Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Good Neighbour: Alexander Caulfield Anderson, the Man Behind the History

This is the talk (I dislike the word, speech) I gave in front of a small group of people who decided to come to the Heritage Week event at the Saanich Centennial Library behind Tillicum Mill, here in Victoria, on February 20th.

Small group, perhaps -- but interested. At the end of the talk they had a lot of questions for me -- one man was taking notes!

For those of you who have read my talks before, I realize that I have a common introduction for every talk.
But I am talking to people who I have not spoken to before, and these words introduce, first: the importance of the man to British Columbia's history; and second: why I am interested in him.
They need to know this: especially when, as in this case, I am speaking of the man I discovered behind the history that many of us (who read this blog) already know.

So, here we go (A note here: before I was edited I never considered the word "so" important. But my editor used it, and I, too, have come to realize its importance. Funny how one little word makes such a difference.....)

Good evening, everyone, and thank you for coming tonight. I am Nancy Marguerite Anderson, the author of the book, The Pathfinder: A. C. Anderson's Journeys in the West.

Anderson's full name was Alexander Caulfield Anderson. He was the Hudson's Bay Company fur trader who, in the mid-1840's, threaded his way through mountain passes and down rapid-filled rivers in search of a horse-friendly trail through the mountainous country that separated the Hudson's Bay Company fort at Kamloops, from Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser River. He made four expeditions between the two forts, and discovered two possible horse trails -- both of which by-passed the canyons and rapids of the Fraser River.

These were exciting times! At this time, the fur traders' traditional route to their headquarters every summer was down the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver, which stood only one hundred miles from the mouth of the river. However, only a few months after Anderson returned home from his second set of expeditions, Native uprisings along the lower Columbia River, at Fort Nez Perces (Walla Walla), forced the fur traders to abandon any attempt to down the Columbia River with their furs.

The furs must come out, however, and the trade goods must come in. But the furtraders had no substitute trail. The HBC men decided to bring out their furs to Fort Langley from Kamloops, by one of Anderson's untested horse trails through the mountains.

The journey out was chaotic disaster -- the return journey to Kamloops no better. Horses fell from clifftops carrying valuable trade goods with them and frustrated fur traders had fist fights while French-Canadians deserted for the California gold fields, and one man took his own life rather than tackle the return journey home.

Anderson lived and worked through those turbulent years and the difficult years that followed. Because he played such an important role in those pivotal years -- when the whole history of what would become British Columbia and Washington State was changing -- he is considered by modern-day historians to be one of the most significant figures in British Columbia's history.

But Alexander Caulfield Anderson was my great grandfather, and I wanted to know who he was. As I researched his story, I learned things that threatened to destroy the historic and heroic fur trade figure that lived inside my head.

What I learned about my ancestor transformed him into a man, with quirks and flaws and character and kindness and courtesy -- an extraordinary human being.

And this is the man I am going to tell you about now -- not the fur trader and explorer whose work changed our history, but the man who cared for others. Who helped others, be they man or woman: Native or white or mixed-blood; British Colonists or American gold-miners or Royal Engineers.

I will begin with a story of potato crops growing wild in the fur traders' New Caledonia, not far from Fort Alexandria where Anderson did his most important work. New Caledonia was the area of north central British Columbia around Fort St. James, and Fort Alexandria was the southern-most post in that fur trade department. The point of land [whose image I then showed] on which the fort once stood, is on the Fraser River just north of Williams Lake and south of Quesnel.

Potatoes were a staple food of the fur trade, and every post grew them in their gardens. In fur trade journals there is always one French-Canadian employee who camps on the fort's potato fields to prevent theft -- because Natives, too, understood that potatoes were good food. But though the Natives ate the potatoes they stole, they did not usually grow them -- or at least, not at Fort Alexandria.

Anderson was in charge of this post from 1842 to 1848. The post was far enough north that no one could depend on their wheat crops, though it grew more reliably at Anderson's post than anywhere else in the territory. Barley grew well at some posts, and turnips and potatoes were generally grown in large numbers at all.

