Tag Archives: James Douglas

Fort St. James – the hub of New Caledonia

Before the Fraser River Gold Rush, the Hudson’s Bay Company ruled New Caledonia (British Columbia) like a company town.

Fort St. James on Stuart Lake was considered to be the hub of fur trading activity and the fort’s chief factor was responsible for the entire New Caledonia. Chief K’wah of the Dakelh was considered by the HBC to be a key ally.

By the time James Douglas started working at Fort St. James, there had been several attacks and reprisals between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the neighbouring Dakelh. Douglas’ first assignment was to make sure that Fort St. James had enough fish. Salmon was the staple diet, not just for the Dakelh but also for the HBC workers and their families.

Although it seemed on the surface that the HBC had a good relationship with the First Nations, on further reading it becomes apparent that in fact the HBC allowed their chief factors to mete out punishment as they saw fit. Sometimes they were equally harsh with their own voyageurs and clerks who were basically stuck in the middle of nowhere and had to wait for the next brigade trip to get away.

An illustration of this prevailing attitude occurred in 1828, when James Douglas took it upon himself to deal with the alleged murderer of an HBC employee, when the Chief Factor, William Connelly (Douglas’ father-in-law), was away.

In his book, “The History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia (formerly New Caledonia)” Father Morice (1859-1938) wrote:

For some reason, the nature of which cannot now be ascertained, two young men had killed two of the Company’s servants… One of them had already paid the penalty of his crime by being secretly slain by the Company’s people, who had burned his remains in such a way as to suggest an accident as the cause of his death. Several years elapsed when, in the summer of 1828, his survivor, Tzœlhnolle [or Zuthnolly], hazarded a visit to the Stuart Lake Indians. These, however, he found to be absent to a man, and of the women-folk left in the camp only one is mentioned, who had but lately been delivered of a child. Mr. Connolly was likewise away, having gone down to [Fort] Alexandria to take up the outfit for the following year, so that Mr. Douglas was left temporarily in charge of the place.

On being told of the presence of Tzœlhnolle, that gentleman [James Douglas] immediately took with him a few of the fort men, armed with hoes and other garden implements, and made for the untenanted lodges of the Indians.

Douglas fired at him with his blunderbuss (a type of short musket) as Zuthnolly tried to get away.

…the [musket] ball went wide of the mark, whereupon, with hoes and the remnants of a camp-fire near by, his assistants stunned the Indian and reduced his lifeless body to the condition of a shapeless jelly. Then, by order of Douglas, they passed a stout rope around his neck and proceeded to drag him in the direction of the fort.

“The man he killed was eaten by the dogs; by the dogs he must be eaten,” declared the inexorable clerk.

James Douglas and murder at Fort St. James

James Douglas and conflict at Fort St. James

Donald Fraser and Land Speculation in the BC Gold Rush

When the Fraser River gold rush was underway so was land speculation. One of the least known figures involved in land speculation in the BC Gold Rush was Donald Fraser.

Fraser was born in Scotland and was a classmate of Alexander Grant Dallas, a future son-in-law of Governor James Douglas. Fraser came to Victoria in 1858, whereupon James Douglas appointed him to the Executive Council of Vancouver Island.

The Hudson’s Bay Company thought that if it could entice gold rush miners to come to British Columbia then it would raise the value of land. What they needed was someone to promote the ‘gold diggings’ to the masses abroad.  As a correspondent for the Times of London, Donald Fraser was the ideal candidate to spread this propaganda.

According to Fraser, miners were finding gold without much effort:

The work is not heavy; any ordinary man can do it. The time at work is generally 10 hours. Every man works much or little, according to the dictates of his own sweet will. This independency is one of the chief charms of the miner’s life. Independence and hope make up the sum of his happiness. The cost of living is $1-a-day. To wash 250 buckets of ‘dirt’ is a short day’s work. The bucket is a common wooden water pail, rather small size. Went up to two men at a place by themselves ‘clearing out’ their day’s work. They ‘guessed’ their amalgam was worth $21 to $22.

In the summer of 1858, James Douglas travelled with Donald Fraser to Fort Yale. Here, even Fraser had to admit that the living conditions were primitive. At Hill’s Bar, Fraser found “a gang of miners dining on fried bacon and potatoes cooked à  la Maître d’Hotel, eating out of the frying pan  in which the edibles were prepared, set upon the stump of a tree…”

Fraser also suggested there were stagecoaches on the as yet incomplete wagon road. Many miners were disappointed to discover that they would  have to walk 400 or 500 miles farther carrying a load on their backs.

Not only was Donald Fraser a key political figure, but in a few short years, he became one of the largest land holders on Vancouver Island.

