FIRST NATIONS INTO THE BOWRON
The Bowron was home to First Nations for thousands of years. First Nations stopped living in the Bowron near the end of the 19thcentury.
This article is being researched and written to document some of the details of the time that First Nations called the Bowron home. Further, it is hoped that this article might influence B.C. Parks and the Provincial government as well as British Columbia universities to collaborate with First Nations to undertake research that will uncover even more of the story of the First Nations presence in the Bowron.
What is the Bowron?—A Lake, a River, a Paradise, a Park
You don’t just travel inthe Bowron or tothe Bowron, The Bowron has a way of enfolding you once you journey to its doorstep and it is probably more correct to state that you travel into the Bowron. In this essay, reference will also be made to travelling on the Bowron as well as around the Bowron. It is a very special place.
The Bowron is a beautiful lake, 7.2 kilometres long, with spectacular mountain vistas and with a river flowing right through the length of it. The Upper Bowron River rises in the Cariboo Mountains, in remote grizzly bear habitat. Before flowing into the lake it meanders through a spectacular marsh that is teeming with nesting waterfowl and songbirds, beaver and otter and which offers excellent moose habitat. The Lower Bowron River then flows north-east out of the lake on its way to join the Fraser River near Sinclair Mills, upstream from Prince George.
No doubt First Nations had a name for this lake and place, but this has been lost to time. Following European contact, Bowron Lake was originally known as Bear Lake, possibly named by fur traders travelling on the Fraser River near present-day Quesnel. They had been told about a lake to the north and east, where First Nations lived, fur traders had a habit of giving the name ‘Bear Lake’ to at least one local lake. In 1914, the name was changed to Bowron Lake, in recognition of John Bowron, a Barkerville pioneer, Post Master, Gold Commissioner and Fire Commissioner, to name a few of his titles.
Beyond the lake, the Bowron is a wilderness paradise like no other. To the east and south lie the glacier capped Cariboo Mountains. Through the heart of this area, running in a north-south direction is the interior temperate rainforest. Also in the centre of this area is a unique grouping of lakes roughly in the shape of a skewed rectangle or quadrangle. These lakes are connected by creeks, rivers and trails. Today this is a world class wilderness canoeing destination known colloquially as the Bowron Chain or the Bowron Circuit.
European settlers began moving into this area around the turn of the 20thcentury, roughly coinciding with the disappearance of First Nations. Originally a few hunters and trappers moved into the Bowron, then several established big game hunters/outfitters with names like Kibbee, Wendle, Cochran, Thompson, deWitte Reed along with a few other hunting lodge developers. These men guided wealthy (predominately American) hunters, both by boat and on foot throughout this area where moose, bears, caribou and goats were plentiful. These outfitters established remote camps with cabins as well as rugged trail networks throughout what is now the Bowron Chain. The Bowron became well known as a big game hunter’s valhalla.
Within two decades the Bowron was a wildlife reserve. It had very quickly become quite evident that overhunting was posing a serious threat to the continued viability of wildlife in the area. Several of the established residents, including environmentalists like Thomas and Elinor McCabe, government officials like B.C. Fish Commissioner J.P. Babcock and even the big game outfitters themselves joined forces and lobbied the government to establish the area located within the Bowron’s quadrangle of lakes as a wildlife reserve where there would be no hunting or trapping. This initiative was successful and in 1928 a 62,000 hectare area, officially known as the Bowron Game Reserve, was established.
Today the Bowron is a Class A Provincial Park….Bowron Lake Provincial Park, formally established in 1961 and significantly expanded in 2000, the Park is now 139,700 hectares in size. (9)
Which First Nation Travelled Into the Bowron?
The Carrier are an Athabaskan speaking First Nation centred in the upper branches of the Fraser River between the Coast Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in what is now central British Columbia. Most commonly this First Nation was known as Carrier, at one time called Takulli, but today increasingly referred to as Dakelh. The First Nation that historically lived and travelled in the Bowron Lake area was the Dakelh. (5)
Archaeological sites excavated in the area occupied by the Dakelh date back at least 4000 years, while other archaeological evidence suggests significantly longer. (5)The Dakelh were semi-sedentary, moving seasonally between villages and hunting and fishing camps. Southern Carrier people lived during the winter in semi-subterranean pit houses and in warmer weather in temporary dwellings (hogans) made of poles, wood and branches. There was a frequent and mutually beneficial trading relationship between the interior-dwelling Dakelh and their coastal-dwelling neighbours the Nuxalk (Bella Coola). Through these relationships, the Dakelh had no doubt learned about the white traders from Russia, Spain, the United States and England who had been visiting the west coast of North America since the mid 17thcentury.
The first face-to-face contact between the Dakelh and Europeans was in 1793 when Northwest Company explorer/fur trader Alexander Mackenzie and a group of voyageurs and First Nations guides travelled (with the assistance of First Nations people met en route) through British Columbia’s central interior to the Pacific coast near present-day Bella Coola. This contact marked the beginning of the fur trade in this area.