But none of these crops fed the Native population, who depended on their annual root harvests, and upon the salmon that swam up the Fraser River by the hundreds of thousands every summer. In years when the salmon did not arrive, the Natives seemed to starve.... From The Pathfinder: "When winter finally fell and the cycle of fishing was finished, the Company men could asses whether the Natives had enough food to allow them to enjoy a good hunting season. In 1844, it seemed they did not, especially when a storm blew in at the end of October with snow and freezing temperatures. Anderson wrote of his worry about the Natives' starving condition and what he saw as their miserable circumstances in comparison to his relative comfort in the fort:

""Would I could predict with honest Sir Hugh that there are pippins & cheese to come -- but alas! I fear cold fingers and hunger will be the more probable lot of many in the interior, and we, who are comparatively in comfort, have reason to be thankful that we are so... T'is a glorious privilege to be able to write nonsense now & then, when there is no censor of the press, or rather of the pen, to check one -- Enough! A good fire, a warm house, & divers acceptable concomitants, with a foot of snow around one, are circumstances that may well occasion a momentary glimpse of contentment in a mind not always swayed by cheerful emotions.""

Honest Sir Hugh was a character in Charles Dickens, and pippins are apples. Anderson made this journal entry shortly after he watched the Alexandria Natives return to their winter houses in an early snow storm. He knew the salmon run that year had been poor and the Natives would starve. Their hunts would suffer as a result, of course -- it was not entirely sympathy for the Natives that made Anderson take this next step. In the Fort Alexandria journals of April 1846, I found that Anderson, without clearly saying so, was intentionally taking steps to teach his Native neighbours how to grow their own food -- something that was, for the most part, foreign to them..... "Eleven Indians [are] working the soil [at our] suggestion, and I have promised to supply them seed potatoes."

I haven't found this sort of thing in any other fur trade journal, but I have discovered that this one story might continue today. One of the readers of this blog told me the story of a patch of potatoes that grew wild in the interior, at a place only fifty miles from old Fort Alexandria. They were known to have been growing wild at this spot before the gold miners arrived there in 1859 or so.

So, where did these potatoes come from? Are they descendants of the seed potatoes that Anderson provided the Alexandria Natives in 1846, so they could grow their own food every year? I don't know. They could come from the potatoes the early Spanish explorers dropped off among the Native tribes of the coast, that might have worked their way into the interior via the Grease Trails. I like to think they are Fort Alexandria's potatoes, but it doesn't matter. I passed the information on to the people at the Royal British Columbia Museum (one of whom was growing Nootka (Spanish) potatoes in his backyard). They are trying to figure out what kind of potatoes they are, and how they got there.

We all know the stories of the 1858 Fraser river gold rush -- Anderson played an important role in this story, too. At the time the gold rush began, Anderson was already retired from the fur trade and living in Cathlamet, Washington Territory -- on the Columbia River west of the headquarters at Fort Vancouver. He was planning to set up a store-keeping business, like his father-in-law James Birnie had done. The Americans had been coming west for some years and were now settling in large numbers around Portland and Oregon City. Business would have been good, had it been allowed to happen.

But this is a unique time in American history: the new American settlers were driven west by a notion they called "Manifest Destiny." They already owned Louisiana Territory which nudged the east side of the Rocky Mountains and included the Milk River basin, in what is now southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. They had wrestled Texas Territory from the Mexicans. Now they believed it was their "destiny" to occupy the entire North American continent, from sea to sea, and the modern Pacific Northwest and California was theirs for the taking. Some individuals pursued their goals quite aggressively, and for anyone who was of British ancestry, like Anderson, life in the new Washington Territory became "uncongenial," to say the least. [This is a very complicated history and I have shortened it a great deal, believe me!]

But that was not the worst of it -- in addition to the Americans' bad treatment of the British fur traders, their treatment of the American Indians who lived here sparked one war after another, and Anderson saw his plans to build a store-keeping enterprise evaporate.