In 1866 Fraser returned to England. In London he joined a group including Gilbert Malcolm Sproat and Alexander Grant Dallas which wielded a lot of political influence. The group opposed the union of Vancouver Island with British Columbia in 1866 and helped to secure the capital of BC at Victoria in 1868.


The Kanakas of British Columbia

When Captain Cook came to the islands of Hawaii in 1778, he named them the Sandwich Islands, after his patron the Earl of Sandwich. Since that time, ships from Britain and France arrived at this new mid-ocean way station. Hawaiians, known as ‘Owyhees’, were recruited to work on the ships. They called themselves Kanakas, the Hawaiian word for ‘people’.

1851. Kanaka Village at Fort Vancouver, Washington.

1851. Kanaka Village at Fort Vancouver, Washington.

By the 1820s, the practice of recruiting Kanakas for work on the Northwest coast was firmly established. When the North West Company merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, the merger meant that Kanakas were brought up north from Oregon Territory. As a result of a head tax on Sandwich Islanders that came into effect in 1845, there were few who wanted to stay behind. Many returned to Hawaii.

The Hudson’s Bay Company offered Kanakas three year contracts that included room and board and a wage of ten pounds a year. They worked at the Belle Vue Farm on San Juan Island where they looked after sheep under the direction of the foreman Charles Griffin and maintained a presence for the British. The Kanakas had a reputation as one that was willing to “fight the local Natives” and for this reason they were employed as guards. When a Washington Territory sheriff named Barnes was sent to San Juan with a group of assistants to seize some of HBC’s sheep for non-payment of taxes, “there was a whoop from the hill and Griffin, together with some twenty Kanakas brandishing knives were seen charging down toward them.” They retreated however, after Barnes and the others fired their revolvers.

In 1851, James Douglas, then the chief factor of Fort Victoria, set up a militia group comprised of “eleven Kanakas and two negroes” known as the Victoria Voltigeurs. It existed for 7 years as a rifle corps to guard the fort. Douglas relied on them frequently to apprehend Natives who threatened the HBC. He wrote of a case where the Voltigeurs chased a Cowichan Native into the woods, captured him and another and brought them back on board the Steamship Beaver. The two men were later hanged for the crimes.

During the mid-1850s the Voltigeurs were often used on more routine patrol duties on horseback “to visit the isolated settlements for their protection.” In 1856, eighteen Voltigeurs were sent a s part of a large expedition to Cowichan after the attempted murder of a white man by a Cowichan Native.

The Voltigeurs continued as a force until the gold rush began in 1858. The following year, the HBC’s monopoly on trade officially ended and many of the Kanakas left Victoria to join the gold rush in the Fraser Canyon. Kanaka Bar was one place where they left their mark. Many of them lived in Victoria on what was known as ‘Kanaka Row’ – a line of shacks at the head of Victoria harbour where the Empress Hotel is located.

There was a strong connection between Victoria and Hawaii (still referred to as the Sandwich Islands) in the early years of the gold rush. The Kanakas held onto their Hawaiian culture and customs. In 1862, it was noted that “A steady and increasing trade is carried on with S. Francisco, the Sandwich Islands, Oregon, Washington Territory and the coast of British Columbia.”

Russell Island near Salt Spring Island (visible from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal) was once owned by a Kanaka pioneer. Parks Canada operates a visitor centre on Russell Island in conjunction with the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.  Descendants share their family stories about life on Russell Island with visitors.

The Flag at Murderer’s Bar

In 1858, W. Wymond Walkem and a group of his fellow Cornish goldseekers panned for gold at Murderer’s Bar, about six kilometres below Fort Hope on the Fraser River.

“…to show that we were British we started to make a Union Jack. For the white we used some flour sacks, for the blue we cut up some blue drilling overalls, and for the red we used some red undershirts. After completing the flag we cut out two letters to represent G.B. (Great Britain) and placed them in the center of the flag.

The flag at Murderer's Bar

The flag at Murderer’s Bar

You must understand that these Americans on account of being so close to the international boundary line, imagined that all land they saw belonged to Uncle Sam, and we were determined that if possible they should learn the opposite.

Well, I got a nice pole and fastened our flag to it and then climbed the highest tree at the back of our shack, and trimmed the top of the tree of all limbs and bark for a considerable distance. Then I fastened the pole with the flag attached to it to the top of the tree, where it flew as a landmark to show that our country was British and that Britons were there to defend it.”

It was around this time that there were disturbances at Yale and Governor Douglas passed by on the British gunboat, Satellite.

A few days later, Douglas returned and on his way back stopped at Murderers’ Bar where he made a speech.