Simon Fraser, another Northwest Company explorer/fur trader established a permanent settlement at the site of present day Fort McLeod (on McLeod Lake north of present day Prince George) in 1805. This was quickly followed by the establishment of fur trading posts in 1806 at Fort St. James on Stuart Lake, in 1807 at Fort Fraser on Fraser Lake and at Fort George, the site of present-day Prince George, situated at the Nechako River/ Fraser River confluence.
Within a decade following Simon Fraser’s arrival, several more fur trading posts were established in the lands occupied by the Dakelh, in the part of British Columbia that became known as New Caledonia. (8)
The Dakelh are divided into Southern, Central and Northern groupings, spread throughout their traditional lands. These bands were groups of people, usually united through extensive kinship and other ties, who occupied and shared the use of a particular geographic territory. All share a common language (with some regional dialect differences) and generally similar customs. Carrier bands were, and are, flexible units which have divided and united over the course of history as circumstances required.
The subsistence pattern was characterized by dependence upon a large variety of foods which were available in only moderate seasonal abundance. Consequently there was frequent seasonal movement of families and groups of families as they dispersed throughout their territory. Seasonal movements never consisted of completely regular sequences in which the same group shifted from place to place in an identical pattern year after year. There were certain regular general movements such as to the Fraser River for salmon in summer, then into mountain hunting and berry picking grounds in fall, and lake fishing sites in spring. (5)
If conditions allowed, large numbers of people congregated together but when (for example) a fish run failed or water levels were too high to operate fish traps or when caribou shifted their migratory patterns, smaller family groupings of four or five people would subsist alone. The Carrier learned to be very flexible and adaptable, qualities that exist even today. (5)
At the time of the early fur traders, four Southern/Central Carrier bands were known as Nichauten (Algatcho), Lhoosguzwhoten (Kluskus), Naskohwhoten (Nazko) and Lhtauten. This last band is represented today by the L’hatako Dene (Quesnel) First Nation. (5)
Over time the early fur traders developed an understanding of the migratory pattern followed by these people. The trader’s primary interest was fur and fur alone, and it was incumbent on them to develop a sound understanding of the nature of these annual movements in order to choose locations for trading posts and to maximize their opportunities to trade for fur.
The early explorers and fur traders identified the different First Nations that inhabited the land through which they were travelling.To the very early fur traders, it seemed that the Ndazko or Nazkotin, (who we now know are just one part of the greater Dakelh or Carrier First Nation), were in fact the wholeDakelh First Nation. Again, it was necessary for traders to become familiar with local First Nations leadership, as well as differences between First Nations.
The early traders believed that with reference to the Bowron Lake area, it was people of the Nazkotin First Nation who travelled into and even lived in and north of the Bowron area. The early explorers and fur traders looked upon the Bowron area or that area north and east of the Fraser River as being part of the traditional land of the Ndazkoh people. South of Bowron Lake in the area around Quesnel Lake, it was the Interior Salish/Shuswap (present day Secwepemc) who historically were resident in this area.
Over time and for various reasons, bands that were part of one First Nation would evolve and actually become part of a different (often neighbouring) First Nation. The Nazko (Dakelh) band was part of the Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin) First Nation in the early 1700’s. Since that time, this band has evolved to become Dakelh. The L’hatako Dene First Nation included the membership of what is today known as the ?Esdilagh (Alexandria) First Nation which occupies an area just south of the L’hatako Dene territory. Due to intermarriage, the Dakelh members of this band were entirely replaced by Chilcotin speakers and today the ?Esdilagh First Nation is part of the Tsilhqot’in Band Government.
Of interest for our present discussion, it would also appear that there might have been a fifth Southern/Central Dakelh band, one described in literature and placed on maps as simply the ‘Cariboo Mountains Band’. (5)This is a band that it is said to have resided in the Bowron Lake area east of the Fraser River, but which clearly no longer exists and with somewhat murky evidence that it ever did exist. It is quite possible that these were simply Nazkotin or possibly L’hatako Dene who travelled into the Bowron as part of their seasonal migratory pattern.
Primary and Secondary Sources of Information
For this discussion of First Nations presence in the Bowron to have any merit, it is necessary to identify the types of information upon which the discussion is based. A Primary Information Sourceprovides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object or person. Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, audio and video recordings….the list goes on. Secondary Sourcesare accounts of something that is not a primary source, things like published research, newspaper articles and other media reports are examples. To make it more complicated, secondary sources can sometimes cite primary sources. As this discussion unfolds, this writer will try very hard to clarify information sources, either by commenting in the text or through the use of footnotes.
Fur Trader’s Accounts
As Simon Fraser was heading south on his journey to the mouth of the Fraser River in 1808, on May 28 he was south of the Blackwater (West Road) River and his First Nations guides informed him that the two houses they had just passed were the summer residences of a Nasquitin ( Naskohwhoten or Nazkoten) Chief. The next day Fraser passed the Cottonwood River (14)on his left where he saw another dwelling, he then soon came to the mouth of a river that he later named ‘Quesnel’s River’ (after his 21 year old clerk Jules Quesnel) where he saw another dwelling. Fraser notes in his diary that later in the afternoon he “observed several houses of the Nasquitins (Nazkotens)” (but as he was heading south, these houses may more correctly have belonged to Lhtauten or L’hatako Dene people). As stated above, it would appear that at this early stage of contact, all Southern Carrier groups were being referred to as being “Nazkoten”. As he headed further downstream (around present day Soda Creek), he began meeting First Nations that he referred to as the Atnah ( the Carrier word for stranger). Fraser was now in the area populated by Interior Salish/Shuswap (today’s Secwepemc First Nation).