However, one surprising opportunity did present itself -- the California gold rush died down and in 1855 miners began to find gold in Eastern Washington, around modern-day Spokane. Only a few years later, Americans for panning for -- and finding -- gold on the Thompson River near Kamloops. Of course, on their return to American territory they told stories of the gold they had discovered in British territory, and more gold miners clamoured for a route to these northern gold fields.

Anderson was the only person in the area around Portland, Oregon, who was known to have been to those places. So many Americans came to him for information that he wrote a book, called "Guide to the Goldfields of the Frazer's and Thompson's River," which included a map to the Goldfields.

This map was printed off by the thousands and sold to all the American gold miners who flooded north and east towards Spokane and the Thompson River. In late 1857 gold was rumoured to be found on the Fraser, and in spring 1858 thousands of San Francisco gold miners sailed north to Fort Victoria. However, because of the seasonally high water along the Fraser River north of Yale, none of the miners could make their way into the gold fields north of the Fraser River Canyons.

Thousands of miners were stuck in Victoria, and the poor fur traders had no idea of what to do with them. They thought of Anderson. Fur trader John Work wrote Anderson a letter that tempted him north to Fort Victoria, and when he arrived there, Governor James Douglas put him to work.

Anderson suggested that a good trail could be built over the route of his first expedition of 1846 -- the route he had been guided over could never have worked for the fur traders who needed either a good horse road, or a safe river route for loaded boats. However, Anderson judged that his trail would work well for the gold miners, who would reach the Fraser River north of its barrier of rapids and falls [Hell's Gate and Black Canyons] and who could pack in their supplies and provisions.

So Governor James Douglas [whose 1835 journals we have been reading for the last 6 months] put Anderson to work supervising the building of the first trail into the gold fields of the upper Fraser River. Note that this was not the Cariboo Road -- the Harrison Lillooet Trail led up the Fraser River to Harrison river and Lake, and the lake's north end where the new town of Port Douglas sprang up.

The miners themselves built the road that followed the Lillooet River through Pemberton Valley to Lillooet Lake, and over a rugged height of land to the south end of Anderson Lake -- named by Alexander Anderson for his own family. Chinese immigrants from San Francisco set up boating businesses to ferry miners the length of Anderson Lake, to Birkenhead Portage [now Seton Portage] -- named by Anderson for his soldiering cousin, Alexander Seton, who had died in the recent sinking of the HMS Birkenhead off South Africa. Seton Lake -- which Anderson also named for his cousin -- lay beyond Birkenhead Portage, and at the far end of Seton Lake, a three mile long river took the miners to the banks of the Fraser north of Hell's Gate and Black Canyons, and south of modern-day Lillooet.

And so Anderson's map brought thousands of American gold miners north to the colony of Vancouver's Island -- and Anderson's trail took them over the mountains that separated Fort Langley, on the lower mainland, from the gold fields on the upper Fraser River. Anderson's work was done at the end of the summer, and he would now take charge of the new Custom House for Victoria's free port.

At this time the walls of old Fort Victoria were still standing, but the first government officials were coming from England to run the two new colonies -- Vancouver's Island, and the separate colony of British Columbia which was being set up across the water, with its headquarters at New Westminster.

For a few months, Anderson was acting-Collector for the Colony of British Columbia, in the absence of the official Collector. He had kept no separate set of books for British Columbia, and so all of Anderson's records for both colonies were handed to the new British Columbia collector, Wymond Hamley....

From The Pathfinder: "With limited means and no experience as an accountant, Anderson had set up the Customs House books by himself, and they had worked efficiently during the first busy months. However, Anderson had learned his bookkeeping in the fur trade, where no money existed to tempt men to steal. His system did not allow for dishonesty, but Hamley's examination of the books revealed that eight permits issued by the Deputy Collector Charles Angelo had not been entered in the Customs House books, and the money had disappeared."

All hell broke loose among the newly arrived British colonists! Angelo was arrested and thrown in jail and Anderson was reported to be responsible for the mess. He was removed from office, but before that was done he arranged with lawyer Henry Crease [later Judge Crease] that One hundred and fifty dollars be paid from the Custom House funds to Deputy Collector Angelo's wife, who was now penniless and could not feed her children. "I do this on my own responsibility," Anderson said, "and to satisfy my own scruples on the score of humanity, for it has been intimated to me that for any payment made under present circumstances I shall be held responsible."

