrin.
Nobili later reported to his superiors that Donald Manson and Alexander Anderson had always treated him with kindness.

Nobili remained in the Okanagan district and set up a mission at Talle d'Epinettes, on Okanagan Lake.
He wintered there in 1847-48, when he left the district for Fort Vancouver, travelling out with Anderson's 1848 brigade over the new Anderson River route.
When he returned with the incoming brigade, he said a brief prayer over the body of a man who had committed suicide rather than return over the mountain with the brigade.
This man was Jacob Ballenden, and his grave is still in the little graveyard just to the south of the Alexandra lodge, which stands at the foot of the hills that the brigade travelled over.
This lodge has nothing to do with Fort Alexandria; it stands at the eastern end of the Alexandra bridge which crosses the Fraser River north of the modern-day town of Yale.
Nobili said that he made Anderson's promise that the site of Ballenden's grave would be preserved for posterity.
It's preserved, and all the hikers that follow the old brigade trail stop to visit the gravesite and learn its history.

Much of the information for this posting comes from the book, "Fort St. James and New Caledonia; where British Columbia Began," by Marie Elliott (Harbour Publishing, 2009). Some information comes from "Willamette Interludes," the Dictionary of Canadian Biography online, and the Fort Alexandria journals in Hudson's Bay Company Archives.