The Bowron…A Short History Presentation

The Bowron….A Short History Presentation

Prepared for Blackwater Paddlers Season Wind-up November 2019

The Bowron was home to First Nations for thousands of years.  First Nations presence in the Bowron  ended near the end of the 19thcentury, in the 1860’s.

No doubt First Nations had a name for this lake and place, but this has been lost to time.   Bowron  Lake was originally known as Bear Lake, possibly named by fur traders travelling on the Fraser River near present-day Quesnel.  The traders 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, Fire Commissioner, Librarian, Constable, and Mining Recorder to  name some of his titles.  There are people alive today that still refer to the Bowron as Bear Lake.

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.


Beyond the lake, the Bowron is a wilderness paradise like no other. ….and we are fortunate enough to have it right on our doorstep.  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 paddling destination.   One dilemma has been just what to call this area.  It is referred to as The Bowron Lakes, Bowron Lake Park, The Bowron, The Bowrons, The Bowron Chain, The Chain, The Circuit, The Area Around Bowron Lake…essentially all of these terms mean the same thing.


First Nations and 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 and is still known as Carrier,  at one time called Takuli,  but today increasingly referred to as Dakelh.  The First Nation that historically lived and travelled in the Bowron Lake area was the Dakelh.


Archaeological sites excavated in the territory occupied by the Dakelh, specifically at Punchaw,  date back  at least 4000  years; some archaeological evidence suggests longer. The Dakelh were semi-sedentary, moving seasonally between villages and hunting and fishing camps. The Carrier people lived during the winter in semi-subterranean pit houses and in warmer weather in temporary dwellings (hogans) made of  wooden poles and branches.


The Dakelh  are divided  into Southern, Central and Northern groupings, spread throughout their traditional lands. These bands were groups of people 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.  Dakelh bands were, and are, flexible units which have divided and united over the course of history as circumstances required.


Their hunter-gatherer 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.


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.



The Fur Traders

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 in their own territory 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 followed in 1805. He established a permanent settlement at the site of present day Fort McLeod (on McLeod Lake north of present day Prince George).  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.  Fraser travelled the length of the Fraser River to the Pacific Coast in 1808.


Within a decade following Simon Fraser’s arrival, several more fur trading posts were established in the lands occupied by the Dakelh, in that part of British Columbia that became known as New Caledonia.


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.


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.  Over time the early fur traders developed an understanding of the migratory patterns followed by these people and of their home territories.


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 (sometimes neighbouring) First Nation. The L’hatako Dene First Nation once 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.


There also might have been a fifth Southern/Central Dakelh band, one described in literature and placed on maps as simply the ‘Cariboo Mountains Band’.)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, and for purposes of this discussion, archaeological assessments are invaluable primary sources.  There is a significant lack of archaeological evidence regarding the presence of First Nations in the Bowron. 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.



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, (not to be confused with Fort George/Prince George in New Caledonia) located on the Columbia River at Pacific Ocean tidewater near Astoria which is  at the mouth of the Columbia River.  Known as the Fraser-Columbia brigade system, it existed from 1811 to 1847.


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.” Connolly obviously knew about the Bear (Bowron) river which flows out of Bear (Bowron) Lake into the Fraser River.  It seems that he was 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.


While at Fort Alexandria, Simpson prepared a report regarding the fur trade picture in the local area and in which he makes reference to the Naskotin People .  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.   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.”


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 voyageur) 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 Canadien  engages.


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 and later the 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. However the degree of devastation that these trappers left behind them is only now being truly understood and appreciated.



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….”

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

However, 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.”(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 (also called Pavich Island and Maternity Island) 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

Impacts of the Cariboo Gold Rush and Epidemics on First Nations Presence in the Bowron

Two developments conspired to deep the Nazkotin away 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 North America and Inuit in the Arctic were being decimated by various epidemics [measles, smallpox, influenza], wiping out over 75% of their population.

Historically the Dakelh lived and indeed still do live west of the Fraser River.  The one exception to this was the presence of 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 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 in this region 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  up to 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.

Early White Trappers/Hunters  in the Bowron

For the gold seekers who were always looking for newer and better gold prospects, Williams Creek and Barkerville wasn’ the end of the line.  It was inevitable that they would ‘move on’ to the explore new areas and the Barkerville Cariboo Sentinel newspaper isfilled with stories of exploration and in short order the prospectors had entered the Bowron and beyond.