He was held responsible. This payment -- much of which was actually owed to Mrs. Angelo by the Colonial Government -- would return to haunt him many times over the years. The fur traders no longer ran the colony -- the new immigrants from England did. Anderson lost his job and there was no other employment he would have considered. He was a partner in a new shipbuilding enterprise, and he owned farmland in North Saanich on which he was now having a new house built. He made plans to move out to the remote region in the spring, when the house was completed. In the meantime he imported a herd of 60 cattle from Oregon, and put them out on the grasslands of his farm to feed.

Anderson kept himself busy trying to make a living, but he still took time out of his busy schedule to work with his Saanich neighbours, clearing land for the church they would construct in the spring. He would not, however, take part in the building of St. Stephens Church. The winter of 1861-62 blew in early with frigid temperatures and deep snow that covered the ground and remained until spring. No one in the area was well enough established to have grown a crop of hay too sell. Cows do not forage under snow for feed, and at the end of the long winter, only a few head of cattle remained alive.

This was not all. The same cold winter weather froze the waters of the Fraser River all the way from Yale to the river mouth, and by the time the ice melted, Anderson's steamship business was dead -- his large, beautiful warehouse on Wharf Street gone. He was in crisis, with no job, no business, and now no income. The fur trade had no made him wealthy. He owned property in North Saanich on which he had a large mortgage, but no livestock and no way to support himself.

He wrote for a living, though it brought him little money, of course. At this time, the government of the Colony of Vancouver's Island and British Columbia held writing contests for essays that encouraged immigration to the new colonies.

But at the same time, the Royal engineers were arriving in Victoria, and they needed information on the interior of the country where they were supposed to be building roads and bridges. They were immediately sent to Anderson for that information, and he gave it to them. He took his old travelling maps and turned them into finished maps -- for example, his old travelling map of the route up the Columbia River from Fort Colvile to Boat Encampment, was transformed into the beautiful finished map of the Columbia River and Athabasca Pass.

In North Saanich, Anderson became the representative of the people who lived there and in South Saanich -- which was then the community along Mount Newton Crossroad and in Saanichton. Good roads had been a promise made by the Government of the time, and they were now reneging on that promise. There are many letters from Anderson in the records of the Lands and Works Department, wherein he asks for repairs to the rough roads and better bridges across the many deep creeks that flowed through the area. In The Pathfinder I described the road as a morass of tree roots and mudholes -- his son, Walter, later described West Saanich Road:

"The West Road to Victoria was slowly improving, though still a very bad road as roads go.. At intervals along the road were wayside inns, it being an unwritten law that a stop should be made at each one of these and a little refreshment partaken of. The most northerly of these houses was Henry Wain's [Wain Road and West Saanich Rd]. then after a seven mile drive came the Mt. Newton Hotel, at the junction of the Mt. Newton Crossroad.... Then came the Royal Oak at the junction of the West and East Roads. Beyond that the road, instead of coming in Quadra Street as now, diverged at the far side of Christmas Hill and skirted the shore of Swan Lake, at the far corner of which stood the Swan Lake Hotel, kept by a sister of Henry Wain and her husband.... It may seem strange to many people in this age that stops should be made at all of these places, but I can assure them that it was a boon to be able to get a glass of wine or beer, or something stronger, and very comforting to warm oneself at the big log fire on a cold winter's day while on a long wearying drive over rough roads such as we had then."

From The Pathfinder: "Even while he worked as a gentleman farmer in North Saanich, Anderson continued to contribute to Victoria organizations. In 1862, the members of the Immigration Committee, which encouraged settlement in British Columbia, named Anderson to its committee... In 1864 he was appointed justice of the peace and acted as coroner for the district, investigating murders and accidental deaths for the colonial government. In 1865 Anderson was called as a witness for the British government in the British and American Joint Boundary Commission hearings held in Victoria, where he gave his occupation as "gentleman." In 1866 the new editor of the Colonist newspaper approached Anderson for information on the route to the Big Bend Gold Mines which were then making the news -- Anderson was one of the few people in Victoria known to have been to that out-of-the-way place."

