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.

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