Tag Archives: BC history

Francis Barnard and the BC Express Company

Francis J. Barnard

Francis J. Barnard of BC Express Co.

The BC Express Company was a name that was synonymous with the Cariboo gold rush. In 1865 alone, the BC Express Company hauled $4.5 million worth of gold from the Cariboo to Yale.

Who was the man who started founded this famous BC gold rush company? His name was Francis Jones Barnard. Barnard was born in Quebec City in 1829 and came to British Columbia at the height of the Fraser River gold rush in 1858.

It was a long trip out west and he spent a short time panning for gold, after which he sold his claim and worked as a constable. Later he became a purser on board the steamship “Fort Yale” and survived the explosion that sank it.

In 1861, Barnard acquired the packing business of Jeffray and Company, which also carried the official mail without charge from Victoria to Yale.

In 1862, Barnard established the BC Express Company with one mule and the government awarded him a paid contract to carry the mail from Victoria to the Cariboo. The following year, he bought a two horse wagon to carry express mail and gold from Yale to Barkerville.

By 1866 Barnard became the sole proprietor of the horse express business from Victoria to Barkerville.

The BC Express Company incorporated in 1871. This consisted of F.J. Barnard, holding one half interest, and Steve Tingley and James Hamilton each holding one quarter interest. Hamilton died in 1886 and Barnard sold his share to Tingley who thus became sole owner.

How Alfred Ludditt saved Barkerville

Alfred Ludditt

Alfred Ludditt – helped save Barkerville

The gold rush town of Barkerville is celebrating 150 years this year. The fact that it is now a tourist destination and not a forgotten place on the map, is in part thanks to the efforts of Alfred Ludditt.

Ludditt was one of the gold prospectors who lived in Barkerville during the 1930s and later from 1946 to 1964.

“There were perhaps two or three hundred people living in Barkerville that winter of 1932-33. I rented “Uncle Dan’s” cabin at the far, upper end of the street, and as I later learned, was one of the oldest buildings in town. At the end of prospecting season…we followed up  all the old prospector trails and found historic sites that were almost lost to sight and memory.”

When Ludditt returned to Barkerville after the war in 1945, he began a quest to convince the government to save the town from falling into ruin. Government officials were slow to act. Dismayed at seeing people tearing down buildings for firewood or looting the remaining ones, Ludditt decided something had to be done.

“In 1952 I began formulating a plan to halt effectually the destruction of the few remaining buildings and to build Barkerville into a tourist attraction. I formed the Barkerville Historic and Development Company…”

Ludditt’s persistence paid off. He gathered the remaining objects and opened his own museum in Barkerville. He wrote brochures and others joined in the cause. In 1958, he went to Victoria to ask about preserving Barkerville for the hundreds of tourists they were expecting to come during the Centennial year. At first he was turned down, then months later, in June 1958, Ludditt was asked to take temporary charge of the restoration of Barkerville.

“At last the restoration of Barkerville had truly begun!”

Gold Mountain Quest

There is a fun educational game called Gold Mountain Quest which allows players to explore the fictional town of Gold Mountain at the turn of the 19th century. This is a interesting way to learn about historical artefacts and learn about the lives of early Chinese settlers. Check out the trailer below. You can play Gold Mountain Quest online or  download the free game from the Chinese Canadian Stories website (click on the fellow wearing the blue vest).

Justice Arrives in Lillooet (part 1)

Chartres Brew – Chief Inspector of Police

January 27, 1860 – Fort Yale, BC

The Chief Inspector of Police, Chartres Brew, had just finished writing a letter to Governor Douglas about the need for at least one hundred and fifty men for British Columbia’s new police force, when there was a knock on the door. The first murder of the year had already happened.

Brew opened the door and Constable Frances Barnard removed his hat as he stepped inside.

“There’s been a murder at Lillooet, sir,” Barnard said.

Brew listened to the story of events while Barnard kept standing. There was only one chair in the cabin and Brew was sitting on it.

Marcel LaPrairie’s body was discovered by Ah Ming, a Chinese gold miner, a few miles up the Fraser River from the town of Cayoosh.

“Who was Marcel LaPrairie?”

“A voyageur. He used to be at Fort Athabasca but he left about six months ago. The Hudson Bay Company had a record of him I’m sure.”

Brew stroked his chin. “That may not be necessary. What is your background, Barnard?”

Frances J Barnard

“I recently came from Quebec.”

“But you’re an anglophone, aren’t you? Your middle name is Jones.”

“By birth, I am. But I also have learned French and Chinook.”

“Did you come to Fort Yale to become a constable or a gold miner?” Brew smiled.

Barnard looked at Brew squarely in the eyes. His own were puffy from a cold and lack of sleep.

“I came to Fort Yale with every intention of earning money for my family who I brought with me. I only had $5 after travelling here, not enough to pay for a mining licence right away.”

“Did you pay?”

“Of course, I paid. I paid all my creditors and as I promised my family, I would leave Fort Yale once I made a profit. Perhaps you want to know why I wanted to join your Constabulary? Well, I can tell you that I want to live in a peaceful community like everyone else and contribute in any way I can, including finding out who killed this voyageur.”

There was a silence between them for a minute and then Brew spoke.

“It has been my bias that most men who have the express interest of seeking gold are not likely to stay for long. However, on the other hand, your experience in these matters is essential in solving crimes such as these and for that we are grateful.”

“I am assigning Constable Cecil Owens to this case. He is formerly of the Royal Irish Constabulary and he has a lot of experience in these matters.”

Barnard put his hat on and made for the door. “I’ll see him at Lillooet, then.”

