Tag Archives: Cariboo Wagon Road

Clement Cornwall and the roadhouse named Ashcroft

Clement Cornwall, owner of the Ashcroft roadhouse on the Cariboo Wagon Road, was also a politician.

Cornwall was one of fourteen children born to Reverend Alan Gardner Cornwall and Caroline Kingscote in Gloucestershire, England. When Clement was just an infant, the woollen cloth trade had collapsed and the town’s only employer went bankrupt. Faced with an uncertain future, Cornwall’s father sought help from his wife’s relatives.

Clement Cornwall

Eventually the family built a home, ‘Ashcroft House’ next to the Kingscote estate in England. Clement and his brother Henry were educated at private schools and earned degrees from Cambridge. Afterward, Clement went on to article in law and was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1862.

On April 17, 1862, the Cornwall brothers waved goodbye to their family and set sail from Southampton, England bound for Victoria by way of Panama and San Francisco. They stayed in San Francisco for a few days where they purchased a packhorse for $75 dollars. Their ship docked at Esquimalt on June 2, 1862 and within a few days they travelled by steamship to Port Douglas. With their packhorse they hiked up the Douglas-Lillooet trail averaging thirteen miles a day. Arriving in Lillooet on June 20th, they heard that the prospects of finding gold weren’t as great as had been reported.

On the Cariboo Wagon Road

Considering the time was favourable for acquiring land they scouted around and settled on a strategic place on the packhorse trail in the Bonaparte River Valley that they heard was going to be widened into the Cariboo Wagon Road. On this spot the brothers hired two men to whipsaw timber into useable planks for a roadhouse. It took the workers five months to carry out this gruelling task from January to June of 1863 for four cents per foot plus their food.

On September 24, 1863, the Royal Engineers completed the Cariboo Road past the newly completed roadhouse, named ‘Ashcroft’.

As the ranch and roadhouse prospered, Clement Cornwall’s influence grew. Well-known government officials stayed there including Judge Begbie, Walter Moberly, and Gold Commissioner Peter O’Reilly.

Cornwall was elected in 1864 as the representative for the Hope-Yale-Lytton District—one of five members representing the colony of British Columbia. They met in the Legislative Hall, formerly the main barracks of the Royal Engineers’ camp in New Westminster. The following year Cornwall was awarded the role of postmaster and then as magistrate of Thompson River District in 1867.

Three years later Clement married Charlotte Pemberton of Kensal Green, London, England. Shortly thereafter, Clement was elected to the 8th Legislative Council in 1871.  This was an exciting time when the politicians were working out the details of joining Canada. In the summer of 1871, British Columbia joined Confederation and became a province.

Clement Cornwall left his position in the Senate to become Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in 1881.

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The Cranford Affair: ‘extortion’ on the Cariboo Wagon Road

Cranford Affair

“Remember the Cranford Affair; and steer clear of extortion and delays”

When the colonial government decided to build the Cariboo Wagon Road, G.B. Wright was awarded a contract to build the section from Lillooet to Clinton in April 1862.

That same month, G.B. Wright met Robert Cranford, Jr. who had just arrived in Victoria  with a ‘considerable quantity of goods’ he had purchased in San Francisco which he intended to sell in the Cariboo. Wright offered to pack goods for Robert Cranford from New Westminster to Lillooet for nine cents per pound. He promised Cranford that his goods would arrive in ten days and in return Cranford would pay Wright for the cost of freight from the proceeds of the sale of goods 60 days after the goods arrived at their destination. Robert Cranford Jr. signed a contract on April 25th.

It took almost the entire summer for most of the goods to arrive. By this time Cranford Jr. realized it was too late to get the supplies to Williams Creek and he was at a loss.

When Cranford Jr. refused to pay, Wright went to the Justice of the Peace at Lillooet and asked that both Cranford Jr. and his brother John be tossed in jail for non-payment of the bill which came to £1,719. Wright suggested they be held in jail pending a bail payment of £2,500. As a result, the Justice of the Peace, who didn’t usually exercise such authority, sent out an order to have the brothers arrested, even though John had nothing to do with the original contract.

From his jail cell Cranford launched his own lawsuit to counter Wright’s. Cranford alleged that Wright had taken the goods that had cost $10,000 and sold them as his own at a time when the market was high. He sued Wright for $25,000.

In December 1862, Judge Begbie heard the case Cranford v. Wright. In the beginning it looked as though the odds were against the Cranford brothers. G.B. Wright had the attorney-general George Hunter Cary, attorney-general of British Columbia, and H.P. Walker acting in his defense. In addition, Judge Begbie used his discretion in favour of certain omissions on Wright’s part.