It was a late summer day in August 1826. Chief Factor William Connolly, HBC trader, was travelling north on the Fraser river, his destination was Fort St. James on Stuart Lake. Connolly was completing the annual five month round trip resupply journey from Fort St. James located in the heart of New Caledonia to Fort George, located at Pacific Ocean tidewater at the mouth of the Columbia River (not to be confused with Fort George/Prince George in New Caledonia).
Connolly had stopped to speak with a group of First Nations camped at the spot where the present day Cottonwood River flows into the Fraser, the same place where Simon Fraser had noted the presence of a First Nations ‘house’ as he was heading downstream in 1808. This spot is located on the Fraser River about fifteen kilometres upstream from the location of the present day City of Quesnel and the mouth of the Quesnel River.
Connolly notes in his journal that “the natives confirm that the numerous body of Indians who usually inhabit (the Fraser River) had retreated from the banks of the river towards Bear (Bowron) Lake and the sources of Quesnel’s River, but (spoken like a true fur trader) whether they have done anything in the fur way is not known. To both those places (the Quesnel River and Bear Lake) salmon ascends and they will I hope be able to provide the means of subsistence for the ensuing winter.” (7)Connolly obviously knows about the Bear (Bowron) river which flows out of Bear (Bowron) Lake into the Fraser River. It seems that he is also quite aware that the salmon bearing Quesnel River, connects with the Swamp (now Cariboo) river which flows from the heart of the Bowron Chain of Lakes.
Connolly is describing the normal nomadic pattern of life for the Dakelh people of this area, a pattern that could quite logically place them at Bowron Lake and on the Bowron Chain of Lakes for at least part of the year and most likely for the whole year and possibly even for several years at a time. The Bowron, especially in 1826 offered plentiful food sources. It was the site of two major salmon runs, as well as other forms of aquatic life including freshwater clams, large trout, kokanee and dolly varden fish. Big game in the form of moose, caribou, bears and deer was plentiful. The berry crops in the Bowron include raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, soapberries, loganberries, thimbleberries, and huckleberries.
Governor George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company undertook his second epic cross-Canada canoe trip in 1828. He travelled with quite an entourage and the journey was an amazing canoeing feat. Simpson himself kept a somewhat limited journal but travelling with him was Chief Factor Archibald McDonald who kept a very detailed record that was published as A Canoe Voyage from Hudson’s Bay to Pacific by Sir George Simpson in 1828.
Simpson’s reason for making this trip was to gain a first hand picture of the state of the HBC’s operations and he stopped at some HBC posts along the way to gain a better understanding of the ‘local’ fur trading picture. One of these stops was at Fort Alexandria, located on the Fraser River, just south of Quesnel, approximately at the spot where Alexander Mackenzie had decided to turn around on his 1793 journey to the Pacific Ocean, upon being repeatedly advised by local First Nations that the river ahead was really too dangerous for travel. Eventually Mackenzie followed the West Road (Blackwater) River Grease Trail and with the assistance of local First Nations guides, he did reach the Pacific Ocean, becoming the first non-First Nations individual to cross North America.
While at Fort Alexandria, Simpson prepared a report regarding the fur trade picture in the local area. It was published after his return from this journey, and in it he clearly makes reference to the Naskotin People of the area. (18)It is clear that these are the same people referred to by William Connolly in his 1826 report. Simpson’s report definitely places these people as at least seasonal residents of the Bowron Lake area, (at this time Bowron Lake was referred to as Bear Lake). Showing his fur trader’s preoccupation with furs,Simpson writes “(members of the Naskotin band) generally hunt upon the range of mountains to the northeast (where Quesnel River takes it rise) and Bear Lake, where from reports beaver was formerly numerous but subsequently nearly destroyed by the Iroquois….they obtain a few beaver, some on the south banks of the Frasers River, and others go in a north easterly direction toward a chain of lakes and mountains bordering on Thompson’s River.” (18)
The Iroquois referred to by Simpson became a significant factor in the fur trade following the fall of New France in 1760. This was when Scottish (i.e. Mackenzie and Fraser), American (i.e. Peter Pond) and Canadian (i.e. Canadien voyageurs) traders started pushing deep into the Northwest. To help in their quest for furs these traders recruited Iroquois from the settlements along the St. Lawrence River. One of the main sources was the Jesuit mission of Caughnawaga. The North West Company was formed at about this time, and they sent the first Iroquois west as voyageurs. “The Iroquois were efficient canoemen; they were, after generations of commercial and military excursions, familiar with the waters of the western Great Lakes, and unlike many tribes, they had no aversion to venturing far from their homelands. Furthermore competition increased the demand for experienced frontiersmen and the Iroquois would bolster the ranks of the Canadian engagés.”(13) (4)
The Iroquois were essentially contractors from the east who were given incentives by the fur companies to travel west, initially with the NWC and then after the 1821 amalgamation of the two companies, with the HBC brigades. All spoke French in addition to their Native languages, many were no-doubt related to the Canadien voyageurs through marriage. These men would enter an area and trap any and all of the beaver without any consideration for sustainable animal husbandry. Once in the west the Iroquois trapped independent of the fur companies but sold their furs to the NWC or HBC by prior agreement, possibly at a preferred rate and in direct and fierce competition with the local trappers. Their influence and impact on the fur trade throughout all of western Canada as well as the northern and western United States is difficult to overstate. It was very significant and is only now being truly understood and appreciated. (4)
The Bowron’s Own Attributes
For today’s neophyte casual visitor/paddler travelling into the Bowron, there is very little remaining evidence of First Nations having inhabited this area. However the many physical and natural attributes of this area that would readily promote and sustain habitation are readily evident. These are a primary source of evidence that it was indeed possible for First Nations people to live and thrive in this area.