Brew stood up. “Perhaps it would be best for him to ride with you. He’s only been here for less than three weeks. It wouldn’t be fair to him to ride in this country on his own. There is an extra room I can find for you while he can get a horse ready.”

The ‘extra room’ it turned out was a bunk that was used by the gaoler.

Cecil Owens, it turned out, was a matter of fact man whose first question was to ask Barnard if he was armed.

“I have a knife, but I’ve never owned a gun, nor have I fired one.”

Owens brought out two pistols and gave one to Barnard. “I’ll show you how to fire it and then we’ll be on our way.”

It took them two days to ride from Fort Yale to Lillooet and Owens asked Barnard many questions along the way, most of which he didn’t mind answering except about his mining claim.

The first night in the bush, Owens seemed quite agitated as he went over the guns once again with Barnard. At first Barnard just assumed he must be cold, but then he realized Owens couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes for fear of the unknown.

“You don’t need to worry about using guns. I made it down by myself alright without any. The bears are in hibernation and everybody knows by now that you’re coming up to investigate Marcel’s murder.”

Owens was quiet for a bit, then just as Barnard was about ready to fall asleep, Owens asked, “did you know him?”

“Everyone knew Marcel from miles around.”

One evening as they were sitting around a campfire, eating some beans from a pot, the topic of mining claims came up.

“I’ve heard of some people salting their claims,” Owens remarked.

“You can always tell those ones.”

“How so?”

Barnard finished chewing before he replied. “There was a story once about a fellow they called ‘Popcorn Bill,’ and he said he had a claim along the Similkameen and how he lost his gold cache there. At first no one believed him, but he was really sincere about it and after a few mugs at the saloon, most were ready to believe anything. By the end of the evening, he had lots of offers to buy the claim. No one could ever find it of course.”

The next day, they arrived in Lillooet and Barnard showed the scene of the crime.

Lillooet, BC

(to be continued)

Building the BC Gold Rush Trail

Stuart Jones dreamt about hoisting sacks full of gold dust onto horseback even while he was cleaning out the stalls in Betwsycoed, a village in northern Wales. He imagined panning for gold on the Fraser River in British Columbia, finding lightn1ngs as large as his fist.

Occasionally, the horses would nudge his hand or his mother would call his name and for a brief moment he was stirred out of his reverie. At first she wouldn’t hear of him leaving the farm, but after hearing him talk about this new land for hours on end, she relented and Jones departed with seven other young men from his village, every one of them eager to join the gold rush in the Fraser River.

The seven stuck together because of camaraderie but also none of them spoke English except for a few words and most had never heard it spoken in conversation by people with as many accents such as when they boarded the ship at Southampton, England.

The ship was crammed full of people who talked about all the gold that had been found. Some read aloud from a newspaper that reported someone had made $830 from eight days worth of gold dust. Jones talked to everybody he encountered, practicing his English at every opportunity.

When they arrived in Fort Victoria, after months at sea. There was news that the Hudson Bay Company, which controlled the right of way on many of the trails, was offering food and horses to those who were willing to help build a trail that was promised to be a faster route to the gold diggings.

Jones and a few other Welshmen gathered around and talked about it. The Fraser River was impassable at this time of the year and they would have to wait anyway before embarking up the Fraser in canoes. Once they left Fort Victoria they would be charged a mining licence was five dollars a month. On the other hand, if they signed up to carve out a trail in the wilderness, they could pay twenty-five dollars, get the equivalent amount in supplies, plus free transport to the gold diggings. Jones and three of his friends from Betwsycoed volunteered to go.

S. S. Umatilla at Esquimalt (BC Archives)

From Victoria, they travelled by a steamboat called the Umatilla across the Strait to the mainland. The ship that they had sailed on for months was luxurious compared to the Umatilla. The boat didn’t contain any cabins or mattresses and even blankets were lacking. Some people slept on top of a table in the saloon; everything was covered in coal dust that had drifted in from the deck or off clothes and boots, although most of the prospectors didn’t seem to mind. Jones stepped around others and found a spot on the floor that wasn’t occupied.

The next day, Jones stood out on the deck and was admiring the snow-covered peaks overlooking the Fraser valley when the wind changed as the steamer puffed out plumes of black smoke from its coal-fired engine. Without warning, sparks from the smokestack fell down and one of them burnt a small hole in Jones hat.
Jones saw a map pinned to the wall and on it someone had written “Lofty Mountains” in several places.

When they disembarked the Umatilla at the mouth of Harrison Lake, there were canoes at the ready. Jones had never been in a canoe but these were as wide as some of the rowboats he had been in and many times as long. In a short time, they were paddled out in canoes to Port Douglas at the northern end of Harrison Lake. They were hemmed in by lofty peaks, each of their tops covered by thick snow. In the valley it was hot and there wasn’t a breeze to cool down.

Jones was surprised at the number of people who were there already from every kind of nationality he could think of – there were French, Germans, Danes, Chinese, Africans and Mexicans, Americans and British folks, all standing around waiting in the warm August sun.

A representative from the government gave a speech about the expectations. He identified himself as the commissary.

“You’ll be working in groups of twenty-five. Each group will select a captain who will then report to the Commander,” he said, turning to a man standing beside him who gave a curt nod.

“He in turn will report to me about weekly food rations and I will see that those needs are met.”

There were some murmurs of discontent and Jones looked around at the doubtful faces on some of them. Apparently, the word ‘rations’ was not appealing.
“What about the pack horses and mules?” One of the gold seekers yelled out from the crowd.

