THREE COUPLES AND THE BOWON…A TRIP ON THE WEST SIDE
How many ways are there to paddle into and to enjoy the Bowron? We thought we would try something a little different.
Three couples who hadn’t been together for a while, just wanted to go canoeing and to spend some time together. Our main interest was to set up a camp in a comfortable spot, to eat lots of good food, and to spend some time reading, talking and visiting with each other and maybe with any other paddlers that we might meet along the way. We chose a trip on the Bowron’s West Side, destination Pat’s Point, we lucked out.
Planning for this trip had been ongoing for a couple of months. As departure day drew closer, we started watching the weather forecasts closely. Red ‘ADVISORY’ warnings started appearing on Weather Network postings, all mentioning the possibility of “thunderstorms” during the three days planned for our trip. Thunderstorms bring lightning and everyone was silently aware of the fact that the anniversary of the start of last summer’s devastating forest fires was approaching. It was no accident that we were planning a (short) paddling trip that would only take us about 75 kilometres from our home.
We were the only ones to watch the noon showing of the Park orientation video, the information was helpful for everyone. We also learned that there were a lot of paddlers out on the Circuit and that there was a dead moose somewhere on Spectacle Lakes that wolves had been seen feeding.
The Wannabe is our 26 ft. voyageur canoe. Despite its size and weight, six paddlers makes for smooth going on water like the West Side of the Chain to Pat’s Point where there are no portages and especially this year with extra high water levels. It made sense to put-in at the public access located between Becker’s and Bowron Lake lodges. It didn’t take long and we were ready to go. It’s always so good to get on the water, which despite the thunderstorm warnings was actually as smooth as silk.
“Preparez – En Avant!” I’m always amazed by the fact that something as small as a wooden canoe paddle can propel a large canoe so easily. I love the feeling of the paddle pulling against the water, and once up to full speed, paddling seems effortless. Watching the bow cutting through the still water and judging our speed as we move along the shoreline or quickly pass by debris on the water can be mesmerizing. I like to see how quietly I can make each stroke, guiding my paddle into and out of the water without making either a ripple or a sound, entering the water at a perfect right angle with my top hand at the same level as my eyes, pulling the paddle back to the hip using strong back and stomach muscles to do all the work, and silently pulling the blade back out of the water before feathering it forward for another stroke.
When I’m the gouvernail in the stern I may use a ‘J’ stroke to keep the canoe on course or possibly a draw, which is a power stroke to accomplish the same thing. The pry stokes are reserved for difficult situations because while they are great for tight turns, they tend to slow the canoe down. I sometimes switch to a longer paddle which offers more leverage and power when the wind, the current or the waves make the going just a little more difficult. Of course all of this is done in concert with the avant paddling in the bow.
Bowron Lake is 7 kilometres long. We stayed to the right, wondering if our friend might happen to be at her cabin about half way down the lake. If there were signs that she was at home we would stop for a visit. The conversation turned to the history of this part of the Chain, how Elinor McCabe had obtained title to 60 acres along this south shore, that this title had been passed on to Roy McKitrick who subdivided this parcel into 20 lots and that many of these lots now had cabins on them. This all happened well before the Bowron became a Park in 1961 and no attempt was made by the Park to expropriate this private property and so it remains today that there are privately owned parcels of land within the Park on Bowron Lake itself.
The dark thunderclouds seemed to come from nowhere. They appeared over the south shore hills, at first it was difficult to tell just what direction they were moving but the significant wind was building and it was clearly blowing from behind, those clouds were heading our way. The sky grew darker and darker, as we looked around, sheets of rain could be seen pouring down some distance ahead of us over the Bowron Slough or Wetlands. While the sky was growing darker, the wind at our backs was actually getting stronger like a good friend and pushing us along against the current as we entered the upper Bowron River. Still there was no rain; then we heard the rumbling thunder. My thoughts turned to lightning and forest fires, I then felt just a very light rainfall amidst the building wind, the darkening sky, and the now continuous thunder.
We decided to take cover and doubled our efforts to get to the Pavich shelter cabin that is located on the Upper Bowron River. It was a welcome site, no one else was there; we knew that at the very least it would keep us dry, which it did. It was a good spot to have our prepared lunch.
