Sunday, May 27, 2012

Weather Conditions in the Fraser River Valley in the early years

In December 1858 the British Colonist newspaper reported that the Fraser River was frozen all the way across below the mouth of the Harrison River.
At Port Douglas, the new town at the north end of Harrison's Lake -- at the south end of the new Harrison Lillooet trail to the goldfields -- the snow fell for three days before the sky cleared and the thermometer plunged to 5 degrees below zero.
A party of one hundred twenty miners came downriver from Fort Yale in canoes; when they struck ice at the mouth of the Harrison River they took to their feet and walked downriver toward Fort Langley.
They supposed the HBC fort was a mere fifteen miles away -- but they were wrong.
The journey would have taken them three days, but they had provisions for only one.
Their trail had to be made though ten inches of snow over a high mountain, and in places the men waded waist deep sloughs and pushed their way through the thick underbrush that clogged the valley floor in those years.
But many were rescued by the captain of the steamer, Enterprise, who pushed his way up and down the Fraser River, continuously sounding his horn and stopping to pick up anyone he found.
The people he rescued were in terrible shape when found -- the December 15 [1858] Gazette tells us that he rescued "the large number of persons scattered around, and who, after two days suffering from intense cold, sleet and snow, without food, and almost without clothing, having been forced to throw away our blankets, rifles and other arms (from being able to carry them along further through fatigue and exhaustion) and denude ourselves of our drenched clothing..."

Does it sound colder than it should be to you?
Do you think that the Fraser River should freeze over in mid-winter?
It doesn't anymore -- but it did then.

As you know if you have read my book, there are at least two very bad winters mentioned in it -- the winter of 1847-1848, and that of 1861-62.
The frozen winter of 1858 was just a normal year -- those of 1847-48 and 1861-62 were abnormally cold!
My source for the stories that follow is Jason Allard, son of the Ovid Allard who worked at Fort Langley and Fort Yale under James Murray Yale.
This is what he has to say about Fraser River's mid-winter weather, in his Reminiscences [E/C/Al5A, BCA):

"Weather conditions in the Fraser valley since the early days of the Gold rush up the Fraser has greatly changed.
"At Yale in early days the First snow fall usually took place in the begining [sic] of November -- October and November were always wet so was March April and May.
"It was nothing unusual for a rain Fall for weeks at a time particularly in the lower Fraser Valley
"It was a regular event for the Fraser to freeze over in December and remain closed until the Month of March.
"Since the coming of the whites to the Fraser Valley -- there has been two very Severe Winters -- 1847 and 1861/2.
"An old Indian Chief of Yale who was aged about 90 yrs at the time I speak of in 1858.
"The Chief Tal-Tal-wheet tza Said he remembered a severe winter in Yale when the river opposite Yale was Frozen over--
"Goats and deer and other game died of Starvation and were Completely wiped out.
"Mountain Goats & Deer came down to the Valley and stood around, and also on top of the Indians Subterranean houses for Warmth.
"They were so tame that they were killed with Clubs.
"The old Indian said it was pitiful to listen to the cries of the Deer for Mercy when being clubbed.
"As a matter of fact it got so that the Indians would not kill them -- and besides their meat become unfit food through starvation."

So that is the cold winter weather in Yale in 1858 -- he goes on to describe the winter of 1847-48 at Fort Hope and Fort Langley:
"The winter of 1847/8 Was a remarkable Cold winter.
"The river was Frozen from Hope to Langley.
"Mr. Chief Trader H.N. Peers a H.B. Co's Officer Skated from Hope to Langley on the Ice --
"The Severe Weather and deep Snow Killed nearly all the Hudson's Bay Co's Cattle at Fort Langley.
"Those cattle that did not die of starvation Were drowned in Crossing them on to Island where there were bull rushes.
"A Few head were saved by the Indians, who gathered rushes for the Starving Cattle -- My old Nurse Rose told me that the Snow in Langley was three Ft. deep Early in May and the run of Ull-a-chons (small fish) died on top of the Ice.

"I remember well the severe winter of 1861/2.
"It was at first a pretty open winter and owing to the low stage of the water in the Fraser the St[eame]r Col Moody Maade [sic] her last trip to Yale for the time being in Decr.
"It was on the Morning of the 4th of February -- 1862 that I was awakened by My Father Ovid Allard who was then in charge of the Hudson's Bay Co's business in Yale...
"As soon as I Was awakened -- I heard the Wind blowing and when I looked out the drift snow was half way up the roof -- the very Same day the river was partly frozen over on both Sides of the river leaving a narrow channel where it was swift Current.
"I engaged two Indians to take the Board of Management's letter to Ft. Langley & thence on to its destination...
"Yale was completely snowed under.
"A few who had snow shoes broke roads on the side walk of the one business street.
"Communication with the lower Fraser and Victoria was at a stand still and travelling was laborious and dangerous on account of the Ice....
"Business and Transportation were on a stand still until the 14th day of April when the steamer "Flying Dutchman" Capt. Bill Moore blasted the Ice at Union bar above Ft. Hope in order to reach Yale.
"There was good Sleighing on the Ice between Ft. Langley and Sapperton.
"Hay & Grain was in great demand and prices were high -- at Yale a hundred dollars was asked for hay & none could be got at that price."

I am more or less taking a day off -- well, I am doing work I have delayed doing and am also looking for documents that I have lost and that I need to find!
My house has been packed up twice in the last few months, and unpacked -- these documents could have gone anywhere [and probably have].
I am also putting together my costume for the St. Stephens talk -- it will be anything but genuine but I am, after all, a writer, not a re-enactor!
So wish me luck, and in the meantime be glad that we do not have winters like they used to have up the Fraser River valley!

1 comment:

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