“We have about ten pack horses here, and more will be arriving shortly. In the meantime, if you want to be at the upper gold diggings by the fall, then I urge you to commence immediately. It should only take you six weeks at the most.”

In the beginning there was some squabbling about who would be included in the group, but the Commander was a former military man and no nonsense type who had the final say and everybody ceased to argue for a while after that. Jones was separated from his other Welsh friends at this point and for a while he was disheartened.

On the first day, Jones was assigned to a team and their Captain was Hughes. Hughes was given one unnamed packhorse which Jones called Lofty. Some teams were assigned the task of clearing the brush while others were given the duty of hauling aside the trees.

“It has to be wide enough for a cart!” one of the Captains shouted.

For many of the men, including Jones, it had been their first time in months doing hard labour and they were tired before supper. The air was close and thick with the heat and none of them bothered with blankets as they slept on the open ground.

The next morning Jones legs were stiff and sore. Others felt the same as him and some wondered if they had fallen ill, but as it turned out it was just their ‘sea legs’ that were giving them trouble.

Lofty wasn’t getting enough grub to eat despite all the hard work he was doing and Jones felt obliged to tell the Captain. Jones could see that Lofty was a riding horse not a pack horse.

One of the men in the group was a Chinese fellow named Ah Ming who agreed with him.

“Far easier to carry supplies like this,” he said as he hoisted a pole to his shoulders with buckets of supplies on either end. Ming knew many words in Chinook and Jones occasionally asked him the meaning of this word or that.

Over the course of the next few days, the teams switched places and Jones’ group was at the front, sweating with parched throats. It didn’t matter what language they were used to speaking because they only managed grunts anyway and more often than not, for some of them they could make a point with their fist much more quickly and emphatically. Captain Hughes disciplined members of the group on occasion and some of them simply headed back.

By the end of the first week, their group was down to twenty men and Lofty. The team in advance had ‘discovered’ a small hot springs and Jones felt refreshed and clean. He found a cool stream nearby and washed down Lofty while the others rested. The horse nuzzled his ear gently.

The terrain became soft and by day’s end they were covered in spatters of mud and all their attention was focussed on slapping mosquitoes.

“We’re almost at the Tenas Lake!” Hughes announced.

It was a relief to hear the news that they were making progress up the trail. Day after day, Jones had kept his eyes on the task at hand – clearing brush that the others were chopping down.

Everyone gathered at the edge of the lake. “We’re going to get canoes around and take the supplies first,” said Captain Hughes. “I want to talk to you, Jones.”

Jones waited at the shore with the horse and after Hughes had everyone organized and lined up for their turn in the canoe, he took Jones aside.

“We’re running short on food so I want you to go back to Port Douglas and get some more. How long do you think it would take?”

“Not more than a couple of days at the most,” Jones said.

Hughes patted him on the back and Jones left with nothing more than the handful of grub he had on him. At first he thought he could ride quickly, but the trail had been roughly cleared; there were still lots of branches and tree roots strewn about that made the trip half hazard.

A few hours later, it started to rain and although the trees formed a canopy overhead, water was making its way onto the newly cut trail. Evening was fast approaching and dusk was settling in when Jones saw a dark, furtive shape.

Startled, Lofty drew back and Jones had to coax him forward. In spite of his uneasiness, Jones kept up a relentless banter in Welsh, more to calm himself. Jones couldn’t help but feel that he was being watched. Straining his neck to look around, he didn’t see any movement except the bending of leaves as the rain spattered. Still, the feeling that there was something or someone following him in the shadows didn’t go away and he was beginning to wonder if he was just seeing things.

It was getting late, so Jones found a dry spot and tied up the horse and settled down for the night. Jones heard the sound of twigs snapping and when he opened his eyes he found himself looking at a large creature approaching. It was covered in fur and it stood on its legs like a human. Except it wasn’t a human. The creature stood still for a moment then turned and disappeared.

The image of the animal was still vivid in his mind when he reached Port Douglas and discovered much to his surprise that there were many men who had just arrived off the boat. He told them about about the strange creature that he had seen earlier up the trail and they told him it was probably a black bear. Jones wasn’t convinced.

“The team is running out of supplies,” Jones said. He told them Captain Hughes had sent him down to get supplies and food.

“You’re going to need at least three hundred pounds, where are you going to get that around here?”

Jones walked around the camp until he found the Commander, sitting at a row of hewn logs that doubled as a table, having something to drink. After Jones explained the situation, the Commander furrowed his brows as if he had trouble understanding him.

“There is a strict protocol that must be adhered to, I can’t just hand out supplies on any person’s request, it must come from the Captain himself.”

“But sir, the men are working on the trail and are going hungry! They’re working on the trail to Cayoosh!”

“No exceptions!”

Jones got up and was walking away when a dour-faced man approached him. He worked for the Hudson Bay Company, he said.

“I overheard you saw a creature earlier, would you mind telling me about it?”

Jones was about to launch into his story, when he stopped himself. “Do you think you could help me get some supplies for the team up there? They’re going hungry.”

“You’ll get your money’s worth of supplies once the trail has been built, isn’t that what they told you?”

Jones nodded, “but what about the food and the mules they promised?”

“Hah! Always slow in coming, but it will come. I can remember many stories of wanting for food, myself and going to sleep wondering if the Chief hadn’t forgotten about his charges. But there’s always ways of getting the word out. Now, tell me about this creature?”

Jones relented and described in detail what he saw and was surprised at his reaction.