While this cabin is most certainly located on the upper Bowron River, it is actually located on an island named Pavich Island. Paul Pavich purchased the property on which the cabin was built in the late 50’s from Joe Wendle. It is interesting to note that this Pavich cabin is located just a short distance upstream from the Wendle cabin which was built by Joe and Betty Wendle as part of an outpost fishing camp in 1926 making it the oldest extant structure on the Bowron Chain.
Paul Pavich and Eugene Krause were partners in the purchase of the property on which the Pavich cabin now stands; original plans were to build two cabins however the Pavich cabin was the only one that was finished. A Barkerville-based log builder, Eric Rask, was responsible for most of the log work however the whole family was involved in the construction and everyone actually stayed in the little Wendle cabin while construction was taking place. Others involved in the construction were Mike Mahon, George Gilbert and whoever could be coerced to help out with falling trees, peeling logs or splitting cedar shakes (which were made from the huge cedar trees that were to be found north of Spectacle Lakes, across from Pat’s Point). The shakes were transported on a barge that had been built in Wells, this same barge was used to haul building materials up from Wells to the property. Bowron pioneers still talk about the memorable party that took place to celebrate the completion of this cabin.
This cabin is now almost 60 years old. Bowron Lake Provincial Park was established in 1961. After the Park purchased the Pavich property in 1963, the cabin was used by Park staff as the new Park infrastructure was being developed. Eventually this cabin became part of the network of shelter cabins that exist around the Chain and shelter is exactly what it was providing for us. Maintenance and upgrades have taken place over the years with the goal being to ensure that the roof doesn’t leak and that it is possible to keep the cabin warm with the help of a safe wood heater and chimney. Essentially a port in a storm. Upkeep must be ongoing and as we looked around we saw where a few upgrades were definitely necessary if this cabin is to remain weather proof.
Speaking of upkeep, as we were paddling upstream on the Upper Bowron River past the 1926 Wendle cabin we noticed that earlier attempts to stabilize the high sandy riverbank upon which this cabin sits are starting to fail and this cabin is precariously close to sliding into the river. This cabin is 92 years old and is very ‘frail’. Any attempts to move and to stabilize this cabin would require the advice and possibly the hands-on help of an expert. The Bowron/Barkerville/Wells region is definitely an area where this expertise does exist and there is certainly room to move this cabin away from the eroding riverbank. It is important that this very significant part of Bowron history be preserved, not just physically but also by documenting this building’s provenance through the preparation of a Statement of Significance.
The journey into the Bowron Wetlands along the meandering upper Bowron River is a challenge for a voyageur canoe. The bow and stern paddler must work together, especially when travelling against the noticeable current. We were careful to follow the fluorescent orange markers, it would be easy to become dead-ended as the very high water made short cuts look appealing. Normally this is the part of the trip where songbirds are everywhere, but something has happened this year. There were very few warblers, no blackbirds and virtually none of the usual geese and ducks. Our theory was that the high water had kept the geese and ducks away as it would be very difficult for them to build nests that would not be susceptible to flooding, but where were the songbirds? We wondered if it might not be time to ask the Park to have biologists look at the status of both birds and large mammals in the Park, for there were absolutely no sightings of moose or any other large mammals during our trip as well.
We were measuring the history of this area in decades but it is impossible to spend time at this spot without thinking in terms of centuries when contemplating what this area looked like when First Nations fishers were present along this riverbank. It seems pretty clear that the First Nation that inhabited the Bowron was the Dakelh (also known by the names Carrier and Takuli). The first contact with these people was documented by Alexander Mackenzie in 1793. Mackenzie was quickly followed by Northwest Company fur traders, and after 1821 by HBC traders. In their early reports they speak of these people and refer to them as the Ndazko or Nazkotin.
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, 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.”
Connolly obviously knew about the Bear (Bowron) River, which flows out of Bear (Bowron) Lake into the Fraser River. It isn’t clear if he also knew about the Upper Bowron River that flows into Bowron Lake from the northeast. The Upper Bowron River is the longest migration run for Sockeye salmon in North America. This would be a logical spot for First Nations fishers to net their winter’s food supply. I picture drying racks along the shore right where the Pavich cabin now stands, large fish-catching weirs and conical fish traps in the river and fishers along the shore line with their long handled dip nets. The presence of fish cache pits has been documented in this area. Called k’unsai in Carrier, these pits are described by author Elizabeth Furniss in the book Dakelh Keyoh: The Southern Carrier in Earlier Times. “ They 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”.