“Gentlemen, when I was passing up the river the other day, I noticed your flag with the letters G.B. on it, which I supposed you meant Great Britain. I knew at once that Britons placed that flag there, and I was very pleased to see it…When I return to Victoria I will send back to you a proper flag.”

As a token of appreciation, the miners washed a few pans of dirt and then presented the Governor with ‘quite a little’ gold, which was then wrapped in a piece of cotton and presented to him and “he was highly pleased with it.” As he went away the Cornish miners gave him three hearty cheers.

In a few days, one of Douglas’ personal staff returned with an 18-foot Union Jack. Walkem went down to the river and found a log 80 feet in length. After barking the tree and obtaining a set of halliards and a pulley (probably provided by Douglas as well).

“We set up our pole and hoisted the magnificent flag presented by the Governor. That flag was hoisted every morning at 8 o’clock and lowered at sunset in true military style.”

Shortly afterward, Governor Douglas decreed that Murderer’s Bar would be re-named on official maps as Cornish Bar in homage to the Cornish miners who raised their handmade British flag.

Why was the Cariboo Wagon Road built?

Why was the Cariboo Wagon Road built?

Before the Cariboo Wagon Road was built, the Fraser River gold rush was regarded as diggings for the well-to-do only; as the cost for pack-horses to bring supplies was at least 40cents per pound for food. Freight and mining supplies were even more costly.

Governor Douglas was proud of the Port Douglas to Lillooet trail, however many were critical that this road had cost the Colony a lot of money without providing a huge benefit to gold seekers wishing to make their way north.

What was really needed was a “good wagon road to Fort Yale…which could be kept open at all seasons could be made a moderate expense.”

The expense of building a wagon road was one that must have weighed heavily on the mind of Governor Douglas.

Shortly after James Douglas was named Governor of British Columbia (including the mainland) in 1860, he was granted powers to “raise further revenue for the purpose of opening and improving the communication and roads from Port Douglas and Yale with and to the mining regions beyond.”

“I do hereby declare…that from and after the 1st day of March 1860, every pack-horse, mule, or other quadruped, leaving Port Douglas or Yale for the purpose of carrying a load or burden towards the mining regions beyond…shall be charged with a toll of one pound sterling for each journey…”

“Any person wilfully evading or attempting to evade the toll aforesaid shall be fined treble the amount of the toll or any sum not exceeding £100 at the discretion of the Magistrate.”

The sale of Hudson Bay Company Fort Victoria

early map of Victoria Harbour and Fort Victoria

early map of Victoria Harbour and Hudson Bay Company Fort Victoria (site of Empress Hotel for reference)

On June 4, 1861, the site of the Hudson’s Bay Fort Victoria and adjoining lots were scheduled to be sold by auction.

At the eleventh hour, the citizens of Victoria rallied when they discovered that the Hudson Bay Company was planning to sell over 3,000 acres of land including the fort site, property at Beacon Hill, and much of the town site.

Just days before the auction was to take place, a court injunction was filed.

“The sale of the property of the Hudson Bay Company Fort Site and adjoining lots is postponed! until further notice” read an announcement from the auctioneer.

A few weeks later, on June 19, 1861, Judge Cameron (brother-in-law of Governor James Douglas) decided that the injunction to prevent the HBC from selling the land was not valid and should not have been granted. His reason was the land was in litigation before the Privy Council and the court should not interfere.

“So far as the sale of the waterfront is concerned, the injunction is refused till interrogatories are answered by the Company as to the parties to whom they sold the lots.”

As the land was assessed at $500,000, citizens requested the elected officials hand over the funds of any such sale to the Colony:

“Their constituents may struggle along under the heavy taxes laid upon them; and every year to come many find their taxes increased to a point barely endurable…enough funds could be had from the settlement of the Hudson Bay Company affairs to exempt the colony from taxes for the next five years.”

As the debate wore on, more fingers were pointed at the elected officials and the influence of the Hudson Bay Company over the town’s affairs. The Company was accused of previously selling a public square and pocketing the profit.

At the close of 1861, the issue showed no signs of abating. If anything, the citizens were becoming increasingly riled up by newspaper accounts of election fraud and the ‘plundering of the Treasury’.

The Whatcom Trail

approximate route of Whatcom Trail

approximate route of Whatcom Trail

Before the gold rush began on the Fraser River, there was a trail used by the Coast Salish which went from Bellingham Bay, beside the Nooksack River to Chilliwack Lake and then eventually met the Fraser River. This trail was used by the Nooksack tribe and they gave place names to settlements and crossings along the trail. Nekiyéy, a settlement at Ten Mile Creek, was such a place.In 1827 the Hudson’s Bay Company built a trading fort at Langley on the Fraser River, opening up new opportunities for trade in the Coast Salish communities. The Nooksack would have followed the trail and were among the tribes that traded beaver pelts and other items there.