“You saw a sasquatch!” He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Very few people have ever seen one. They are such mysterious creatures, there are some who even question their very existence! I was with Alexander Caulfield Anderson when he saw one not far from Fort Hope. Truly remarkable.”


Sasquatch – near Seton-Portage on old Port Douglas to Lillooet Trail

Early the next morning before dawn broke, the HBC man woke him. The man put a finger to his lips and Jones put his boots on and strode out after him.

“I’ve got your horse loaded down with goods and a pack for yourself.”

Jones hoisted the pack to his back, it must’ve weighed at least a hundred pounds, but the weight was a comfort.

“Thank you sir!”

They shook hands once more and Jones headed out on the trail with Lofty.  In the pre-dawn light, he imagined the sacks were full of gold dust.


“Arrival at Yale by S.S. Umatilla July 21, 1858”  by E.J. Hughes

Note: This painting by E.J. Hughes (1913 – 2007) was commissioned by the B.C. Telephone Company to commemorate the Province’s centennial in 1958 and it appeared on the telephone directories that year. The S.S. Umatilla was one of the first sternwheelers to ply the waters of what became British Columbia and the first on the Fraser River. When she arrived in Yale on July 21st there was much excitement:

“There was a rumour gaining circulation that a little sternwheeler was on her way up the river. Everybody was soon on the lookout and canoes were sent beyond the bend in the river to ascertain the truth of the report. Soon we learned by the shoutings along the banks of the river and the continuous discharge of guns and pistols, that the report was true; whereupon, there was the greatest rejoicing and pleasure manifested by everyone, and powder was burnt amidst the wildest excitement.”

Surviving Pine River

Pine River

May 15,1860

“Goodbye,” Chloe whispered to her husband, Edward. His eyes were barely open and there was a sickly pallor about him. She could smell the illness that had spread from his wounded hand. Chloe knew she had to get help soon, or Edward wouldn’t live.

She was weak with hunger. It had been so long since they had enjoyed a meal; she had tried to get food but it had been a difficult winter. First there were the storms. It had been a brutally cold winter and Edward’s musket had become irreparably damaged. At the time he had been still optimistic that they had enough provisions to see them through until Spring, but then a tree fell on their canoe, breaking it in half. Edward set about trying to repair it but to no avail. She wanted to help him build a raft, but he insisted that he do it alone. “It’s important to rest,” he told her. Weak and tired, Edward was chopping a branch from a tree to use for the raft, when the axe slipped and nearly severed his hand. Chloe did her best to help him, but his suffering continued.

Chloe took the baby in her arms and held her small, frail body against her own.

Seven and a half weeks ago, her baby had been born, fat and healthy in their cabin. Edward had celebrated the event by writing a note in his diary. “March 31, 1872. “Born this day a girl with vocal cords in fine working order.” Every day, as Chloe counted and portioned out the dwindling supplies.

When they were still building the cabin, Edward would get out his diary and read aloud  what had happened a year ago on a certain date. It was almost a year since they first met in her traditional territory. The sight of white men passing through was becoming a familiar one so she wasn’t surprised when she first caught sight of Edward in a canoe. She remembered how he smiled at her and waved with his paddle. At that moment, his canoe had become stuck on the shallow bottom and he wobbled the canoe from side to side. Her brother Jean offered him a long pole with which to propel his canoe forward and the Englishman was effusive in his gratitude. He came ashore and they struck up a conversation.

His name was Edward Armson and he was from England, bound for the “gold diggings” in British Columbia.

“My wife died last year,” he lamented. “All my family is deceased except my sister.”

Chloe felt sorry for him. Jean asked him how he planned to make a living. “You can only pan for gold when the water is low. At certain times of the year, you have to do other things like trapping. Do you trap?”

“I’m good at hunting, but I’ve never trapped before. I’ve heard the gold diggings are quite prosperous, aren’t they?”

Edward stayed around for several days and after which it became clear that Chloe wanted to be with him.

“Why don’t you come too, Jean? We can see the country together.”

Jean agreed and the three of them set out in a canoe, with Edward in the front, Chloe in the middle and Jean at the back to steer.

Over time, it became apparent that Edward wasn’t an outdoor person like Jean or Chloe. He was a good student though and he was eager to learn.

By the time they reached the Peace River in the early spring, Jean decided that he wanted to explore the country on his own. Edward and his sister would be fine, he thought.

“Meet me here next Spring when the last of the snow has melted,” he had said. Edward wanted to set a specific date, but Chloe knew what her brother meant.

The river was free of ice and the snow had finally melted. This day had finally come.
As she held the baby her trembling arms, she saw the last of the snow had finally gone. The snow that had hidden food from their sight and kept them cold had melted to reveal wet, muddy earth. She imagined her brother was out there somewhere.

She stood still for a moment then walked forward, one step at a time. She had to keep going, she told herself. She couldn’t look back at the cabin. The sun was a faint shadow through the leafless limbs of the trees, but it was a cloudless sky and it lifted her spirits.

The raft was still there, tied to a tree. For a few moments, she rested and checked the baby’s blankets, making sure no cold air could possibly chill her. The baby’s eyes were closed. She had become silent and gaunt like the rest of them. Chloe kissed her tiny fingers, hoping her warm breath would feed her. Then she climbed onto the raft, holding the baby closely.

Chloe stood up and pushed the raft forward with a long pole. It took all her strength.  The raft was swaying beneath her feet. Watching her baby closely, she pushed the raft forward again. A tremor suddenly went through her body as she lost her balance, falling backward into the water.

