Lake House: a strategic stopover in the Fraser River gold rush

Lake House was a popular stopping place during the Fraser River gold rush. It only stood for two years between 1858 and 1860 yet it was an important site on the trail between Hope and Lytton.  How did Lake House come to be? And what brought about it’s demise?

A.C. Anderson’s dilemma

Years before the Fraser River gold rush in 1858, the Hudson’s Bay Company made several attempts at forging a trail up the Fraser Canyon. After the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the Company found itself required to pay American duties on goods shipped by way of Fort Vancouver. The Company’s mapmaker, A.C. Anderson was pressured to find ‘an all British route’ that could be used by men and horses loaded with bales of furs travelling from Fort Alexandria or Fort Kamloops down to Fort Langley.

Lake House – a notorious roadhouse (approximate location of trail)

The short life of Fort Yale

Anderson figured on a route down the Fraser Canyon but it was exceedingly challenging and furthermore, their intrusion into Nlaka’pamux territory was unwelcome. Despite the problems of the route, a small fort was constructed at Yale and another wayside hut, called Simon’s House, was erected near the First Nations village of Spo’zum (Spuzzum) near where a brigade could cross the Fraser River and up the steep slope on the other side. There was a long climb up to the top of Lake Mountain and down the other side to the Coquiome (Anderson) River. Considering the length of time it took to reach their destination, there would have been frequent camping spots along the way.

Eventually, the HBC came to use another route to Fort Kamloops following the Coquihalla River  which resulted in the abandonment of Fort Yale and the establishment of Fort Hope.

Gold!

Anderson’s old route up the Fraser Canyon came to be used again. In 1858, a couple of miners arrived at Fort Yale and swapped their boat for an old horse which they loaded with coffee and whiskey. They followed the former HBC trail up Lake Mountain and rigged up a canvas tent on the plateau within view of the lake.

A goldseeker who wrote to the San Francisco Bulletin in the fall of 1858 described Lake House as “nothing more than a large round tent, wherein you can get a good cup of coffee and beans adlibitum for one dollar…”

From tent to wood hut

With more and more miners passing by, a wood cabin was built to accommodate overnight visitors. Robert Frost, a judge in Olympia, Washington, recalled his stay at Lake House some time later:

“We made Boston Bar that afternoon, beached the canoe as we could not take it through the canyon, we started up the mountain; night overtook us and we had to sleep in the snow. About nine o’clock next morning we made the Lake House on the trail, a mere shack; where the proprietor got us up a breakfast at $1.00 each. It consisted of hard tack, bacon,and beans with a raw onion. I thought at the time that it was about the best meal I had ever eaten.”

A.R. Lempriere and his group of Royal Engineers stayed overnight at this location on August 8 of 1859:

“Left Boston Bar having procured 4 horses the day before and in the evening reached the Lake House situated on the top of a mountain. As it was very cold our men being tired we rushed to stay there the night: There was only one room in which we all slept with a lot of miners, Indians etc., in all numbering about 14 or 15: Bunks were arranged in three tiers all round the room, for the accommodation of travelers. I cannot say it was particularly agreeable.”

Burnt down under orders

The following year, a judge in Yale sent an officer to burn down Lake House because liquor was being illegally sold to Natives. Upon hearing the news, one of the owners, W.H. Weatherhill, protested the razing. Weatherhill claimed that he was away operating the ferry at Boston Bar and that the fellow responsible for selling the liquor had moved in without his consent.

A new route to Boston Bar

In the fall of 1860, a new trail was carved out by contractors Power and McRoberts at a cost of $62,000. This new trail which opened in April 1861 went directly from Chapman’s Bar to Boston Bar. The trail climbed along the rocky ledge about 800 feet above the Fraser River through what was known then as the ‘Big Cañon’.

Gold rush history unearthed

Lake House literally faded into the ground until it was unearthed by student archaeologists from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 2013. It turned out to be a treasure trove of Fraser River gold rush history with almost 300 items uncovered. Among the artifacts identified were solder seam cans, footwear, mule shoes, machine-cut square nails, American militia buttons, a Chilean coin marked 1845, ceramic pipes, coins, a three pronged fork and spent ammunition.

Hike into the past

Today you can hike this same trail that was used thousands of years ago by Nlaka’pamux who gathered cedar bark, followed by HBC fur traders and goldseekers over 160 years ago. Opened in 2012 after a massive volunteer effort, the trail past Lake House is now called the Tikwalus Heritage Trail, after a Native village that once stood near the trailhead.