The first of the white trappers known to have lived and travelled on the Bowron Lakes were Neil Wilson known as ‘Swampy’ or ‘Swamp Angel’ and his partner, former HBC fur trader Ken McLeod.  Wilson was a tall 6’6’  black-bearded Swede born in 1813.  While he was caught up in the ‘rush’ to the Cariboo gold fields, mining was not for him. He and McLeod, who was Scottish and said to be ‘as short as Wilson was tall’ turned to fishing in the Bowron and are said to have charged an ounce of gold (then worth $16.00) for a Sockeye Salmon or a dozen Rainbow Trout.  Wilson trapped along the river that carried his nickname, the Swamp River, which eventually was named the Cariboo River. McLeod had a trapline  on Wolverine Creek.  One of their companions was George Isaac, “an Irishman similar in size to Swampy (6’ 4”), an axe-handle wide across the shoulders and built as solidly as a stone outhouse with the door shut.”   He worked on the creeks as an axe-man and a sawyer and when he tired of this he explored the  Willow, Bear (Bowron) and Goat River country.  Isaac died in 1919, and both Isaac Lake and Isaac River are named after him.

In 1899, Frank Kibbee arrived in the country, he was 30 years old at the time and was said to have taken part in the ‘Indian Wars’  in the U.S. Kibbee developed several traplines in the Bowron Country and built the first home on Bowron Lake in 1907 at the outlet of the Bowron River, just below the present day location of Bear River Mercantile Lodge.  In 1913 Kibbee sold this home to George Turner (of Turner Creek fame) and built a second home on Bowron Lake at the location known as the government wharf. A small cemetery is located nearby, where two of Kibbee’s children are buried.

Big Game Hunters/ Trappers/Guides/ Bowron’s Lodges

Frank Kibbee was possibly the first hunting guide on the Bowron, but soon he had lots of company as Big Game Hunting became big business in this area.  It truly was a hunter’s Valhalla, with moose, caribou, black bears, grizzly bears, goats, deer, wolves for the taking.  Within a very short period of time there were a number of hunting guides resident in the area, most of these guides were also trappers.


Hunting guides working in this area included Roy and Norman Thompson who had worked for surveyor Frank Swannell before establishing a fur farm and trap line at Thompson Lake running to Kruger Lake.   Floyd DeWitte Reed who was originally from Ohio, trapped and guided in partnership with Frank Kibbee near Sandy Lake, James Dean Cochran lived on Indianpoint Creek just above where this creek flows into the Bowron (Bear) River and was a guide outfitter in the area for several years.  James Kew guided with the Thompson brothers beginning in 1924.


Trappers (and their traplines) around the Bowron included Jason Moxley (Isaac Lake), Ole Nelson, Eric Woltortin, Fred Becker (no relation to the Beckers  of Becker’s Resort) who had a cabin on McLeary Lake. and Matt Bastien who trapped on the Cariboo (Swamp) River.  James Duffy homesteaded on the Bowron River just east of Bowron Lake, he trapped and worked as a hunting guide.  Other well known early Bowron outdoorsman were Marius Anderson who arrived in 1902  and Harold Mason (Swamp River).  Other trappers known only by their surname include Brierly (Wolverine Bay),  Naskell (Isaac Lake), McLeary (McLary),


Frank Kibbee guided Joe Wendle around the Bowron Chain in 1912.  This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.  Joe Wendle pre-empted 125 acres of land where Bowron Lake Lodge now stands and built the original lodge as a hunting a fishing lodge.  Joe also established a number of small ‘outpost’ cabins around the Chain.  The oldest extant building on the Chain is the small  fishing cabin that Joe Wendle built high on the sandy  bank overlooking the Upper Bowron River in 1926, 93 years ago.


Only two families have ever had ownership of Bowron Lake Lodge in the  100+ years of its existence.  Wendle was an Australian who had originally settled in the U.
S.  He built in all, three lodges on this site, eventually all three burned down. Both Joe and his wife Betty ran the lodge for 20+ years, guiding and outfitting for clients drawn mostly from the U.S.  In 1932 William (Bill)_ McKitrick and his wife Kezia purchased the lodge from Joe and Betty Wendle.  Bill added a sawmill, lakeshore cabins, ran traplines and did some ranching on the property.   At the end of WWII the running of the lodge was taken over by Bill’s son Roy (wife Kitty).  Roy actually built an airstrip on the property.   Eventually  Roy’s son Jim assumed responsibility for the lodge and now Jim’s son Mark and his wife Kate are in charge.