The timing was favourable for the Cranford brothers, however, because around the start of the trial, The British Columbian editor was imprisoned by Judge Begbie for contempt of court. Begbie objected to an article printed in the December 3, 1862 issue which exposed details of Begbie’s land acquisition in the Cottonwood District.

As a result, The British Columbian used the Cranford case as an opportunity to put Begbie and Wright in the worst light possible.

In court the written agreement was produced which read:

“Agreed with R. Cranford, Jr., & Brother to carry goods for them from Douglas to Lillooet at 9 cts. per lb. during the ensuing season, payable 50 days after delivery, and a proviso if freights fell, rates to be less.”

The lawyer for Cranford pointed out that the agreement had been falsified, with the words ‘& Brother’ squeezed into the margin and ‘them’ altered from the word ‘him’ as it was originally written. Both of the changes had been made in darker ink than the rest of the words.

The colonial government passed the Lillooet-Alexandria Road Toll Act which came into effect September 1, 1862. Any passengers on the road from Lillooet to Alexandria had to pay a half-penny per pound on goods, and one shilling per head on cattle. Wright received twenty-five percent of the tolls collected for five years.

In April 1863, Wright settled out of court with Robert Cranford Jr.

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A gold seeker’s diary May 1863

A gold seeker’s diary of his journey to William’s Creek in May 1863 was later published in a book by Matthew MacFie, “Vancouver Island and British Columbia: Their History, Resources and Prospects”. Here are a few entries from the time the gold seeker left Victoria and travelled up the Harrison-Lillooet trail from Port Douglas which was commonly known as ‘Douglas’.

May 8th. Left Victoria at 9 a.m. Arrived at New Westminster at 4.30 p.m. Had a pleasant passage, the day being warm and calm. Put up at the ‘Mansion House;’ slept in my own blankets on the floor in company with several others, free of charge.

Douglas, BC

Douglas, BC

Saturday, 9th. Left New Westminster for Douglas at 3.30 p.m. Anchored at dark, 40 miles up the river. Slept soundly on the saloon floor.

Sunday, 10th. Started early; got into Harrison River at 8 a.m. Great contrast between the two rivers – the Fraser very muddy- the Harrison as clear as glass… Arrived at Douglas at 3 p.m. Travelled 12 miles further on; pitched our tents in the bush.

Monday, 11th. Got up at daybreak; cooked breakfast, and started for the head of Lillooet Lake, distant 17 miles. Arrived there at 3.30 p.m. Could not sleep at night for the mosquitoes, the tent being full of them. The road from Douglas to the lake is one continued ‘gulch’ between two ranges of mountains, called the ‘Cascades.’…There are roadhouses every few miles, where meals can be had at a dollar (4s. 2d.) each…

Tuesday, 12th. Started on our journey along the Lillooet Lake at 7:30 am. Had to go in a barge for six miles before we got to the steamboat. Arrived at Pemberton at 2 pm. From the foot of Tenass (little) Lake to the head of Lilloet Lake is 25 1/2 miles…At Pemberton we took the waggon-road, and travelled 8 miles same day. About 20 of us slept on the floor of the 8-mile house in the usual style…

Wednesday, 13th. Started early. Arrived at Anderson Lake, distant 26 miles from Pemberton, in good time in the afternoon. We passed through…rich prairie called ‘the Meadows,’ 7 or 8 miles long, and from half a mile to a mile wide. Beyond the half-way house is a watershed, 1,482 feet above the level of the sea. From the road is seen a roaring cataract dashing from the snowy summits of the mountains…Made a tent of one of my blankets; could not sleep, the other being too short for me…

Thursday, 14th. On board the steamer at 8 am. Lake Anderson, 16 miles long…Arrived at Port Seaton [Seton] at 3pm. Lake Seaton, the last in the chain of lakes, is 14 miles long, lying west and east, and is only 1 1/2 miles from Lake Anderson. Scenery on both lakes is charming; the hills rising abruptly out of the water as clear and tranquil as I have ever seen. Travelled to Lilloet, distant 3 1/2 miles. In approaching it the hills recede. It is a pretty place; a flat surrounded by mountains. There are a few patches of arable land, but sand seems to prevail. All along from Douglas the country looks barren; hardly a blade of grass to be seen, or a spot level enough to pitch a tent on.

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Transportation directly to the Cariboo: not as advertised

A series of letters written in the autumn and winter of 1861-2, by London Times correspondent Donald Fraser, created a somewhat rosy picture of travel to the Cariboo gold diggings. He spoke of stagecoaches on the proposed Cariboo Wagon Road, giving readers the impression that travel was easy.

