Edgar Dewdney wouldn’t back down. He was the one with the contract he argued, they were there to do the work. No amount of reasoning or yelling would get the Sappers to budge. They stood there with their shovels and axes, waiting for word from their commander, Lieutenant McColl.
“We have a vast knowledge of building roads,” McColl said. “It’s far better to bring the route further away from the river, as I had previously suggested. You have chosen to ignore my good advice and the result is your own doing.”
“I will take this issue to the Governor.”
When he arrived at Fort Victoria, he outlined his story to Douglas’ clerk who gave him some advice on how to present his case to the Governor. “Emphasize the fact that the Royal Engineers won’t work with you at all.”
After modifying the events, Dewdney explained the dramatic story of his harrowing escape to Governor Douglas who sat impassively behind his desk.
“You’re still under a contract to finish the road. If you cannot complete the road, then you will have to forfeit all the monies plus interest.”
There was silence for a moment while the gravity of the situation hit home. “I have every intention of fulfilling my obligations.”
“Good. Then you will get back to work.”
Dewdney made his way to the Union Hotel and drank several glasses of spirits as he thought about a solution to his woes. What was he to do? He couldn’t work with the Royal Engineers and yet what he really needed was enough money to be able to hire some men to work under him. He could write home and ask his father to arrange for a bank draft, but it was a route he’d rather not take. On the other hand he could see if he could find someone who would want to enter a partnership.
Just as the thought began to take shape in his mind, he heard a loud clattering noise. Someone had thrown some gold nuggets at the large mirror that hung behind the bar.
“I can’t hawk this gold for nuthin’” the miner yelled out to nobody in particular.
“Why not?” Dewdney asked. He was curious despite the man being obviously drunk.
“Why? They’re charging four lousy percent to get a dollar.”
“I’m sure someone could do better than that, do you have any more gold dust?”
The miner leaned away from him and laughed. “You can get some yourself at Rock Creek, that’s where I’ve just been.”
“Rock Creek? I have the contract to build a road from Fort Hope to Rock Creek,” Dewdney said proudly.
“Could’ve used a good road when I first came, I don’t know if it makes too much of a difference now that most of us are heading out.”
The miner’s words affected him over the course of the next few days and his appetite diminished with worry. He placed an advertisement in the newspaper but there was no response from anybody.
“Most of the folks are coming here to find gold,” the bartender said sympathetically.
As the days wore on, Dewdney realized that the Royal Engineers had withheld his payment and he went to see James Douglas.
“I can’t finish the project until I receive the money,” he said. He was expecting Douglas to go into a tirade but he was preoccupied with a report to E.B. Lytton concerning his shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company that he had yet to relinquish.
“I’ll grant you some time off from completing this road if you can be of some assistance to me in this matter,” Douglas said.
Dewdney was more than glad for the opportunity and over the course over the next few months he made use of his father’s political contacts while earning enough money to keep him at a comfortable lodging.
Almost a year to the day he had abandoned the trail, he received a message from Douglas’ clerk that there was a railroad engineer who had stopped by looking for a government job. His name was Walter Moberly.
Dewdney went over the plans and talked about his contract while Moberly listened with intense interest. He didn’t tell him about the Royal Engineers and how they had taken over; he didn’t know himself how far they had developed the road.
It was the end of May by the time everything was arranged and a work crew was hired. The Royal Engineers had built the trail as far as Princeton and beyond that a large valley spread out ahead of them. Eventually a routine was settled on and everyone was ready to start grading and shovelling five o’clock every morning.
By the end of July, all was well until they encountered the first large mountain that rose abruptly from the lake below. A couple of the workers decided they’d had enough and abruptly left. When the other workers were out of earshot, Moberly said to Dewdney, “let’s forget wasting time with making sure the road is wide enough, we’ve got to finish this thing before everyone else quits and heads to the Cariboo.”
Dewdney thought about this. James Douglas had already made a trip to Rock Creek; how likely was it that he would come again? On the other hand, if all the workers left to go to the gold diggings then the trail wouldn’t get finished and he would be on the hook.
They encountered few miners as they headed eastward but Dewdney was so preoccupied with mapping the trail and getting the coordinates just right that he didn’t put it into perspective. Moberly was becoming more and more restless as the trail wore on and the others in the work crew were becoming dissatisfied with the same fare of hard tack and canned beef. Dewdney himself reminisced about wearing a clean shirt that hadn’t been boiled to the texture of tough canvas.
At the end of August, they came along the Kettle Valley to Rock Creek and they walked past one empty cabin and then another. There was nobody in sight. The rush was indeed over.
“Here’s the end of the road,” Moberly said and fired his shotgun in the air.