I can add to this paragraph that he was one of the Saanich settlers who helped to organize the Saanich Agricultural Fair, which still runs today.

In 1866, the Colonies of Vancouver's Island and British Columbia merged, using the name "British Columbia." In 1871, the province became a part of the Dominion of Canada, which now called for representatives for the House of Commons. Alexander Anderson announced his intention to run for election.

One of his competitors was the local brewer, Arthur Bunster. The election itself took place in Harry Wain's roadhouse with Anderson's 10-year old son, Walter, acting as returning officer. On election day, bunster distributed free beer outside the hall while Anderson watched as the tide of voters turned against him. When one of his strongest supporters entered the hall to cast his vote for Bunster, Anderson stood up and, looking the man sternly in his eyes, said, "And you, too, Mr. Blank?"

"I had never properly grasped the significance of Caesar's dying reproachful question till that moment," young Walter later observed. "Well, the election was over, and Bunster's beer won the day."

While he resided in North Saanich from 1862 to 1876, Anderson worked on improving the lives of the Natives who lived nearby -- just as he had done when he was a fur trader. For many years he was their self-appointed doctor. He encouraged the residents of the nearby Tseycum Reserve to cultivate their clayey soil, and some soon raised pigs and cattle or farmed smaller sections of richer soil. Anderson had a particularly strong interest in grafting fruit trees, and a few of his Native neighbours even learned this agricultural craft from him, and now owned small thriving orchards.

His son, James, said that: "In his management of the Indians he was singularly successful, always firm in his dealing with them, he was ever ready to accede to all their just demands, while sternly refusing to abate one job of the rights of the whites, as understood by the then rulers of the land.... Often called upon to relieve sickness or distress he was ever willing to sacrifice his time to the wants of the Natives, and so endeared himself to them so that years after he had left the scene of his active life he was remembered and spoken of in affectionate terms, even by the younger generation who only knew him by tradition. Naturally it gives me a melancholy satisfaction to bear this testimony in the memory of my father."

The Natives in the interior also remember Anderson, the fur trader. In 1876, Alexander Anderson was appointed the Dominion Representative of the Indian Reserve Commission set up that year to settle Indian Reserves on the Coast and in the interior -- the other members of the Commission were Archibald McKinlay, retired fur trader now cattle rancher, and Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, an immigrant from England. The three Commissioners worked the last part of 1876 on the coast, and in spring of 1877 the Provincial Government hustled them into the interior to settle the tribes around Kamloops who were reported to be almost in a state of war.

When the Commissioners arrived in Kamloops, they found the Natives all over the region were threatening to go to war. The American Indians across the border were already battling the United States Army, and Native chiefs rode north from the Spokane area to incite their Okanagan cousins to join them in their insurgency.

The image I showed then is in my book -- it is the picture of Tsilaxitsa, on page 203. [Of course I showed the coloured version, as it is so beautiful.] As nephew of the powerful Chief Nkwala, after whom the Nicola valley is named, Tsilaxitsa had by 1877 become the most prominent Okanagan chief of his time. A few days after the three man Commission's arrival in Kamloops, Anderson reported that:

"Tsilaxitsa, the chief of the Okanagans, who when a young man travelled with me a good deal... visited our camp to pay his respects to the Commissioners. He afterwards visited me privately at my tent, and after a good deal of conversation imparted to me the [news].. of what has recently transpired among the natives at the General Councils that have been held.... He said that, in talking to me thus privately, he wished to forewarn me, for old friendship's sake, that an unsatisfactory feeling was abroad, but that he would address the Commissioners, as a body, only after we should have visited his lands....

"Tsilaxitsa is a man of much influence. Like the rest he is astute, and his words must be accepted with caution. Nevertheless, under the influence of an old friendship, he had probably been as frank with me, privately, as his nature will admit."