The area that since 1961 has been protected and managed as a Provincial Park encompasses four distinct biogeoclimatic zones, each with its own special attributes. The interior temperate rainforest runs through the heart of the Bowron, as a result not only are spruce, fir, pine, birch, poplar and cottonwood trees present, but also hemlock, balsam and cedar which are usually found only in warmer wet coastal regions. (1)The climate is somewhat “protected” from the winter harshness of the surrounding Cariboo Mountains as there is a noticeable drop in elevation from the Quesnel Highlands as one moves from the west towards the Bowron.
The Bowron is a seasonal berry picker’s paradise. High bush cranberries, blueberries, huckleberries, thimbleberries, loganberries, raspberries, and of course ‘lewus’ or ‘soopolallie’ (soapberries) can be found throughout the area.
The Bowron is at the centre of two distinct watersheds, each ending in the Pacific Ocean. One flows first north-east then turning south west as the Bowron River enters the Fraser River, the other flowing first westward and then turning to the south as the Cariboo River joins the Quesnel River which then joins the Fraser River at the city of Quesnel. Both of these water systems annually bring salmon to this area, the lower and upper Bowron Rivers are the longest Sockeye Salmon run in North America. The Bowron Chain consists of a series of 10 major lakes which all support freshwater fisheries, these lakes are connected by creeks, rivers and trails and this whole unique combination is in the shape of a quadrangle, 116 km. in length. It is possible to travel around this ‘chain’ of lakes and trails and to finish in exactly the same place that you started.
Still today, certainly within the boundaries of the Provincial Park, wildlife and birdlife of all types abound, however wildlife in this protected (Class A Provincial Park) area has been impacted by the effects of human activity. Over the years, mining and logging (bordering the Park’s boundaries) as well as hunting and trapping have had a significant but fluctuating impact on wildlife numbers in this area, particularly on the numbers of large mammals. During the time of First Nations habitation in the Bowron area, these factors would not have had a significant, impact on wildlife numbers. Having said this, Thomas and Elinor McCabe did publish an article in the January 1928 issue of The Murrelet called the The Bowron Lake Moose: Their History and Status. Their thesis was that the presence of First Nations in the Bowron did have a noticeable impact on the local moose population. They noted a distinct rise in numbers of moose following the smallpox epidemic of the 1860’s, a time that also seems to mark the end of First Nations residency in the Bowron.
As noted, during the first 30 years of the 20thcentury, this area became a well advertised mecca for big game hunters. This had a detrimental impact on the numbers of ‘big game’ animals in the area and led to the establishment of the Bowron Lake Game Reserve in 1928. For an extensive assessment of this development and of this point in time for the Bowron, refer to Mica Jorgenson’s excellent paper A Business Proposition Naturalists Guides and Sportsmen in the Formation of the Bowron Lakes Game Reserve (11)in the bibliography.
Woodland caribou are now very rare in this area, reflecting the current ‘species at risk’ status of woodland caribou (an ecotype of mountain caribou) throughout all of western Canada due to loss of habitat due to logging and associated increased predation. Birdlife is plentiful, with all types of waterfowl, many choosing to ‘regroup’ on the Bowron as they migrate north and south, but many choosing to nest and raise their young in this wonderful setting. Raptors and song birds of all types nest in the Bowron area. The grizzly bear population is healthy and with the very recent (2018) announcement that all grizzly bear sports hunting in the province of British Columbia has been banned, this population should remain a healthy one.
Even for today’s neophyte visitor/paddler it is not difficult to place yourself in the midst of this bounty, one, two, even five hundred years before first contact in 1793 and to visualize just how living in this area would be very possible.
As noted, there is some scant physical evidence in the Bowron, even for that untrained neophyte, of the past presence of First Nations hunter-gatherers. There are midden sites consisting of the shells of freshwater clams harvested by First Nations that are today still evident in the Bowron. With some direction from Park staff, this writer has viewed one such site on Spectacle Lakes.