Her clothing was so heavy it weighed her down. Using all her strength she tried to pull herself from under the water. Finally breaking through to the surface, only to see the raft caught in a current and quickly disappear down the river and around a bend. The last sight of her helpless child made her try to swim faster, but the raft had vanished from sight.
Jean was thinking about his sister Chloe and brother—in-law Edward as he paddled up the Peace River in his dugout canoe. The last of the snow had melted, it would only be a matter of time before he saw them both. He wondered if their trapline was productive. It had been a cold winter and the pelts would have been thick. Every so often he would glance down the river, half expecting their canoe to come in sight but there was only a group of buffleheads in the distance.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something unusual. Standing up, he could see a raft that was being pushed along haphazardly by the current. There was something on it too. Strange, he thought.

Jean got into his canoe and a minute later he had paddled to the raft and had pulled himself alongside where he was at eye level with a small bundle. Curious, Jean stretched over the raft with one foot in his canoe and reached for the tightly wrapped blankets and lifted it towards himself. He held his breath as lifted a cloth that covered the face of a baby.

Forgetting about the raft, Jean paddled with determined strokes towards his camp and carried the baby to where the campfire was still burning. He poured water into a pot and while it boiled, he quickly prepared a mallard duck he had just shot that morning and plopped it in the water watching the fat and grease bubble. When it was cool enough, he took a spoonful of liquid and let it sit on the baby’s lips. To his amazement, the baby’s lips moved and the duck broth disappeared. He gave her spoonful after spoonful and she swallowed each one.

The baby was still too weak to cry. What could he do? Gathering the baby close to him, he got in the canoe and paddled to where he had remembered seeing an Indian encampment.

They were still there and he called out a greeting in Chinook as he approached. Suspicious at first, they relented when he showed him the small baby. At first they thought it was sick but after delicately unwrapping the child, they talked amongst themselves and decided the baby was just hungry.  One of the women in the group gathered the small dark-haired baby in her arms and started nursing the infant.

The Indian women were full of questions, but Jean could only give them limited information about discovering the baby hours earlier on a raft. He thanked them and left.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Jean waited around for Edward and Chloe but there was no sign of them. Worried, he decided to venture down the Pine River and see if he could find them.  Where the Pine River merged into the Peace, there stood a fur-trading post put there in the last century, or so he had been told.

The birch trees were just starting to show some signs of new foliage he noticed as he paddled downriver. He kept a close eye on the shoreline, looking for a gravel beach or some sort of landing. He didn’t think that they were too far from the mouth, but he kept paddling onward.

Up ahead was a cluster of branches that must have been carried along with the current. As he approached, he saw a piece of red cloth snagged on a branch.

Jean brought his canoe closer and took the cloth. Just as he was about to get back into his canoe, he noticed some sticks near the shore that had become piled up and saw a piece of black leather. It was beyond his reach.

Bringing his canoe ashore, out of the corner of his eye he noticed faint deer tracks still visible in the soft sand. Glancing back on the spot he had noticed before, Jean found the piece of black leather. Reaching his hand into the ice cold water, Jean lifted a leather boot.

It belonged to his sister.
After he buried his sister, Jean sat on the beach and thought about her sad fate. What had happened? He should have come around in the winter, even if it meant making his way along the ice. She was all the family he had left and now she was gone. Where was Edward? How could he have let this happen?

He lit a fire and ate some of the food he’d brought with him. Then he slept under his canoe.
Around midnight, he heard some wolves howling on the opposite side of the river, their voices echoing off the high rocks.

The next morning, he awoke before dawn and got back into his canoe. He knew what he was looking for and he paddled steadily until the shore flattened out again.

There was a stand of birch trees along the shore and luckily their foliage was still small enough that it was easy to see beyond them. As he scanned the area, his eyes caught a large dark shape.

A huge pine had blown down, crushing the roof of the log cabin and obliterated the door.
Jean removed enough branches so that he could gain access to the interior. The door came away in his hands and he stepped inside.

Against the back wall was a make shift bed on which lay Edward. What had happened to Edward? Part of his hand was missing. A baby’s rattle was on the floor next to a square package wrapped in birch bark. He picked them up. There wasn’t anything else to retrieve. He blocked the front door as he had found it and left.
Jean went down to the river and washed himself. He untied the string from the birch bark and saw a leather-bound book. It was Edward’s diary. The script was so cursive it was hard to read at first, but the entries were short and to the point.

He read about their daily struggles, trying to find enough food. For several weeks, Edward had constrained himself to one meal a day in order that Chloe would eat enough. They named the baby Lily. She was a healthy child, he wrote. He noticed how the writing style changed from thick strokes to barely discernible lines. In the last page, Edward wrote:

“I am dying, effects of accident. Write Barstow and Blake, Solicitors, London, England. Wife and baby weak from starvation. Will try to meet Jean.”

Jean felt a lump in his throat as he paddled up river. Five days later, Jean found the Indian encampment and inquired about Lily. She was putting on weight, they said. He handed one of the elders the diary of her late father. They promised to give it to Lily when she was old enough.

He was going to return next year, he told them. Jean was going to paddle east to Saskatchewan. From there, he would find one of the Hudson Bay forts and give them a message to forward to Barstow and Blake, Solicitors in England.

Hill’s Bar Mob (part 2)

It was the beginning of December and the miners were getting restless. The temperatures were dipping below freezing and the sluice boxes were full of ice.

Bernard Rice entered Foster’s saloon and demanded a drink. Foster asked for money up front. Rice had too many unpaid drinks and wasn’t welcome.

Rice pulled out a gun and waved it around. Foster pulled out a gun from behind the counter and shot Rice dead.