Several thousand people who read Fraser’s accounts were excited to undertake the journey to British Columbia in the spring of 1862. Almost overnight, so-called transportation companies were formed and advertised their services.

Upon their arrival in Victoria, some prospective gold seekers from England  brought with them the notices which pictured the carriages that were to carry them from Yale. They had been lead to believe their tickets for transportation directly to the Cariboo, as advertised. They were in for a rude awakening. In 1862, there were only trails north of Yale; provisions had to be carried on one’s back for the length of the journey.

One of the fraudulent companies to take advantage of the situation was the British Columbia Overland Transportation Company which promised to carry passengers across the continent in ‘comfortable carriages’ for the moderate sum of 40 guineas per person (approximately $500 in today’s money).

A group of 30 Englishmen responded to the advertisement and travelled with an agent for the company, James Hayward, from England to St. Paul, Minnesota. There they were supposed to meet up with the company’s agent from Toronto, H.S. Hime. Not surprisingly, Hime wasn’t able to make the travel arrangements.

After waiting several days in St. Paul, several of the people in the group decided to return to England, Hayward included. Others in the group thought they could proceed to the Red River settlement and stay there until the following spring or go on to British Columbia if it wasn’t too late.

On October 10, 1862, the British Colonist printed a letter from one of the Overlanders dated June 1, 1862 sent from Fort Garry:

“I think we have now got things well arranged, and intend to start tomorrow. We have three [red river] carts and oxen between us. Each man has 150lbs. of flour, and about 70lbs. of pemmican, a great advantage on a long journey.

We expect to travel at the rate of 20 to 25 miles a day, and to be at Jasper’s House in about 40 or 50 days, and then cross the mountains to the Cariboo, about 20 days more; the time allowed, however, is three months…

There are over 100 fellows here waiting to go. About five companies of us have formed into a party numbering about 70. We are determined to go ‘through,’ calculating to go faster than if we all went separately, and by which we shall get besides more game on the way. We have hired for £20 sterling, a competent guide, a native of Edmonton, one of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s posts on our route…

To get along in this part one needs to know a little French. The governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company was at St. Paul’s when we arrived there….It was he who supplied us with the flour and pemmican, and has been doing everything he can to assist us through, giving us letters to the officers at all the Company’s posts on the way.

We have found the settlers all along a pleasant, hospitable set of people. Here they are divided into two settlements, Scotch and French, but the Scotch is by far the larger settlement.”

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The impassable Nicaragua Bluff on the Cariboo Wagon Road

Cariboo Wagon Road at Nicaragua Bluff in the Fraser Canyon

Cariboo Wagon Road at Nicaragua Bluff in the Fraser Canyon

The section of Cariboo Wagon Road between Yale and Boston Bar was very challenging to build, especially around the area known as “Nicaragua Bluff.”

William Butler Cheadle kept a journal of his travels through British Columbia in 1863:

“From Boston Bar to Yale 24 miles; a beautiful ride past Jackass Mountain & Zigzag Nicaragua Slide over the [Alexandra] suspension bridge which is just completed. The road was unfinished around Nicaragua Slide, which is a great bluff of granite overhanging the river; the road is blasted thro’ this & passes along the edge at the height of 700 or 800 feet above the Fraser; sheer descent. Sent our horses along the trail which went up the mountain by a zigzag, up to the very top, a very roundabout & dangerous trail, & the death of many a pack animal; whilst we walked along the unfinished waggon road passing round the face of the bluff…”

In July, 1862, Lieutenant Palmer of the Royal Engineers explored a route from Bentinck Arm to Fort Alexandria to Williams Creek. He prepared a report (published for the public the following year) which showed that the Fraser Canyon was the better route in comparison. In 1863, Royal Engineers surveyed the route from Yale to Boston Bar. The route they settled on had a continuous average grade of 182 feet per mile for fifteen miles, a great part of which was on loose rock and precipitous mountain slopes.

After it was completed, this stretch of the Cariboo Wagon Road was busy with gold miners, stagecoaches and freight wagons bringing supplies and provisions north to gold rush towns such as Barkerville and Quesnel Forks.

As the years passed, there was talk of a railway being built through the Fraser Canyon and as a result, the government chose not to maintain this section of the road. The Alexandra Suspension Bridge, considered at one time to be an engineering marvel, was left to disrepair.