There are also ‘K’unsai’…fish cache pits, on the shores of Swan Lake. These are located close to the obvious spot where First Nations fishers would have harvested thousands of salmon from the Upper Bowron River. When built, “these pits were about a metre wide, and were lined with spruce bark. Once the pit was filled with fish, it was covered with bark and earth. A fire was built on top of the pit in order to dry the ground out, which helped prevent the fish from becoming mouldy. The fish could be stored in this way for months.” (5)
On one canoe trip in the Bowron, this writer was present when a member of the group found what he believed might be an ‘arrowhead’ on the sandy beach at Pat’s Point on Spectacle Lakes. With some encouragement from the group members, this artefact was eventually sent to Dr. Michael Kew, retired professor of the UBC Department of Anthropology, lecturer at the UBC Museum of Anthropology, and someone who had been raised on the Bowron. This writer understands that the feed back regarding the artefact in question was that it was indeed of First Nations origin, that it had been ’worked’ or ‘chipped’ and was probably the residue left in the making of some larger artefact. This writer has spoken with individuals associated with the Bowron, some who have lived on the Bowron for much of their lives and they have indicated that they have their own personal ‘collection’ of stone artefacts that they believe are of First Nations origin. These are at best secondary sources of information regarding possible First Nations presence on the Bowron.
A newspaper article written by Alvin Johnston and published in the Quesnel Cariboo Observer dated June 22, 1961 under the heading ‘Early Day Trappers on Bowron’refers to First Nation presence. Quoting from the article…”From notes taken from one of many sessions with the late Harry Boyd I find the original name (for Bowron Lake) was Chinlac, for a chief of a band of Indians who lived at Bowron Lake and according to oldtimers were all but wiped out during the smallpox epidemic of 1862. Norman Thompson of Quesnel, who with his late brother, Roy spent many years trapping and guiding in the area of the Bowron Lake chain, has provided most of the information for a series of articles on the Indians and early-day trappers. To begin with the Chinlac band, there is evidence of where they were located on the north side of Bowron (Lake). Impressions can still be seen where their kickwillee holes were dug out, and a tee-pee style structure made of poles and spruce bark would be erected for covering. When Frank Kibbee, third in line of the old trappers, came to Cariboo at the time of the Boer War and built his home facing the Bowron River, he found he had selected the site of the Indian cemetery. Many skulls and bones were uncovered when the garden was ploughed. At a later date, I am told a midden was discovered containing fresh water clam shells and according to stories handed down from the earliest of white trappers, Kenneth McLeod, Deadman’s Island near Rock Bluff on Spectacle Lake, was used as an isolation camp during the smallpox epidemic. The only survivor was an old woman who managed to find her way to Fort George….”. (9)
There is certainly some factual information in this article, but there is also a lot of questionable misinformation. The factual information would include:
- the name Harry Boyd, he was one of the owners and a long time resident of Cottonwood House located on the Cariboo Waggon Road, and was a source of information about the ‘old days’ of the Gold Rush, Barkerville and Bowron Lake
- the small pox epidemic of 1862 was definitely a fact, it did occur
- Brothers Norman and Roy Thompson were trappers and guide outfitters in the Bowron and maintained a fur farm on what was originally called Beaver Lake but which was renamed Thompson Lake
- Frank Kibbee, the date of his arrival in the Bowron and the location of his home, built on Bowron Lake is all factual
- This writer has also been told by other sources that a fresh water clam midden was located on Bowron Lake
The questionable information in this newspaper account includes:
- The name Chinlac for Bowron.Before being called Bowron Lake, it was known as Bear Lake. Chinlac was the site of a Dakelh village and was actually the site of a massacre of the Carrier by the Chilcotins around 1745. It is located not in the Bowron, but at a point on the Stuart River about one kilometre upstream of the point where the Stuart River flows into the Nechako River
- It is stated in this article that there was evidence of subterranean dwellings ( kickwillies/pit houses) on the north shore of Bowron Lake. It has been widely reported elsewhere that at the point where Kibbee Creek (formerly Beaver Creek) flows into Bowron Lake on its northern shore, at a spot that is also within eye site of the location of Kibbee’s house, there was evidence of several pit houses. It has also been widely reported that in 1964, at the time of the great Alaska earthquake, the remains of these First Nations pit houses all disappeared. Today, when paddling past this spot on Bowron Lake, there is certainly evidence of a very significant landslide in this area. It is further stated that there has never been any archaeological assessment, including carbon dating of artefacts that may possibly remain in this area.
- The term kickwillie may be a Salish or possibly a Chinook jargon term for a subterranean permanent winter dwelling or pithouse, however the description given in this article makes the dwelling sound more like what is called a hogan which “was built partiallyunderground and was covered by a roof of brush that could be easily put together.” (5) These dwellings were used by the Dakelh.