Nobody was really concerned at first. Anywhere else, Foster could have claimed self-defence, but not here.

The next day, Whannell was back in Dixon’s barber chair gloating over his new decision.

“I’m closing all the saloons that haven’t been properly registered.”

Dixon paused with his scissors hovering above Whannell’s head. “You closed all of them?!”

“I have to show who is in charge in this town, Dixon. The Foster saloon was unlicensed as are the other twelve. Hicks has spent too long at the helm, profiting from all these illegal saloons. This is an opportunity which fell into my lap and I intend to take advantage of it.”

Dixon started cutting Whannell’s hair. He’d already heard about Foster’s escape to Hill’s Bar but he asked Whannell about it anyway.

“Foster wasn’t there when I went to make my arrest but to guarantee that he doesn’t stray too far I arrested his assistant.”

Dixon furrowed his brow, “what does Foster need him for? He probably left the bar with his money to Hill’s Bar. He’s a Law and Order man.”

Whannell clenched his hands into fists, “McGowan again! I’m going to see to it that both he and Foster are arrested!”

There was no use in telling Whannell that by closing all the saloons, there would be more trouble in a town where people were agitated and restless.

Even when Dixon went out to get some food for himself at the diner, he saw the glum faced people shuffling along, looking miserable.

The saloons were still closed on December 24, 1858 when the Christmas dance was held. Dixon went there wearing his best suit and a clean pair of boots.  He arrived with some Nlaka’pamuth women he had met.

Dixon was having a good time, dancing with the ladies when he heard shouts in his direction. It seemed two ruffians were getting jealous and were determined that Dixon was not going to be a happy man.

Dixon told them to go elsewhere, “you’re in British Columbia and I’ve plead allegiance to Queen Victoria.”

The two men took that as a taunt and a scuffle ensued with Dixon being tossed outside and onto the frozen mud of the street. Dixon’s head hurt but he got to his feet and yelled at the closed door. He was angry and upset. How could those two jerks bully him like that?

The next morning he dropped by Whannell’s hut and found him standing by the fire.

Dixon took off his hat and pointed at his wrapped head.

“Sir, I want to file a complaint against two of McGowan’s ruffians.”

Whannell stepped forward, a look of concern on his face. “Who are they? I’ll have them arrested at once, especially if they’re friends of McGowan’s.”

“Farrell and Burns are their names. You’ll find them at Hill’s Bar.”

“Leave it with me Dixon. In the meantime, do you need the services of Dr. Fife?”

“No thank you, sir. I’ve got years of practice helping injured soldiers and the like.”

After Dixon left, Whannell sent for Constable Hickson.

“Hickson, go to Hill’s Bar and give this warrant to George Perrier. I’m ordering the arrest of Burns and Farrell for the assault of Isaac Dixon.”

Two hours later, Hickson presented the warrant to George Perrier who went in search of Ned McGowan.

“McGowan, what should I do?”

McGowan was sitting at the saloon playing cards. “I’ll go talk to Whannell.”

An hour later, McGowan knocked on Whannell’s door and entered. The furnishings were minimal he noted. There was only one small table and upon this McGowan dropped a small bag of gold dust.

“I’ve come to talk to you about Burns and Farrell,” McGowan began.

“And who are you to be barging in here? You’re not a constable!”

McGowan stood at his full height. “A reasonable man would be interested in bargaining. What’s to be gained by arresting these two men?”

“Take your gold dust and leave,” Whannell said through clenched teeth. “I won’t be bribed.”

McGowan returned to Hill’s Bar where Perrier and a few others were waiting for him on the other side of the river.

“Well? How did it go?” Perrier asked as he helped steady the canoe while McGowan disembarked.

McGowan shook his head, “stubborn and foolish. He has underestimated his opponent. Tell Constable Hickson to bring Dixon here if he wants to testify. We’ll hold the trial here at Hill’s Bar.”

Perrier nodded, “I’ll write up a summons right away.”

Hickson returned to Yale the next day – the last of the daylight was already ebbing away and he didn’t see the rush.

At nine o’clock the next day, Hickson rode in a canoe to Yale with the summons for Dixon.

He was halfway to the barber shop when he ran into Dixon on the main street and served him the paper.  Dixon read the paper over a couple of times, hardly believing it. He hurried over to Whannell’s hut and banged on the door.

“Hello! You only have to knock once,” said Whannell from behind the door. He opened it a crack.

“Dixon? What now?”

Dixon held up the paper, “they want me to come to a trial in Hill’s Bar!”

“Come inside and we’ll talk.”

It was warmer inside but not by much and Dixon kept his coat on, with the collar almost covering his ears.

Whannell read the paper. “This is absolutely absurd! I cannot believe that Perrier would do such a thing! Where is that Constable Hickson? He failed to follow my orders!”

Whannell gathered up his sword and put on his hat. Half an hour later, Constable Hickson was spotted talking to Yates, the HBC clerk.

“Hickson! You are to come to my court at once!”

Hickson followed Whannell at a distance and arrived at the “court” – a sparse room with only a bench for Whannell to sit at and no heat.

Cold air seemed to blow in from every corner of the room and Hickson stood there hunched as he waited for Whannell to enter.

“You must remove your hat when I enter the court, Constable!” Whannell almost shouted.

Hickson did as he was told and exposed his pink ears.

“You’re under arrest Mr. Hickson because you failed to carry out your orders as directed by an officer of this Crown colony.”

“But sir, Justice Perrier instructed me to summon Dixon! Those were his orders.”

“Am I not your superior?!”

Hickson gave this some thought and then he answered. “No.”