There is no documented history regarding whether or not First Nations overwintered in this exact area, there is a need for archaeological assessments. However, the First Nations presence in the Bowron most likely goes back thousands of years. Why wouldn’t it? This area has everything that a migratory, subsistence, hunter gathering people would need. What is known is that First Nations presence ended in the 1860’s with the smallpox epidemic that decimated First Nations throughout the whole region.
There are at least three ways of moving by water from the Upper Bowron River and the Bowron Wetlands into Swan Lake. When we were ready to move on we decided to paddle upstream from the cabin on the Upper Bowron, knowing that in a few hundred metres there was a stream entering the river from river left. Paddling up this stream enabled us to circumnavigate Pavich Island, taking us into Swan Lake. The little stream had quite a current, but fairly quickly this current dissipated as the stream widened to become the lake. We passed Birch Bay on our left and then made the turn out of Swan Lake into Spectacle Lakes.
We were three hours into our trip, had waited out the rain in the shelter of the Pavich cabin and the conditions were now looking good to move on, we were about an hour from our destination. This last part of our trip took us left of Maternity Island, past the imposing Rock Bluff and before we knew it we were making the wide turn around the ever-growing sand bar to our take out in front of the Pat’s Point cook shelter. To our surprise, we were all alone…we had the place to ourselves.
Our first task was to set up tents while the weather was clear. We hoped that there would be no rain, but getting the tents up now would ensure that we would have a warm, dry night’s sleep. We also moved into the cook shelter to set up our ‘kitchen’, which was no mean feat. Travelling in a voyageur canoe means that you don’t really have to worry too much if you end up bringing along the kitchen sink. We were cognizant that others would no-doubt be arriving and we limited our ‘footprint’ to one corner of the shelter. Because we would be staying at this spot for the better part of two days, we scanned the area for firewood and were reasonably successful. Eventually we paddled over to the woodlot located at the group campsite across the bay and came back with all the wood we needed. Our desire was to keep the wood stove going and to always have a big pot of hot water available for anyone and everyone to use.
I lied when I said we were all alone. We very quickly realized that we were sharing this spot with millions of buzzing, annoying, intruding, biting, relentless mosquitoes. Long pants and long sleeves with shoes and socks were the norm, along with lots of ‘bug dope’, neck scarves and hats. Why so many bugs? Was it the high water? Was it the weather during the month of June? The bugs had not been noticeable when we were on the water, but getting away from them when on land was impossible.
There is also a present-day shelter cabin at Pat’s Point. This cabin was constructed around 1959 by Vince Halverson and his brother-in-law Sid Dannhauer. Sid had acquired the property just before construction started and Vince provided all of the building materials. Vince was the owner of the Wells-Barkerville Sawmill and while both families had moved out to Pat’s Point and lived in tents during construction of the cabin, Vince commuted back and forth to his mill each working day, bringing the building materials to Pat’s Point in the evening, dragging all the lumber from Bowron Lake behind his 14 foot boat which was powered by a 35 horsepower Evinrude motor. Sid travelled out to Pat’s Point on weekends, his job in Wells kept him in town during the week. The property was taken over by the Park around 1964 the cabin was used by government workers for years while the Park infrastructure was being developed.
One other couple joined us on that first day and night at Pat’s Point,. They were from Shawnigan Lake, she had paddled the Chain 30 years earlier and had always thought that she would like to do it once again, stating that she wasn’t disappointed. This couple had lots of time and we visited over the two days they remained at Pat’s Point, they weren’t in a hurry to get home. They chose to camp right on the point in front of the 59 year old Halverson/Dannhauer cabin. Like the Pavich cabin, it is now maintained to provide a roof and a source of heat in the event of extreme weather. It is also home to a number of mice. This couple came to the cook shelter to prepare their meals.