- The unearthing of skulls and bones when Frank Kibbee ploughed his garden could be fact, but this writer knows of no confirming primary evidence. If there was a long term First Nations presence on Bowron Lake, and if it was at this spot, (which would be an excellent/logical location for catching salmon), the site of Frank Kibbee’s first home on Bowron Lake (he later did build a second home in a different location but still on Bowron Lake) could be the site of a burial ground
- The fact that Deadman’s Island on Spectacle Lakes was identified as an isolation camp seems to be just one version of a much-repeated story related to the 1862 smallpox epidemic which all but eradicated those First Nations people resident on the Bowron.Versions of this story have been repeated by several different authors including Louis Lebourdais, Chris Harris and Richard Wright. The origins of this story are well documented by Mica Jorgenson in her 2012 Master’s Degree Thesis It happened to me in Barkerville: Aboriginal Identity, Economy, and Law in the Cariboo Gold Rush, 1862-1900 (12)
This writer had the opportunity to accompany (as part of a large group), marathon swimmer Finn Donnelly as he swam from Likely B.C., the length of the west arm of Quesnel Lake and then the whole length of the lake’s north arm to the mouth of the Mitchell River (which flows out of Mitchell Lake). Donnelly also swam the length of the Fraser River (twice), all to increase awareness of threats to the health of the Fraser River and of the salmon run in the Fraser River watershed (of which Quesnel Lake is a part).
Quesnel Lake is located in the Cariboo Mountains, south of Bowron Lake. Just as it was the Dakelh First Nation that populated the Bowron, it was their southern neighbours the Interior Salish Shuswap (Secwepemc) that populated Quesnel Lake. At one point on our journey our group was shown an impressive First Nations historic site on the western shore of the north arm, a small number of unmistakable pit house depressions along the shoreline, with a very significant weir constructed of uniformly-sized stones stretching into the lake from the shore. There was no mistaking the fact that this was a winter dwelling site for the Secwepemc people and that this is also where they fished for the salmon that would be travelling past on their way to the spawning grounds to the north in the Mitchell River and in Mitchell Lake. While this site is primary evidence of Secwepemc’s presence in this spot, could it be that the Dakelh had also maintained very similar year-round residences just a little further north on Bowron Lake?
Impacts of the Cariboo Gold Rush and Epidemics on First Nations Presence in the Bowron
Two developments conspired to drive the Nazkotin from this part of their territory. In the 1860’s. Thousands of gold seekers flooded into this area in search of gold along Williams Creek…this was the Cariboo Gold Rush, and their presence had the effect of pushing the First Nations out of this area. At about the same time, First Nations throughout all of western North America and Inuit in the Arctic were decimated by various epidemics [measles, smallpox, influenza], wiping out over 75% of the population.
Historically the Dakelh lived and indeed still do live west of the Fraser River. The one exception to this was the presence of the ‘Cariboo Mountain Band’ or those members of the Naskohwhoten (Nazkotin) and probably the Lhtauten (L’hatako Dene bands who chose to live, at least part time in the Bowron. The Dakelh lands west of the Fraser River remained largely ‘untouched’ by European immigration, probably because there was no gold to be found west of the Fraser River. The somewhat isolated Dakelh living west of the Fraser River continued to live a very traditional lifestyle well into the middle of the twentieth century.
East of the Fraser River it was a different story. The thousands of gold seekers that poured into the country in the mid nineteenth century, making their way along the Fraser River and then into the Cariboo Mountains and the ‘motherlode’ on Williams Creek and Barkerville created upheaval for anyone who was in their path or already resident in this area. The First Nations living in the Bowron did not escape this impact. It is true that the gold seekers did not ‘flood’ into the Bowron itself, but slowly their presence was increasingly felt. The fact that the First Nations were seasonally nomadic, and that their family ‘roots’ were east of the Fraser River meant that in their travels, they would be interacting with the gold seekers, increasingly finding themselves in a ‘different world’ and having to compete with the miners for land that had historically been theirs alone.
The great epidemics came at almost the same time as the Gold Rush. Even those First Nations living west of the Fraser River (Dakelh, Secwepemc and Tsihlqot’n) did not escape the plagues that decimated 75% of their numbers. Amazingly, in the midst of this totally tragic devastation, First Nations did adapt to the upheaval. There are actually documented accounts of their adaptation to life in the gold fields. But this traumatic combination of events necessitated that First Nations ‘regroup’ and this did bring an end to the First Nations presence in the Bowron. The literature pegs this date as 1862. We know that First Nations have not resided in the Bowron beyond this date.
On September 18, 2012, this writer heard an interview on CBC radio with anAnthropology professor from UBC. This person was to be giving a public presentation that evening in Prince George regarding the “impact of the Cariboo Gold Rush on the lives of First Nations people, resident in the Cariboo area at that time”. This writer asked this professor via email if it would be possible for him to share information regarding any published articles on the topic. The professor responded that his research on this topic was part of some “Strength of Claim research that had been undertaken on behalf of the L’hatako Dene Nation” and that any of his research information belonged to the First Nation and they would have to release it”. This writer’s subsequent attempts to establish contact with the First Nation in question were unsuccessful.