It is interesting to note changes in the naming of this business as the attraction and use of the Bowron has changed over time.  Originally known as Bowron Lake Lodge and Resorts Ltd.,  as hunting waned and canoe tripping and car camping started to grow, this business also became known as Chain of Lakes Canoe Outfitters and Lakeshore Campsite


A second lodge, located on Bowron Lake on land purchased from Louis Lebourdais directly adjacent to the Bowron Lake Lodge property, and now known as Becker’s Lodge, was built by log builders from an American syndicate in the 1930’s.  The first managers of this lodge were Grover Youngs and his wife and for many years this business was called Cariboo Hunting and Fishing Lodge, offering meals, fishing, canoeing and guiding for hunters. Eventually Grover Youngs (who wintered in the U.S.) sold to Col. And Mrs. Parker  who were also Americans.  The Parkers sold to Eleanor Crump and Stan Ross, who resold to Frank and Ruth Cushman.  Frank was a big game hunting guide who owned and ran Wolverine Mountain Outfitters (he was also originally from the States).  In 1969 the Cushmans sold the business to Fred and Dodie Becker, who changed the name to Becker’s Canoe Outfitters, big game outfitting was no longer part of the business.  In 1981 the lodge was sold  to Quesnel locals Kay Green and Lon Wertz, who sold to Lothar Volmer who maintained a ‘stable’ of well over 100 rental canoes.  Just recently, in early 2019, this lodge changed owners once again and the new owners are Randy Moore and his wife.


A third lodge, Bear River Mercantile and Bowron Lake Museum  was established in 1993 by Dick and Sandy Phillips.  This couple have worked hard to create a truly unique home away from home for Bowron Lake paddlers and other visitors.  The services offered  are  comprehensive, ranging from accommodations, paddling and camping equipment rentals, meals, and the sale of basic camping supplies.  Their busy time is from May to September, but as year round residents, they are the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Bowron Chain and their Facebook page has many followers.  The Phillips have a special relationship with their customers as well as others interested in experiencing this special area.   In addition, their lodge features a museum devoted to the history of the Bowron Lake area.  There are not many Parks that have the benefit of a comprehensive   collection of artefacts and interpretive displays chronicling the colourful local history, and located only 1 kilometre from the Park headquarters.  The museum also boasts the largest collection of old Bowron Lake photographs on public display.




The Bowron in the 1920’s/ Bowron Game Reserve (1925)

The hunting and trapping in the Bowron for the first 20 years of the 20thCentury was extreme.  Hunting and trapping was unregulated in the province and it didn’t take long for those in the area to have concerns that the animals were being killed at an unsustainable rate.  This was  a time when there were very few restrictions on just what and how many animals a hunter could take.   Within a relatively short time from what had marked the beginning of this extreme harvesting, the animal populations involved were seen to be under “significant stress.”   Those intimately involved started to lobby for some kind of regulation on both hunting and trapping.  Soon a combination of  local residents and government officials were strongly advocating the establishment of a Game Reserve in the Bowron.


It was an interesting group of individuals who banded together to lobby for the creation of a Wildlife Preserve in the Bowron.  In addition to the concerns of  the bureaucrats associated with the Provincial Game Department, this initiative was spearheaded by Frank Kibbee, Joe and Betty Wendle, J.B. Babcock (B.C. Fish Commissioner), Chief Justice Hunter of the B.C. Supreme Court, Thomas and Elinor McCabe and a published ornithologist named Allan Brooks “who was very familiar with the Bowron, had been a both a trapper and a hunter and who referred to himself as being  a ‘practical conservationist’. “


The process involved in leading to the establishment of the Bowron Lakes Game Reserve is discussed in a ground breaking article authored by Mica Jorgenson entitled “A Business Proposition—Naturalists, Guides and Sportsmen and the Formation of the Bowron Lakes Game Reserve”.  This article was published in B.C. Studies #175, Autumn 2012.


The article’s title raises more questions than offering answers.  Why would this group of individuals with seemingly very diverse (and conflicting) backgrounds be pooling their energies to establish a Game Reserve?  This article sets this process into the context of the times and for everyone involved it was a learning process.  The work of this group was influenced and informed by Yellowstone National Park in the U.S., the world’s very first national park, established in 1872.


Jorgenson’s thesis is that her work is “a case study to demonstrate that the conservation of game as a resource, rather than thepreservation of the wilderness for its own sake, motivated British Columbia’s environmental policy in the early twentieth century”.  She clarifies that “….Preservationists are concerned about the influence of human encroachment and development on wild areas and saw parks as a way of preserving animals and habitat undisturbed…..Conservationists were also interested in protecting game numbers but saw the maintenance of wilderness as part of development rather than as separate from it and as a route to profit through the promotion of tourism and sport hunting.”


It could be said that the end result was that the establishment of the Game Reserve was a bit of a saw off.   With….” input from these various sources, including some input from politicians and the general public (the end result) was the 1925 creation of the Bowron Lakes Game Reserve, a 240 square mile conservation area around the inside of the chain of lakes as a wildlife sanctuary where animals could reproduce without disturbance,”  The boundary for the Reserve was the high water mark on the outside shore of the lakes that comprised the Chain.  Everything within this boundary was protected from hunting and trapping while both activities could continue outside this boundary.  It should also be noted that in 1925, the Province of British Columbia introduced the requirement that all traplines must be registered.  This was the beginning of  Regulated Hunting and Trapping in the Bowron.  Frank Kibbee was named as the first game warden.