Every meal was special. We had lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, fresh milk, literally all the trimmings. No Starbucks Via-instant coffee-like substance for us….we had a big bag of freshly ground dark roast along with the French Press, and it got lots of use. Having room for ‘stuff’ is one benefit of travelling with 6 people in a canoe that has seating for 10. In fact we took one of the bench seats out of the canoe to make more room for all of our gear and supplies.
That first night we were all in bed by 9:00 p.m. Entering our large roomy tents with their exquisite nylon screens was like entering a hidden paradise. Try as they may, the mosquitoes could not get in and could only noisily express their frustration from the outside of the screens. It was a great sleep, 10 hours of really good rest. I did hear the Barred Owl’s ‘Who Cooks For You” during the night, and others heard the wolves howling from down the lake, no-doubt circling around the moose carcass we had learned about when registering.
The place is beautiful and has often been referred to as the ‘Riviera of the Bowron’ with its sandy beaches and opportunities for excellent swimming. In 1925, Thomas McCabe completed the first known map of what became known as the Bowron Game Reserve. He hiked around the Chain in the winter pulling a bicycle wheel that served as an odometer. En route he documented the presence of cabins along with the names of both past and present occupants, trap lines and other natural geological as well as man-made features around the Chain. McCabe made no special notations about the site of present day Pat’s Point.
About 30 metres from the cook shelter, hidden deep in the forest is an old (but recently stabilized) trap line cabin. This small flat-roofed log building is only about 7 feet square, just a simple overnight structure with a pole sleeping platform along with the remains of an airtight heater. Who was the trapper that built this cabin? Who was the Pat of Pat’s Point fame? When enquiring about the history of this spot, the name Pat McKenna comes up…there is a need for some more research.
Pat’s Point is a popular and logical destination for West Side paddlers like us. It is quite doable to establish a base camp and then to make a very interesting unburdened trip over three portages to Unna Lake. A short hiking trail leads to a viewpoint overlooking the breathtaking Cariboo River falls, all of this with lots of time to return to Pat’s Point on the same day. This is also a logical point for full circuit paddlers to stop and regroup before their final four or five hour push to the take-out at the end of Bowron Lake. As well as the main campsite, which boasts the cook shelter, shelter cabin along with several outhouses, bear caches and at least ten tent pads; there are also two separate self-contained group campsites at this location. One of these is directly across the water from the cook shelter area while the other is located down the beach at the end of the bay in a wonderfully secluded spot.
Day two started off with real porridge, not that gruelly instant stuff that comes in a brown envelope and that you mix with tepid water. Our porridge was a mixture of steel cut oats, rolled oats, hemp hearts and Red River Cereal. As it was brought to a rolling boil in a real pot, dried cranberries and cherries were added and it was served with fresh milk, brown sugar, maple syrup and yogurt. This was man food, camping food; real sustenance! There was also toast with butter and wild huckleberry jam, all washed down with a few mugs of dark roast (“Intense & Smokey”) freshly squeezed in the French Press. Oh, and the oranges, I can’t forget the oranges.
It was now time to start our day’s activities. We sat and swatted mosquitoes, read, chatted, went for walks along the sandy shoreline, checked out the wildflowers with the help of a guidebook, identified the birds that we did see and speculated about the birds that should have been there but weren’t. The six of us have been very close friends for over 40 years so there was talk about children and grandchildren and jobs and retirement and moves and health and deaths and adventures, of future plans and past experiences together. We didn’t talk about politics except in a joking manner. We all share a deep love of the outdoors and talked about gardens and good food and stewardship and husbandry. Some of us napped, others kept the wood fire going, we all were doing exactly what we had been looking forward to doing.
As the day unfolded so did the weather and the landscape. Every time I look down Spectacle Lakes from the doorway of the cook shelter, the lyrics (albeit heavily abridged) of Jane Morgan’s With Open Arms start running through my mind, …..
“And when (the) boat comes in, I run to (him/her/them) with open arms”
And the canoes and kayaks did start coming. We had spoken with one of the Park contractors that morning and he said that he had tried to find the moose carcass but hadn’t had any luck. He also told us that there were lots and lots of people camped at Sandy Lake and beyond and that we should expect company.