The Nooksack route appeared like a good, practical route for gold miners to follow during the early stages of the Fraser River gold rush. Thousands of miners came to Bellingham Bay looking for a short path to the gold bars on the Fraser River.

A group of merchants from the village of Whatcom hired U.S. Army Captain W. Delacy to construct a pack trail of six feet in width. Delacy was familiar with the area as he had spent a few years in the area surveying inland routes in response to the Pig War crisis.

Whatcom Trail

Whatcom Trail

Underfunded and undermanned, Delacy laboriously blazed a trail from the original Whatcom-Fraser River trail past Chilliwack lake and then northeast up the Skagit river watershed north of the boundary to a point where the original Brigade Trail met the Tulameen river. For weeks, The Northern Light newspaper published accounts of Delacy’s exploits building the “Whatcom-Hope Trail” as it was called.

In spite of the law passed by Governor James Douglas that required all gold seekers to purchase a license granted only at Victoria, thousands of gold miners used the Whatcom Trail.

Colony of British Columbia Proclaimed November 19, 1858

Governor James Douglas

Governor James Douglas (creative commons image)

One hundred and fifty four years ago today, the colony of British Columbia was officially proclaimed at Fort Langley.

On July 1, 1858, Britain’s Colonial Secretary Edward B. Lytton introduced a bill in British Parliament to create a crown colony of the Hudson’s Bay Company territories west of the Rockies, referred to as New Caledonia.

One of the chief purposes of the bill was to force the Hudson’s Bay Company to relinquish its control over New Caledonia.

“The Hudson’s Bay Company have hitherto had an exclusive right to trade with the [First Nations] in the Fraser River territory but they have had no other right whatever. They have had no right to exclude strangers, no right of government, or of occupation of the soil.”

The land was re-named ‘British Columbia’ by Queen Victoria and she gave her royal assent on August 2, 1858.

On November 19, 1858, the Governor of Vancouver Island, James Douglas, was sworn in as the Governor of the colony of British Columbia by Judge Begbie at Fort Langley.

Here is a report of the event from the Victoria Gazette on November 25, 1858:

On Friday morning, the 19th instant, His Excellency [James Douglas], accompanied by the Captain Grant disembarked on the wet loamy bank of the Fort and the procession proceeded up the steep bank which leads to the palisade.  Arrived there, a salute of 18 guns commenced pealing from the [steamship] “Beaver” awakening all the echoes of the opposite mountains.  In another moment the flag of Britain was floating, or to speak the truth, dripped over the principal entrance.  Owing to the unpropitious state of the weather, the meeting which was intended to have been held in the open air was convened in the large room at the principal building.  About 100 persons were present.

“The ceremonies were commenced by His Excellency  addressing Mr. Begbie and delivering to him Her Majesty’s Commission as Judge in the Colony of British Columbia.  Mr. Begbie then took the oath of Allegiance and the usual oaths on taking office and then addressing His Excellency took up her Majesty’s Commission appointing him the Governor and proceeding to read it at length.  Mr. Begbie then administered to Governor Douglas the usual oaths of office, viz.: Allegiance, Abjuration, etc.  His Excellency being then duly appointed and sworn in, proceeded to issue the Proclamation of the same day, 19th instant, vis.: one (40) proclaiming the act; a second, indemnifying all the officers of the Government from any irregularities which may have been committed in the interval before this proclamation of the act; and a third, proclaiming English Law to be the Law of the Colony.  The reading of these was preceded by His Excellency’s Proclamation of the 3rd instant setting forth the Revocation of Her Majesty of all the exclusive privileges of the Hudson Bay Company.”

Edgar Dewdney’s Competing Agenda Part 2

Edgar Dewdney official portrait as Lieutenant Governor (Govt of BC)

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.

Edgar Dewdney’s Competing Agenda

“How did you come to know Mr. Lytton?”

“My father is a close friend of Charles Kerneys-Tynte, who as you know is a respected Member of Parliament. Subsequently, he introduced me to the Colonial Secretary E.B. Lytton. So here I am,” Dewdney gave a half smile.

“We are a new colony and there is much to do in the way of town planning which the Royal Engineers are busying themselves with,” Douglas scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps you could be the Colonial contribution to the planning of our newest settlement at New Westminster.  It would be good to have someone who could report to me what those Royal Engineers are up to.”

