Jean Speare….A True Bowron Pioneer

Inductee, February 2, 2018

Quesnel and District Community Arts Council Gallery of Honour

Jean Speare, Quesnel B.C.

Jean Speare is a 97 year resident of Quesnel and area (Cariboo), a published and acclaimed author and poet, a noted local historian, a visual artist and a strong initiator and supporter of all things associated with Arts and Heritage in our community. It is an honour and a pleasure to announce that Jean Speare will be admitted to the Quesnel and District Community Arts Council Gallery of Honour at a special ceremony to take place at the Quesnel Art Gallery on February 2, 2018.

Jean is the great niece of one of Quesnel’s true pioneers, Abraham Barlow, who emigrated from England and arrived in Quesnel in 1871. Abe Barlow encouraged his nieces and nephews to emigrate from Lancashire England to Canada and to settle in the Quesnel area. One of these nephews was Robert (Bob) Barlow who, in 1904 settled just south of Kersley where he had purchased the Mountain View Ranch. His fiancé Jane Cook arrived from England in 1909; they were married in Kersley that same year. Their daughter Jean Emma Barlow was born in the Quesnel hospital in 1921, their son Jerry was adopted as an infant in 1927. Jean attended elementary school in Sisters Creek, high school in Quesnel, later studying in Vancouver.

In reviewing Jean’s outstanding life, it becomes readily apparent that many of her significant personal qualities, interests and abilities are very similar to those of her father. Bob was a Kersley rancher and this is the lifestyle into which Jean was born and raised. To this day Jean is very comfortable talking about the ‘ranching’ way of life, and this grounding no doubt influenced Jean’s significant interest in and involvement with life in the outdoors.

Bob Barlow is described as being gregarious and outgoing, with a “keen wit and fine sense of humour, which added to his talents as (a writer and) story teller”. Bob was deeply interested in local (Quesnel and Cariboo) history, particularly the history of the Cariboo Gold Rush.   He put the very first signage on Blessings Grave, having made the sign himself. Bob was one of the founding officers of the Cariboo Historical Society in 1951. He was a collector and donated many artefacts, including his extensive arrowhead collection, to the Quesnel Museum and Archives.

Jean’s father not only modelled all of these interests for his daughter, but he openly encouraged her to write about life in the Cariboo and Cariboo history. With her ranching/outdoors background, Jean was very comfortable doing just that.

There is a discussion in the Spring 2014 issue of BC Bookworld regarding “a recent increase in the numbers of books being written about the lives of individual First Nations women of B.C.” The article goes on to point out that this was not always the case and that it was ”Cariboo resident Jean Speare (who) broke new ground when she interviewed her Shuswap neighbour, Mary Augusta Tappage, born in Soda Creek in 1888, and produced The Days of Augusta, in 1973.” This book had its beginnings in Jean’s unfolding friendship and conversations with Augusta which she felt led to preserve. This book, which also features photography by Robert Keziere is still widely read and circulated and is written in a distinctive poetic style using Augusta’s own words. The subject matter rings very true, almost prophetic today, as many of those events that were of concern in ‘the days of Augusta’ are today seen as having had a significant influence on the course of First Nations history and the lives of First Nations people in our country.

Bowron Chain of Lakes (1983) has proven to be an invaluable historical document that is sought after by researchers.   Written by Jean and based almost entirely on her first hand personal knowledge and experiences, this deceptively thin 40 page book provides historical details about those people who were responsible for the creation of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit and the establishment of Bowron Lake Provincial Park.

At one point in our discussion, Jean shared with this writer that it is hard to separate herself from local history as her life has essentially been the local history….“I feel like I have actually lived all of the history that I have written about”. Certainly with regards to Bowron Lake and the Provincial Park, this is the case. Jean was born in 1921, in 1928 the interior of ‘the Bowron’ quadrangle was made a Provincial Wildlife Preserve, it became a Provincial Park in 1961. All of the people involved in these developments were personally known to Jean, individuals like Joe and Betty Wendle, Frank Kibbee, Tom and Elinor McCabe, the Thompson brothers (Norman and Roy) and many others. Jean herself has been an active participant in the Park’s evolution as well as being actively involved in the wilderness camping, hiking, climbing and canoeing lifestyle of the Park.