The private conversation between Tsilaxitsa and Anderson, in Anderson's tent, infuriated the third Commissioner Sproat. But, as Anderson said, he had known Tsilaxitsa for many years. Thirty years earlier (in 1847) Tsilaxitsa, and a Native I believe is his close relative, the son of the Similkameen chief Blackeye, had been Anderson's guides over what Anderson called the Similkameen trail, up the mountainside from modern day Boston Bar and across the plateau behind to the Nicola Valley.

And in later years it is likely that both these young chiefs acted as Anderson's Native guides over the Coquihalla brigade trail -- as their uncle N'kwala had done for the fur traders who rode up and down the old Okanagan Trail. This was, after all, one of the long-standing traditions of the fur trade.

The Indian Reserve Commissioners returned to Victoria at the end of 1877, and Anderson -- who had two jobs for the Dominion government -- continued his work as Fisheries Inspector, travelling up and down the coast from the Nass River, next to the Alaska Panhandle, to the new canneries set up at the mouth of the Fraser River. In his work, Anderson protected both the fish resources, and the fishermen themselves -- including the Natives and their traditional fisheries.

Here is an example of his work: One year the canneries received so many fish they could not can them all, and the excess fish were discarded on the beach and left to rot. To prevent such waste in future years, Anderson arranged that if the canneries again had an excess of fish delivered to them, they would give the extra salmon to their Native neighbours so that the fish could be smoked and preserved for their winter supply of food.

Anderson also collected and shipped to London, England, samples of cans of salmon now produced in British Columbia, and many pieces of Native art, canoes, and fishing gear. All items that survived the watery journey to England were exhibited in the massive International Fisheries Exhibition held in London in 1883. This Exhibition provided a tremendous boost for the British Columbia salmon canning industry, and the Minister of the Canadian Marine and Fisheries Department reported to Anderson on the many gold awards the province won:

"Some specimens certainly received much attention," the Minister wrote. "The salmon for their huge size -- the tinned salmon for the fine display made by the Government... and the Indian fishing gear for its grotesque appearance... Our Indian from New Brunswick who has his birch bark canoe did not like the fancy cedar canoe you sent. I put him in it one day in his pond and he came near upsetting and could not paddle it like his own "birch." He soon came ashore and said, "only damn fool Indian use that kind of canoe."

How many of you like to walk in Beacon Hill Park? Did you know that Alexander Anderson is one of the men who is responsible for preserving the park as it is -- a non-commercial park? In 1883, Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie wrote the trust that outlined the rules for the use of the park, a trust which prohibited profit making activities, including the erection of sponsorship signs.

Anderson's son, James, said this about his father: "He was always in the front rank in raising his voice against any invasion of the rights of the public. Just prior to his death he warmly opposed the erection of an Agricultural Hall in Beacon Hill Park, which was being advocated by some ill-advised people and he took up the question with the government." On April 10th, 1884, the Daily Colonist published Anderson's letter: In it he declared that constructing an agricultural hall in the park was "a barbarous proposal" that "will be strenuously opposed by many who have the improvement of the city and the conservation of its natural attractions sincerely at heart."

However, not everyone is happy about this today. I have an article from a 2005 newspaper titled: "The Land that Fun Forgot." Again, a modern group is fuming because they cannot raise funds in the public park... So thank Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie, who drew up the original trust in 1883, and Alexander Caulfield Anderson, who defended it a year later -- for keeping Beacon Hill Park a park. This is history. I've said this many times. History doesn't just happen and then go away: it's always still here. We are surrounded by it.

I told you at the beginning of this talk that Alexander Caulfield Anderson was my great grandfather, and I wanted to know who he was. One of the questions I continually asked myself while I was writing this book was -- Was he a drunk? Did he drink too much?

You will remember the story I told you of Anderson stopping at every road house for a restorative drink on his way into town from North Saanich? I have another story that didn't make it into the book, where Anderson tripped and fell one one of the rough boardwalks that Victoria had at that time, and suffered a bad cut on his face. Bystanders picked him up and carried him into a drinking house -- but did he trip because he was drunk?