It is true that the topic of the professor’s public presentation was not exactly regarding the presence of First Nations at the Bowron. However, my reading on this topic would suggest that it would be difficult to address the topic of the “Impact of the Cariboo Gold Rush on the lives of First Nations people resident in the Cariboo area at that time” without commenting, even if briefly, on the presence of First Nations resident at Bowron Lake.
Once again, Mica Jorgenson has thoroughly researched this topic and her article Into That Country to Work: Aboriginal Economic Activities during Barkerville’s Gold Rush,(10) as well as her Master’s Degree Thesis It Happened to me in Barkerville: Aboriginal Identity, Economy, and Law in the Cariboo Gold Rush, 1862-1900 , (12)addresses it fully.
B.C. Parks Understanding of First Nations Presence/History in Bowron
The following is excerpted from the B.C. Parks Bowron Lake Provincial Park website:
“Bowron Lake Park has a strong history of First Nations and European use and settlement. Much of this use has been intertwined with the presence of plentiful wildlife and rich fisheries in the park. The physical evidence of the Park’s heritage is distributed throughout. Some evidence like the old trappers’ cabins, is in plain sight while some evidence lies buried. In other cases, the history of the area exists only in the memories and stories of First Nation elders or handed down to second and third generation landowners and local historians…..
Many early European visitors to the area wrote about the First Nations people they encountered. They talked about the trapping, hunting, fishing and gathering activities of these people and speculated about which ‘people’ they were. Early accounts suggest they were the ‘Takulli’ or Carrier people, but others mentioned Shuswap or even Iroquois. Many of these accounts refer to a village situated at Bear (Bowron) Lake complete with between nine to eleven kekuli (pit) houses and approximately 100 people. As in many First Nations communities, the smallpox epidemics of the 1860’s struck hard in this community. The village site itself apparently sloughed into Bowron Lake in 1964. Some reports attribute this sloughing to undermining and mud slides, while others blame the event on the seismic shock from the 1964 earthquake in Anchorage Alaska. Other First Nations sites have been noted, including clam middens, buried campfires, projectile points and cache pits, but little formal archaeological or traditional use work has occurred.” (1)
Over the years, the lakes and other physical features in the Bowron have had many different names. After the Bowron was made a provincial park in 1961, an attempt was made to introduce First Nations nomenclature.
“Many of the place names in Bowron Lake Park have their origins in the Carrier language, including Mt. Ishpa (meaning “my father”- formerly known as Needlepoint), Kaza Mountain (meaning “arrow”- formerly known as Pyramid), the Itzul Range (meaning forest) and the Tediko Range (meaning girls). Lanezi Lake is also derived from the Carrier language and means “long”. Lanezi was known as Long Lake for years.” (1)
Does this very cursory discussion regarding First Nations history in the Bowron represent the full extent of any attention that B .C. Parks has given to this topic?
Archaeological Assessments in the Bowron
One primary source of information about the history of settlement in a particular area is through the use of archaeological assessments. There is a woeful lack of archaeological information regarding the history of human habitation in the Bowron. Mica Jorgenson has detailed information regarding the scanty number of archaeological assessments in this region.
“The archaeological studies completed for the Bowron region provide a more exact account of the pre-rush population, and corroborate Harris’ speculative descriptions (Chris Harris, The Bowron Lakes British Columbia’s Wilderness Canoe Circuit Country Light Publishing, 2006). In 1972, archaeologists Ken Martin and Mike Robinson did a survey of Wells Grey Provincial Park, Bowron Lake Provincial Park, and the upper Fraser River. They examined all of the known sites within Bowron Lake Park, collected artefacts, and spoke with locals. Their report provides a basic outline of pre-contact archaeological evidence at Bowron. (15) In 1976 Nancy Condrashoff created an “Archaeological Outline” of the area for the Interpretation Branch of the Provincial Parks Department. She based her work heavily on Martin and Robinson’s report but also made use of some broader secondary literature including Diamond Jenness, Morice, and G.R. Willey. L Condrashoff’s work provides more detail than Martin and Robinson’s by fitting Bowron into wider understandings of British Columbian archaeology. (3)A related report on Huckey Creek was released in 1973 in response to sensational stories about a series of limestone caves discovered by Simon Fraser University student Paul Griffiths. The resulting report was a detailed geographic survey of the area aimed primarily at debunking the myths associated with the caves and demonstrating the necessity of keeping the public away from them because of their location within a rich Grizzly habitat. “ (3) (12)
In 2013 B.C. Parks embarked on a program to replace 8 significant wooden buildings located around the Canoe Circuit in Bowron Lake Provincial Park. These consisted of four log (post and beam) cooking shelters and four log Ranger cabins, all of which had been constructed in the 1970’s. The Ranger cabins were strategically located at Indianpoint Lake, Wolverine Bay, Babcock Creek and Pat’s Point. The cooking shelters were located at Wolverine Bay, the mouth of the Isaac River at the south end of Isaac Lake, Turner Creek (on Lanezi Lake) and Pat’s Point (on Spectacle Lakes). The original structures were each cut up into firewood length pieces and subsequently burned. Each of the 8 new replacement structures was placed on the exact same footprint as had been occupied by the original buildings. This does not mean that the ‘old’ foundation was re-used, but rather that all of the new construction was on the original footprint.