While a resident of Wells during the ‘heydays’ of the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Company, along with her first husband (the late Mac Grady) and friends, Jean would canoe and camp, fish and hike and explore all throughout this area. Together with other Wells residents, Jean helped to develop an enclave of what were called ‘shake shelters’ along the shores of Grizzly (now Unna) Lake on the Bowron Chain. This area was a weekend retreat for the Wells miners and their families. Very close to Unna Lake and still inside the Provincial Park are two small lakes that appear on maps as Jean and Rete Lakes, named for both Jean and her very close friend Rete (Rita) McKelvie. Jean speaks wistfully of her experiences with her good friend and kindred spirit Rete. “Every spring we would paddle a canoe down the Cottonwood River from the Old Prince George Highway to the Fraser River then on into Quesnel.”


Jean wrote a number of educational Children’s Stories for magazines and the Gage Educational Company. One of these stories is The Princess Swan which also became a play, scripted by Heldor Shafer.


A Candle for Christmas, (1986) illustrated by Anne Blades is a lovely story about a young First Nations boy who fears his parents will not make it back to the reservation for Christmas. His love and concern for his parents, and the candle he lights, reunite them on Christmas Eve.


Jean published a book of short stories White Loon…and other stories ( July 2010), virtually all of the stories have a Cariboo connection.


Jean’s involvement as a journalist, working with various newspapers familiarized her with all aspects of Newspaper Work. Jean worked as a reporter/writer/journalist, she worked as a travel writer. Jean also became familiar with the production aspects of the newspaper business. Her writing has appeared in many of the province’s newspapers. Jean worked for the Williams Lake Tribune, she also worked and wrote for the Quesnel Advertiser, along with that newspaper’s founder, the late Fred Lindsay, an author in his own right who wrote about Cariboo history.


Jean has been an active member of the Quesnel Wordspinners, a group of Quesnel-based authors, for many years, having held virtually every executive position with the group. This group produced and published Footsteps of the Past (2008)  and Jean served as editor of this publication. This book is described as being “highly commemorative of British Columbia’s anniversary year, 2008. Contributing members have drawn from personal experiences, related stories, memoirs, and moments of historical significance to give the Cariboo its rightful place in the growth of our province. “


Jean’s active writing continues to this day.   She is working on two historical pieces right now, also at the present time Jean is in the midst of a special poetry project. Her goal is to write a poem for every member of her extended family (children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, even children of second cousins). Each poem starts with the first letter of that family member’s first name.


Jean is also in the midst of helping her son Robin with the editing of the entries in a logbook that has been housed in a miner’s cabin located on Elk Mountain just below Brough Lake near Barkerville.   The cabin was given to Jean’s late husband Mac Grady during the period of time that they lived in Wells, by the miners who were responsible for its construction. The log book entries document a significant period of time and a way of life associated with the mining history of the Cariboo.


Like her father, Jean has been personally involved with groups and projects closely associated with local Cariboo history.   Jean is a long-standing member of the Friends of the Quesnel Museum and Archives. Jean has been a very active member of the Friends of Barkerville since that group was established in 1985. Jean’s second husband, the late Bill Speare was Provincial MLA for the Cariboo and spearheaded the centennial project to have Barkerville established as Barkerville Heritage Park by the provincial government in 1958.   Jean states that she was very pleased when this took place.

Jean is also an accomplished painter. Jean states that she doesn’t consider herself to be a “real painter”, but acknowledges that she has painted with different mediums including watercolour, pastel, and pen and ink. Jean has painted some local landscapes. She has joined her daughter, Heather Keis in two shows at the Quesnel Art Gallery, and modestly adds “Heather is the real painter.“ Jean’s late husband Bill Speare was also a well known and very accomplished local artist, Jean is no stranger to the world of art and of artists.

Jeffrey Dinsdale,

January, 2018