By 1875, there were newspaper reports of serious problems with the Cariboo Road while the government denied there was anything wrong:

Yale, July 22nd, 1875

The road at Nicaragua Bluff, for a distance of 75 feet, is gone. It is a most dangerous place— something like a perpendicular fall of 100 feet into the [Fraser] River.There are several [freight] teams that will not be able to get beyond that place for some days. It is a serious matter where feed is scarce for horses and mules, and there is no grass for oxen near the break. This is the very time—dry weather—when the road should be good. The teamsters have sent another long dispatch to  Beaven [Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works]. It may be treated like their dispatch of the 9th instant (“My information is different from yours!”)…There is intense feeling here on account of the cavalier treatment of the dispatch of the merchants and teamsters of Yale.

 We the undersigned teamsters are now in Yale with big teams loaded and loading for the upper country. We cannot proceed on our way till the road is repaired. We beg to state that the road is, and has been all spring, in very bad order and dangerous to travel on. There is now a break in the road that will take a week to repair…

Signed: Richard Phare, J.H. Gay, R. Curnow, Joseph Deroche, R. McLaren, W. Walker, I . Walker, Arthur McLinden, John Shatwa

The merchants of Yale also wrote a letter to Lieutenant Governor Trutch who had built the Alexandra Suspension Bridge:

Please inform [Robert] Beaven that the wagon road from Yale to Boston Bar is impassible. There is a big break near Nicaragua Bluff that will take one week to fix with the present force. Miles of road are unsafe. Your knowledge of the road induces us to ask you to advise Beaven of the Lands and Works what steps he ought to take.

Signed, William Harvey, Kimball & Gladwin, F.J. Barnard & Co., W.C. Mayes, Kwong Lee & Co, E. Tie, Lawrence & Bailey, Uriah Nelson

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Tolls on the Cariboo Wagon Road

For their work on the Cariboo Wagon road, the Royal Engineers were paid by the Government of the Colony. Private contractors were paid in a combination of cash and ‘British Columbia bonds’.

“Payment for each service to be made in British Columbia bonds redeemable in equal proportions on 31st December 1862, and 31st December 1864 and bearing interest at the rate of 6% per annum.”

As part of the incentive of building bridges and roads, the colonial government also gave charters which allowed the contractors to collect tolls on the Cariboo Wagon Road for five to seven years.

Road tolls collected at Hope, Yale and Port Douglas January-July 1861

Road tolls collected at Hope, Yale and Port Douglas January-July 1861

For example, Joseph Trutch, builder of the Alexandra Bridge was entitled to 1/3 of a half penny per pound on goods; 1 shilling and 1 penny per head on certain animals; 6 1/2 pennies on all other animals, 2 shillings and 1 penny on carriages drawn by one animal; 4 shillings and 2 pennies on carriages drawn by two animals; 8 shillings and 4 pennies on stagecoaches.

Tolls payable to Thomas Spence to ride on his bridge (Spence’s Bridge) were 8 pennies for every hundred pounds of merchandise, 1 shilling per head on certain animals, 6 1/2 pennies on all other animals, foot passengers were charged 1 shilling each. Both Trutch and Spence were allowed to collect for seven years.

G.B. Wright collected tolls on the stretch of road from Lillooet to Fort Alexandria for five years. He charged a penny a pound and 1 shilling per animal.

In order to cross Barry and Adler’s bridge across the South Fork River at Quesnel Forks, miners had to pay 25 cents and $1 for packed horses/mules.

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Robert Burns McMicking: Telegraph and Telephone

Robert McMicking: Overlander, Goldseeker, and Telegrapher

Robert McMicking: Overlander, Goldseeker, and Telegrapher

Robert Burns McMicking was born on July 7, 1843 in Canada West. The McMickings were a long established family descended from United Empire Loyalists. His grandfather had received land near Queenston for services rendered during the War of 1812.

At the age of 13, Robert was hired by the Montreal Telegraph Company.

Six years later, when news arrived of the Cariboo gold rush, Robert and his brother Thomas decided to head west with several others using the now famous overland route. The party of Overlanders arrived in the Cariboo in September of 1862 after a five month harrowing journey, later recounted by his brother Thomas for the British Columbian newspaper. Three men died along the way and horses and oxen perished.

Some of the Overlanders went to seek their fortune in the Cariboo goldfields while others, including the McMickings, worked for a short time on the Cariboo Wagon Road, earning enough money to get them to New Westminster.

In 1865, the Collins Overland Telegraph Company had just installed a telegraph cable from New Westminster to Barkerville. There were telegraph stations at various intervals along the Cariboo Wagon Road, including ones at Clinton, 83 mile house, Soda Creek, Quesnel and at Barkerville. The company was looking for telegraphers and Robert McMicking was hired.