Whannell nearly blew up. His shouts brought the attention of the jailer who came running into the court.

“Put Hickson into the jail at once!”

Hickson protested loudly as the jailer pulled him from the room.

Whannell stood and drew out his sword, slashing the air in front of him. How could people be so turned against him? It was a plot to overthrow British rule! He was sure of it. But what proof did he have? If he penned a letter to Governor James Douglas, he would just reply back that he could handle the situation himself.

What the Governor didn’t understand was that Yale was no longer a small HBC Fort – it had become a quagmire of American politics that overwhelmed the Crown colony. Its situation was a tenuous as its physical location was precarious; clinging to the side of the deep Fraser Canyon.

McGowan and nine others from Hill’s Bar disembarked from two canoes and strode along the main street. Several people along the way observed the men, each of them carrying guns and knives in plain sight. No one challenged them or asked them where they were headed.

Whannell was standing in his hut with his back to the stove, talking to a few miners who had a few complaints when the door opened with a bang and McGowan and his entourage entered.

“You’re under arrest, Mr. Whannell. I, Ned McGowan and the nine others with me, have been given the title of special constables and are here to carry out the orders of Justice Perrier.”

Whannell stared at them open-mouthed. “On what grounds do you arrest me?”

“You’ve insulted her majesty and you’ve unlawfully detained Constable Hickson, who we are now going to release.”

Whannell, knowing he was outnumbered, had no choice but to step aside while McGowan and his men stormed the jail, ordering the jailer to open the door. Alarmed at the sight of these men with their guns all aimed in his direction, the jailer complied and unlocked door behind which was a crowd of men including Constable Hickson.

“All of these men are freed!” McGowan shouted.

Whannell tried to leave the room but McGowan’s men prevented him from doing so, instead they roped his wrists together and led him outside and down the street with one of them pointing his own sword at his back.

There were shouts of encouragement from some of the passersby but there were mostly insults hurled at Whannell by miners still missing their saloons. By the time they arrived at the place where the canoes lay waiting, the captors were full of self praise.

Breathless from running, Dr. Fife shouted, “McGowan! If Mr. Whannell is to get a fair trial then I have to attend as a witness.”

McGowan relented and let the Vigilante member climb on board and take a seat beside Whannell who sat with his military hat askew. The others snickered at his appearance.
Using this opportunity to lecture to his prisoner, McGowan said words which caused Whannell’s heart to race.

Thinking that Whannell was worried about the outcome of the trial, Fife reassured Whannell that he would pay for any fine. “McGowan likes money more than anything; something that’ll buy a pint all around.”

Whannell said nothing. He was too angry to speak. He sat there grinding his jaw. That afternoon was a blur. He proceeded like a prisoner in front of Perrier who read out the charges with occasional hints from McGowan himself.

“Perrier!” Whannell shouted. “This is a complete fraud!”

“Mr. Whannell, you are in my court.” Perrier didn’t look at Whannell as he read out the charges.

Whannell’s complexion turned a deep crimson and then pale with anger as McGowan gave a ten minute lecture on Whannell’s failings. He was almost shaking with rage as Perrier read out the fine of fifty dollars.

Fife paid the fine as promised and luckily had enough money to pay some paddlers to get them both safely back to Yale.  Fife said a few words about the closure of the saloons, but Whannell scarcely heard them.

Just as soon as Whannell reached his hut, he rushed to find paper and ink and set about writing letters to the forts downriver.

In each of the letters he transcribed word for word which he remembered McGowan utter during that canoe ride to Hill’s Bar:

“all there is in this so-called Colony of yours are forts. We’ll take Fort Yale and then go downriver and capture Fort Hope and retreat with our plunder into Washington Territory.”

With those words written, Whannell appealed for military intervention. “Fort Yale is under American control, the entire Colony is in peril!” he wrote.

There wasn’t enough time or space to talk about his ordeal but he did write that “George Perrier was colluding with Ned McGowan and the Hill’s Bar mob.”

Finishing his signature with a flourish, Whannell tied string around the paper in the fading candlelight and opened the door into the cold night to find someone to deliver the messages.

In less than ten days, troops from the Royal Engineers would arrive in Yale along with Colonal Moody and Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie.  McGowan’s war had begun.

The Hill’s Bar Mob

Yale, BC

December 6, 1858 – Fort Yale, BC

Peter Brunton Whannell sat in the barber chair facing the rough hewn wall in front of him. He took off his military cap and carefully placed it on the floor, next to his sword. Some people said he was preoccupied over wearing his military uniform all the time, but he wasn’t adequately paid as Justice of the Peace of Fort Yale. Besides his tall riding boots had proved useful in the muddy streets in the fall and now that winter was fast approaching, they kept him warm.

Isaac Dixon, the barber, applied a greasy mixture to Whannell’s face.

“Those men I told you about, one of them came around yesterday, demanding a shave. He said if I drew even a drop of blood with my razor then he’d shoot me!”

“Hmm. And did you remind him that British law applies here?” asked Whannell.

“I didn’t say a word until he got out the door but I charged him double!” Dixon held up his razor as if to emphasize the point.

Dixon drew the razor along Whannell’s cheek, humming as he did so. Whannell sat still but he wasn’t relaxed.

“Have you heard anything more about Perrier?” Whannell asked.

“Nothing new, but then again that doesn’t mean that there’s anything good about no news. Judge Perrier is under the thumb of McGowan. Whenever McGowan wants something he just yanks on Perrier’s nose ring and there he comes.” Dixon laughed.

Whannell frowned. It was disturbing that his counterpart across the Fraser River in Hill’s Bar was being influenced by a former Californian politician.