The bulk of the paddlers arrived close to noon, just as the heavy rain started. Eight young women from the Island, all good friends (two of them sisters) were on their third annual adventure trip together…a different spot every year. They knew what they were doing and very quickly got all of their needed gear up into the shelter. They were organized in cooking groups of two and were determined to have a hot lunch. Their timing had been perfect; the shelter was alive with activity. Then another young couple arrived, as well as our friends from the day before who had camped down at the point last night. The sound of single burner gas stoves filled the air, there were at least seven different meals being prepared all at the same time. Other canoes and kayaks simply paddled through; still others went to the group site across the water from the cook shelter. All this while the rain was pouring down.
We were preparing our own lunch (wraps with lemon squares for dessert) and visiting with everyone, all at the same time. The rest of the paddlers were at least 35 years younger than we were and we loved their energy, it was infectious, this is exactly what we had hoped would happen.
The rain started to let up, just as everyone was getting ready to move on. The group of 8 had to finish that day and we were able to give them some tips on the quickest way to get through to Bowron Lake. They were heading for Becker’s Lodge and we told them to look for the “red roofs on the left” for their take-out and that would save them a lot of time. When this group was about to leave, the three women in our group went up to them and gave them a special gift of Whitewater granola bars. They graciously accepted and were heard to say as they were getting underway…”what nice old people”. One couple were in no hurry, they had a few more days and wanted to paddle to somewhere on the Chain that night. We looked at the map and suggested that they try the campsite at Birch Bay. The next morning as we were on our way out we stopped at Birch Bay and saw that their campfire fire ring was still warm.
The canoes and kayaks continued to pass by all afternoon; the Chain was busy. No one else stopped, a few boats did pull in at the group campsite across the way. The rain had stopped and we resumed our same old hectic schedule of mosquito slapping. Supper was shepherd’s pie cooked in the Dutch oven over charcoal briquettes, with more delicious squares for dessert. We were appreciating June’s extended hours of daylight, but were ready for bed by about 9:00 p.m.
It was another great sleep. We all seemed to get moving at about the same time and took it easy breaking camp, making sure that we stopped for breakfast. This time it was fantastic enhanced Rotary pancakes, cooked by an experienced pro. They came complete with fresh strawberries (from the garden), butter, maple syrup and yogurt, all washed down with some of that real coffee.
We were on the water by 10:30, I was the avant, the paddler in the bow. My job was to set the pace for the mangeurs de lard behind me. Real voyageurs would be paddling at least 50 strokes a minute, we were probably paddling just under 30, but we were moving. The gouvernail paddling in the stern was my long time paddling buddy and he handled the canoe perfectly, we have been down many long rivers together. We were making great time and could easily have overtaken the canoes and kayaks that had left ahead of us. We chose to break up the trip with a special stop at Birch Bay, a campsite that we refer to as the Birches. This is the spot where approximately 10 years earlier, a group of family and friends gathered and planted a dwarf weeping birch memorial tree.
We moved on and once again the wind was at our back. We got caught in the strong current that drains from Swan Lake into the Bowron River and we were really moving. Our gouvernail told us when to lean left or right as we negotiated the tight corners on the Upper Bowron River, this time moving with the current. This technique, which exposes more of the canoe’s rounded hull to the current, made steering strokes almost unnecessary. Soon we entered Bowron Lake itself, still with the wind at our backs. We chose to have lunch, something that is quite easy to do in a voyageur canoe, especially when the wind is pushing you in the right direction. We ate and rested for at least a half hour, visiting and laughing and secretly feeling quite proud of our accomplishments during this trip. We too were heading for the red roofs and when we got there the wind was blowing strongly, making the loading of the canoe onto the trailer, the hardest part of the whole trip.
The Bowron is about 30 kilometres from Wells and we had 5:00 p.m. reservations at the Pooley Street Café, where they make what they call “Scratch Food”. The meal was truly special; we will be going back. We were home by 8:00 p.m. and in bed at our usual 9:00 p.m., this time sans mosquitoes.
All the meals were extraordinarily good, especially considering they were eaten in the wild. The coeur de bois and coeur de women were heartily reinvigorated by them.
Chatting and listening to the newcomers in the shelter was so rewarding. It seemed a nature lovers share time.