It is true that the original buildings had been strategically and very well placed in the 1970’s. Their locations had served both the paddlers and the Ranger staff well. Utilizing the exact same footprint for each of the new prefabricated structures however meant that it was not required that an archaeological assessment be completed before the new structure could be erected. It would not have been difficult to erect the new buildings adjacent to the old footprint, or in some cases in the vicinity of the old footprint. By choosing to utilize the old footprints, a valuable opportunity to undertake archaeological assessments in these very strategic areas was lost.
In British Columbia, when a logging company undertakes logging in a “new” area, no work is commenced until an archaeological assessment of the area has been completed. The intent is to determine if there are any archaeologically significant features about that area that need to be protected or at least documented. In the case of this construction on the Bowron Chain, a valuable opportunity to possibly learn more about the First Nations presence in the area has been lost. It would seem that an archaeological assessments on such small and well defined areas would have been a relatively straight forward procedure.
Why were these archaeological assessments not completed? It seems like a given that in such a historically significant area, BC Parks would have welcomed an opportunity to undertake these studies. Could it be that BC Parks simply didn’t want to know what the outcomes of these studies might be? Could it be that BC Parks is very aware of the Land Claims discussions that will be taking place at some point in the future, and simply didn’t want to know details of First Nations presence in these areas?
As beautiful and special as B.C.’s Provincial Parks are, Park administrators have been reluctant to complete archaeological assessments, as well as completing and sharing Statements of Significance and documentation of the provenance of the built history and other features that exist(ed) within the Parks. Certainly this seemed to be the case for the eight structures that were demolished and then replaced in the discussion above. Why has this not been done?
(1) BC Parks website, Bowron Lake Provincial Park, About this Park, Cultural Heritage http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/bowron_lk/
(2) Byrne, Tony et al., A Report of Cave Studies on Huckey Creek, Bowron Lake Provincial Park(Victoria: Parks Branch, Department of Recreation and Conservation, 1973)
(3) Condrashoff, Nancy, An Archaeological outline of Bowron Lakes Provincial park for the Interpretation Branch of the Provincial Parks Department (Archaeology Division, British Columbia Provincial Museum, 1976)
(4) Foxcurran, Robert, Bouchard, Michel, Malette, Sébastien, Songs Upon The Rivers The buried history of the French-speaking Canadiens and Métis from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi across to the Pacific,Baraka Books of Montreal, 2016
(5) Furniss, Elizabeth, Dakelh Keyoh, The Southern Carrier in Earlier Times, Quesnel School District, 1993
(6) Furniss, Elizabeth, Changing Ways: Southern Carrier History, 1793 – 1940, Quesnel School District, 1993
(7) Gibson, James, The Lifeline of the Oregon Country – The Fraser-Columbia Brigade System 1811 – 1847 UBC Press ISBN)-7748-0643-5
(8) Hume, Stephen, Simon Fraser In Search of Modern British Columbia Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd. 2008 Based on the Series in the Vancouver Sun
(9) Johnson, Alvin, Early Day Trappers on Bowron, Quesnel Cariboo Observer, June 22, 1961
(10) Jorgenson, Mica, Into That Country to Work: Aboriginal Economic Activities during Barkerville’s Gold Rush,BC Studies The British Columbian Quarterly Number 185 Spring 2015
(11) Jorgenson,Mica, A Business Proposition Naturalists Guides and Sportsmen in the Formation of the Bowron Lakes Game Reserve, BC Studies #175, 2012
(12) Jorgenson, Mica, It happened to me in Barkerville: Aboriginal Identity, Economy, and Law in the Cariboo Gold Rush, 1862-1900, Master’ Degree Thesis, University of Northern British Columbia, May 2012
(13) Karamanski, Theodore J., The Iroquois and the Fur Trade of the Far WestThe Beaver, Magazine of the North, Spring 1982 Hudson’s Bay Company, Winnipeg Manitoba
(14) (The) Letters and Journals of Simon Fraser 1806 – 1808 Edited and introduced by W. Kaye Lamb Dundurn Press Toronto 2007
(15) Marten, Ken and Robinson, Mike, System ‘E’ Survey, Wells Grey Provincial Park, Bowron Lake Provincial Park and Upper Fraser River (Archaeological Sites Advisory Board, 1972
(16) Morice, The Rev. A.G, O.M.I., The History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia (Formerly New Caledonia) 1660 to 1880Third Edition William Briggs Toronto 1905
(17) Raffan ,James, Emperor of the North Sir George Simpson and the remarkable story of the Hudson’s Bay CompanyHarper Collins Publishers Ltd., First Edition, 2007
(18) Simpson, George Esq., Governor of Rupert’s Land, Dispatch to the Governor and Committee of the HBC, London, March 1, 1829. Continued and completed March 24 and June 5 1829…Edited by E.E. Rich, MN.A. Fellow of St. Catharine’s College Cambridge