In 1870, after Collins Overland Telegraph was taken over by the Western Union Telegraph Services, McMicking was promoted to the head of the company and moved to Victoria. Ten years later he started the Victoria and Esquimalt Telephone Company in 1880 and worked to have telephone services in Victoria.  He also played an important role in bringing electric lighting to that town.

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Cariboo Wagon Road contract severed

Notice to Walter Moberly to cancel Cariboo Wagon Road contract

Notice to Walter Moberly to cancel his Cariboo Wagon Road contract

Building the Cariboo Wagon Road proved to be an insurmountable challenge to Walter Moberly and Charles Oppenheimer.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Smallpox on the Cariboo Wagon Road, Moberly and Oppenheimer had been awarded the contract to build a section of road between Lytton City and Cook’s Ferry.

The first obstacle they faced was finding willing people to help construct the road, then smallpox spread, killing most of their work crews. The second and most damaging obstacle they encountered was a lack of money to complete the project.

The colonial government withheld payment for the work that Moberly and his crew had made so far. The remaining workers clamoured for their pay while Moberly went down the Fraser River in a canoe to New Westminster. There he met with Colonel Moody of the Royal Engineers and later Governor Douglas who set up a new arrangement where Moberly and his group would receive a lump sum of $50,000. The Governor handed over $6,000 and said that the remaining $44,000 would be forthcoming, to be handled by the attorney general.

In the meantime, Moberly headed back to Yale where he made arrangements to pay his workers as well as other merchants who were owed. The six thousand dollars quickly ran out and the remainder of the money never came. Instead, Moberly was arrested by the sheriff, Captain Ball,  because of the money he owed on supplies to a company in Victoria. As if matters weren’t bad enough, news came that Captain Grant of the Royal Engineers was on his way to Lytton to sever the road building contract.

Moberly borrowed a few hundred dollars from a friend and gave the money to the sheriff to pay the outstanding debt. Free from jail, Moberly then went to discuss the state of the project with Captain Grant,

“we discussed the whole matter over in the most friendly manner, and I gave him in writing, my relinquishment of all my charter rights, and also the surrender of all the supplies, tents, tools, etc….and when everything was out of my hands, Captain Grant proposed that he should appoint me to carry on the works for the government for the rest of the season. This proposition I was glad to accept for I had not a dollar left…”

 

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Stephen Tingley – Crack Whip of the Cariboo

Stephen Tingley, Stagecoach Driver

Stephen Tingley, BC Express

Stephen Tingley was known as one of the best stagecoach drivers of the gold rush, and early acquired the reputation of being the crack whip of the Cariboo Wagon Road. The title was in recognition of his speed in travelling the miles between Yale and Soda Creek.

Tingley was born in New Brunswick in 1839 and came to British Columbia at the height of the Fraser River gold rush in 1858. Later he opened a harness shop in Yale.  In 1861 Francis Barnard  asked Tingley to run a new 6-horse stagecoach to complement Barnard’s Express which ran between Yale and Barkerville. From 1864-97, Tingley drove the return trip between Quesnel and Barkerville, and was known as the Best Whip in the West. It is with some irony to note that Tingley’s first wife Elizabeth died after being thrown from a wagon in 1873.

Tingley stayed on with the BC Express for 33 years, eventually becoming a partner in the business. In 1886, Francis Barnard and James Hamilton sold their shares to Tingley who became sole proprietor of the BC Express. He moved the head office to Ashcroft, and purchased numerous area properties to breed and raise horses to supply his expanding business. In 1889 Tingley purchased the 108 Mile Ranch with barns to shelter up to 200 horses. In 1894 he purchased the Hat Creek Ranch from William Cargile.

 

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John Grant: from Purser to Politician

John Grant - Cariboo Road builder

John Grant – Cariboo Road builder

In 1862, Gustavus Blin Wright and John C. Calbreath were awarded the contract to continue building the Cariboo Wagon Road from Clinton to Alexandra. They hired John Grant as their bookkeeper and accountant, in charge of receiving money from the government and paying the work groups.

John Grant was born in Alford, Scotland, in 1841 and immigrated to Canada West (Ontario) with his parents in 1855. Like many other Overlanders, Grant arrived in British Columbia in 1862.

He continued to work for G. B. Wright when the Cariboo Road was extended to Soda Creek the following year. Wright had a sternwheeler built, called the Enterprise to navigate the Fraser River between Soda Creek and Quesnel. John Grant was employed as the purser.

Grant spent the following six years gold mining in the Cariboo and Peace River areas. In 1876, he joined a business firm in Cassiar. In 1882, Grant became a member of the ‘Provincial Parliament’ for Cassiar (members were given the title M.P.P.). In 1887, Grant became the mayor of Victoria.

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