Pleased with himself, Dewdney went back to his hotel and with the help of one of Douglas’ staff, he procured an outfit similar to the one worn by the Sappers consisting of serge trousers and a serge shirt with pockets.

The next day, Douglas brought him to the wharf where Colonel Moody was about to board the steamship for the Fraser River.   Moody barely looked at Douglas while he introduced Dewdney.  On the ship, Moody told Dewdney to meet him after supper.

“I understand that Mr. Douglas wants you to help with the town’s layout,” Moody said without preamble. “This is all very good you understand, but seeing as you’re a civilian, you will be paid as such. Furthermore, you will report to me as your commander, not Mr. Douglas.”

“What salary will that be?”

Moody’s eyes flickered for an instant. “It depends on many factors, our budget for one.  I will let you know soon enough.”

He didn’t see Moody for the next three days so Dewdney took it upon himself to start surveying.  He didn’t have any equipment with him other than his sextant so he borrowed a telescope from one of the Royal Engineers.

He was hammering a wooden post into the ground when one of the engineers came around with Moody.

“I see you’re keeping yourself busy,” Moody said.

Dewdney stood up. “This would make a great road, don’t you agree?”

Moody looked around. “It’s too close to the Fraser River at this point. The river is known to rise precipitously with the summer freshets.  If you care to look at this draft, I believe this would make an excellent seaside park.”

Dewdney looked the two soldiers up and down.

“I believe the Governor’s instructions were to plan roads and that is what I intend to do. Look at this mess!” He gestured with his arm at the jagged stumps and fallen trees lying as far as the eye could see.    The first opportunity he had, he wrote a note to Governor Douglas, requesting to have better accommodation.

Within a couple of days, he received an encouraging reply asking for more information.  Over the course of the next few weeks,   Dewdney proceeded with his own plans and submitted them to the governor’s office for approval.

Several letters were exchanged back and forth and he noticed that Moody and his men left him to do his own planning without any further interference.  One morning, in the middle of June when the sun was shining after several days of rain, Dewdney was summoned to the main house for a meeting with the colonel and his lieutenants.

They were all silent when Dewdney arrived and none of them offered any greeting of any sort. Moody looked like he hadn’t slept in a while.

Moody surprised him by being conciliatory and commending him for his work so far.  “The governor has been so pleased with your plans that he has officially approved them.”

Dewdney smiled, “I’m very pleased to hear that sir.”

“I’m also offering you a proposition.  As you know we are in need of hay for the horses and I understand that there is excellent hay to be had from the valley east of here. We are quite willing to increase your salary substantially.”

Dewdney nodded as he listened to the terms of this offer.  The pay was substantially more than what he was currently earning as an engineer and he couldn’t help wondering if this was just a scheme to get him out of the way.

At the end of August, Dewdney was told the contract for hay had finished and he was no longer needed.  He took the next steamer to Victoria and asked to speak with the Governor.  He was told the Governor was busy and after walking around the house several times, he spotted Douglas puffing on his pipe in the garden, with his brows firmly crossed.

Normally, he would have waited for a more opportune moment, but Dewdney hadn’t heard from the Governor and he was getting anxious.

Unlike Moody, Douglas didn’t mind small talk and he wasn’t immune to flattery so Dewdney used both.

“I’ve just come back from Rock Creek,” Douglas said after a time.  “We can’t be having all these gold seekers travelling back to the American side of the border with all that gold dust. There’s a need for a good road there from Fort Hope. Do you think you could commit to it? I’m considering putting it out to tender.”

“Yes! I would be very eager to embark on such a project, your Excellency.”

“The Royal Engineers will be doing the bulk of the work of course. I don’t have much use for them but at least England is paying for them.  Everybody keeps saying there is so much gold out there but we’re not collecting revenues like we should.”

“If I were granted the tender, could I hire my own workers?”

“There is no guarantee that you will receive it, but if you think you can afford to do so, go ahead.”

The conversation left him doubtful, and on the advice of one of Douglas’ clerks, Dewdney submitted a proposal with the lowest possible bid.

He had pictured in his mind a road 12 feet wide, bridged and graded to allow wagon travel.  He didn’t know then that it would be the worst months of his life.

Not all the money was forthcoming as he had hoped; instead he was given a much smaller portion that would hardly cover his own needs rather than the supplies for a project of this scope. At Fort Hope he met some of the Sappers he was assigned to oversee.  Several of them had been with the border commission and brought along various types of astrological equipment.

Beyond Fort Hope was a river that cut through the mountains.  Dewdney proposed they follow this river. The idea seemed straight forward enough until it was realized the plateau above the river soon became a series of ledges.

“We’ll have to blast this out,” Dewdney said.

Immediately, the response was negative.

(to be continued)