Fur traders were supplied, at every post, with a generous supply of good liquors and wines which they certainly drank. There were many instances where fur traders drank too much, and few stories of fur traders that did not drink.

I considered that, because of his fur trade past, Anderson probably drank more than most of us today consider reasonable. Perhaps more than the new English immigrants considered wise -- after all, Indian Reserve Commissioner Gilbert Malcolm Sproat criticized both Anderson and McKinlay for "being drunk in front of the Indians they represented," at Savona's Ferry in 1877.

In the stories that follow I found the answer to my question. In the late 1870's San Francisco historian, Hubert Howe Bancroft, arrived in Victoria to research the history of the territory, and interviewed many retired HBC men. He described Anderson: "In personal appearance... Mr. Anderson was of slight build, wiry make, active in mind and body, with a keen, penetrating eye... In speech he was elegant and precise, and by no means so verbose as in his writings, and in carriage, if not so dignified as [Roderick] Finlayson, his manner would do him credit at St. James [London]."

In another publication Bancroft wrote this -- and in writing this he answered all my important questions, including the one about his drunkenness. This will also give you a very good idea of the kind of man that Alexander Caulfield Anderson was:

"But more than to any other in Victoria, I feel myself indebted to Mr. A. C. Anderson, a man not only of fine education, but of marked literary ability, of poetic temperament, chivalrous in thought as well as in carriage, of acute observation and retentive memory he proved to be the chief and standard authority on all things relating to the country. He had published several works of value and interest, and was universally regarded as the most valuable living witness of the past. Tall, symmetrical, and very erect, with a long narrow face, ample forehead, well brushed white hair, side whiskers, and keen, light blue eyes, he looked the scholar he was. Scarcely allowing himself an interruption, he devoted nearly two weeks to my work with such warm cheerful and gentlemanly courtesy as to win our hearts... He took luncheon with us every day, smoked incessantly, and drank brandy and soda temperately."

It was my project to discover who Alexander Anderson was, and I think I accomplished this. I found a man who cared for his Native neighbours, by ensuring that they could grow crops, such as potatoes, to support their families during those long, cold, Cariboo winters. Was this unusual among the fur traders? I believe so.

As to the gold rush: his map brought the gold miners north to British Columbia, and his trail took them into the interior more or less in safety. The road served the miners well until the better Cariboo road was built. Later it was more or less replaced by the Duffy Lake Road, still in use today. But years after the original Harrison-Lillooet trail was abandoned, a cattle drive plodded over it -- and today it is a functioning hiking trail.

Anderson ensured that a woman, whose husband was in jail and whose children would have starved without his assistance, received money that was owed to her -- enough money that would support her and her family if she were careful. He helped to clear the land to build the local church. He acted for his Saanich neighbours in getting roads improved and burned out bridges replaced. He helped the Royal Engineers by drawing maps that would lead them into the interior that he knew well and where they had to build new roads and bridges. His later maps led a new batch of gold miners to the mines in the Omineca, and on the Big Bend of the Fraser River.

He tried, unsuccessfully, to represent Vancouver Island district in Ottawa. I think he would have been a very good representative -- perhaps better than some we have today.

As we know, relations between the Natives of today are not as friendly as they used to be, when the fur traders were in the interior. I have been told of a letter to Queen Victoria from a Native chief, that said that the good white men were the fur traders, and the bad white men the settlers who came later. I have not seen this letter and so don't take this as the truth, but you can see that Tsilaxitsa apparently considered Anderson a friend -- as far as it was possible for a Native man of his time to be friends with a white man that represented a government that was trying to take the land from his people.

Anderson's final neighbourly act still lives today in his defense of keeping Beacon Hill park a park, rather than allowed agricultural buildings to be constructed in it. Would the park have resembled the PNE grounds in Vancouver? I doubt it. But Anderson died 129 years ago, only a month or so after his wrote his letter. He had no interest in whether or not Beacon Hill Park remained a park, and he would probably never walk through it again. But you will. And as you do, you can remember that Alexander Anderson helped to keep this park safe for you.

1 comment:

  1. This post has been updated and is found at
    Thank you.