“How can this Ned McGowan have so much influence? I fail to understand.”

Dixon smiled, “he’s been a politician for a long time. Some say he used to be a lawyer or a judge with high hopes until he got on the wrong side of the Vigilante Committee. They wanted him to hang for some crime or another but his friends got him out of there and up here to Fort Yale.”

Whannell turned his head and Dixon shaved the other side.

“It’s challenging enough to have these lawless miners around and now McGowan has to drag his party politics up here to our Crown colony. Do you think he’s intent on this manifest destiny?”

Dixon straightened up, “McGowan isn’t much of a miner and it wouldn’t take much for someone to round up some miners for a militia – back home I’m sure half of them already belong to one. The only lucky thing is that McGowan has enemies here and that’s why he’s had to stick to his camp across the river, although he’s been trying to make friends with the HBC factor Ovid Allard. I saw them having a friendly meeting in Foster’s saloon.”

“Hmm. Very interesting. Dr. Fifer, has also cast some doubt about McGowan’s character.”

Dixon snorted. “That’s no surprise considering Fifer is a Vigilante. If the Vigilante Committee had their way, McGowan would have hanged in California. It must irk Fifer to see McGowan walking around up here a free man. It irks me, come to think of it. Folks like me have only just seen their freedom and the politicians down there keep wanting to take it away again. That’s why I’m up here, happy to be freezing in the name of the Queen!”

Whannell took out a couple of coins and handed them to Dixon.

“If there is anything you need, consider me your friend and ally,” Whannell said as he patted Dixon on the shoulder.

“There’ll be trouble alright, you can be sure of that. You have a good day, sir.”

Whannell put on his military hat and with sword in hand, went out the door leaving a cold blast of air behind him. It was too bad Whannell insisted on wearing that outrageous uniform, thought Dixon. It didn’t give the least amount of credibility; instead he had become the butt of jokes.

As Dixon stoked the fire in the corner, he thought about what Whannell had said about McGowan dragging his party politics up to Yale.

Two weeks later, there was trouble just as Dixon had figured.

(to be continued)


To Fort George on the Cariboo Road

Imbert Orchard recorded an interview with Ivor Guest in 1964. Guest had travelled from his home in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Fort George, British Columbia in 1910. Here is an excerpt of that story from “Voices of British Columbia” by Robert Budd.

“We went to Ashcroft, bought a team of horses and a wagon, put our belongings in it and started for Fort George.  We weren’t horsemen, I wasn’t. We got along about ten, twelve miles from town. One horse begin to make a funny noise. So I didn’t know what it was, and we gave him a drink of water and the further we went, the more noise he made.

Jerkline transporting freight on the Cariboo Road near Ashcroft, BC, 1909 (credit: Voices of British Columbia)










So a fella came along, McMullin, with a jerkline outfit. Jerklines were three teams and a leader. McMullin came along and I said, “Look, what’s the matter with this horse?”

“Oh,” he said, that’s old Yeller, he’s got the heaves.”

“Well, I said, what do you do for that?”

“You can’t do anything for it. Just take it easy and he’ll do alright.”

So we went along with the heave-y horse all the way through to Fort George, but all along the way there were many of these jerkline outfits. All the freight went in with horses then. We didn’t see a car, of course, no trucks, all the time we were on the way.

They had some wonderful big roadhouses on the Cariboo Road: the Hundred Mile, Ninety-Five and Hundred and Fifty, and so on. We tented out but we did stop a time or two and the teamsters they all stopped at these roadhouses and sleep and eat there. The horses were put up and fed.

We got to Quesnel, and at Quesnel they had a ferry and a fellow was running the ferry across the river; he took us over. And we started for Fort George. The road was a very, very poor road. After we crossed the Blackwater River [West Road River], the road was just slashed out through the timber. No road at all. It was pretty hard going and no feed and no place to buy any.

It was a nice spring, nice weather, and there was a little grass, but we’d have to take the horses way down someplace where we could find grass. And we finally got into South Fort George on the Fraser River; the first day of May, 1911.

Well, we had quite a time to feed the horses. I went to get oats, and oats was twelve cents a pound, and I got fifty cents worth in a little sack and gave each of the horses a feed, all there was in that. And of course, I made up my mind right then, we had to get rid of these horses.

The next day a man named Paulette came along and he said, “I’d like to trade a canoe for this horse,” he said pointing to old Yeller.

I said, “sure!”

So he brought over a canoe. “Look, nice new canoe.”

It looked good to me. And he put the canoe up on the beach and a couple of paddles and two traps.  So I said, “the horse, you know where he is.” He got the horse.

I went uptown and met a fella, Ernie Livingstone from back in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.  I told him how I traded the horse.

He said, “you traded for canoe?”

I said, “yes, looks good, brand new and nice shape, everything.”

So we went down and looked. He looked at it, and the first thing he said, “I knew it was no good.”

“Well,” I said, “what’s wrong with it?”

“Well,” he said, “see that split in the bow and the split in the stern?” He said, “it’s gonna have two halves, that’ll just break right in two.”

“By golly,” I said, “I’ll fix that up. I’ll put tin on it.”

He said, “you can’t put enough tin on there to hold it. It’s gonna split.”

Sure enough, I put the canoe in the water. It came out and it just broke in two. That was about a week after I traded, it broke right in two, two pieces.

Paulette came back and he said, “that horse died.”

“Well,” I said, “you can have the canoe back.”

He said, “both stung!” and laughed.

(note: I named the horse and omitted a few paragraphs)