In a summary of her work Mica Jorgenson states “The history of the Bowron Lakes Game Reserve in its formative years reflects a broader context of environmental theory in North America.  British Columbians expressed an environmental ethos that included elements of conservation and preservation; however, an examination of game legislation and its application at the Bowron Lakes Game Reserve shows that in practice, game management was motivated by the utilitarian idea that wildlife was a resource. As a result, the dialogue around Bowron displayed very little concern about preserving an untouched wilderness, and the government often intervened directly in order to shape the reserve into a desirable form.  The naturalists, guides and sports hunters of the Bowron region were essential to this way of perceiving the environment. “  Following the establishment of the Game Reserve, big game hunting in this area continued to flourish.


A fascinating map of the Bowron Chain was produced in 1925 by Thomas McCabe.  McCabe was a biologist who worked at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California at Berkeley.   While he was an American, both he and his wife Elinor seemed to have an affinity for Canada.  McCabe had served in the Canadian army during WWI.  Elinor  pre-empted a large parcel of land at the spot where Indianpoint Creek  flows out of Indianpoint Lake in 1922 and together they built a very impressive log home at this site.  They also built a home on the south shore of Bowron Lake, but were in reality only part time residents of the Bowron area.  Their personal connection with the Bowron gradually waned and their presence in the area seems to have ended by the mid 1930’s.


McCabe’s map, which he completed by snowshoeing the whole circuit while pulling a device consisting of a wheel with an attached odometer offers a detailed look at life around the Chain in 1925.  . There were no aerial photos to assist him with this task.  It is interesting to note the beginning road system that connected the Bowron with Barkerville but which also continued along the Bowron River for 14 miles.  There was a ‘rough’ road running from the present day Park headquarters to the Thompson homestead at (then) Beaver Lake.  From this point the roadway became a trail that followed the shoreline north of Indianpoint Lake, along the shoreline of the west arm of (then) IsaacsLake and then following a well defined trail (roadway) north from Wolverine Bay and connecting with the Goat River Trail.  The Goat River Trail was well known to prospectors, trappers, First Nations, fur traders and had been used for centuries.


Many of the lakes and other landmarks on the Chain were known by different names than they are now. Kibbee Lake and Thompson Lake were in fact seen as being only one lake known as Beaver Lake, and Kibbee Creek was Beaver Creek.  McLeary Lake was known as McLary Lake,  Lanezi Lake was Long Lake, Babcock Lake was 3 Mile Lake.  The use of Dakelh words to define some of the features didn’t officially happen until after the Bowron became a park in 1961, but in fact Dakelh names were beginning to appear during the ‘Wells Era’ of the Bowron.


McCabe’s map gives a clear picture of just where trappers were located, where dwellings were located and whether or not they were still habitable.  Much of the western part of the Chain is marked as being “Burnt”, suggesting a significant forest fire in the area.


The Wells Era….Wells Rod and Gun Club (1930’s, 40’s. 50’s and early 60’s)

The Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Company was founded in Wells in 1927.  This company began milling operations and gold production in 1933 and ran continuously until 1963.  The town of Wells was established and very quickly became a thriving community, even during the Great Depression.  The residents of Wells had a significant impact on the unfolding ‘shape’ of the Bowron. I refer to this period of time as the ‘Wells Era’ of the Bowron.


With all of these families in this new company town, it was only to be expected that they would be looking for things to do and places to spend their leisure time.  It didn’t take long for them to realize that they lived on the doorstep of one of the finest wilderness meccas in the world.  During  the period from the mid 1930’s to the late 1950’s, a major player in the Bowron story was the Wells Rod and Reel Club.  Boasting a few hundred members and with a purpose-built clubhouse which still exists today but which has been moved off of Park property. This was a group with lots of energy and apparently money as well.


It is important to remember that at this point in time, the Bowron was not a Provincial Park, rather the interior of the lakes was a Wildlife Reserve.  Many of the developments (and then some)  that subsequently became part of the Park infrastructure were in fact initiated by the members of the Rod and Reel Club.  The Wells people focussed on what is known as the West Side of the Bowron Chain, that section that runs from Bowron Lake, through Swan Lake and the Spectacle Lakes, Skoi, Babcock and with a special focus on Unna Lake, although during this point in time when motor boats and motorized canoes were the only way to travel in the Bowron, they would often travel up the Cariboo River and then the Isaac River and as far as up to Wolverine Bay on Isaac Lake.


The Club made motor boats available to members, these were located at the trailheads of  what became the present-day portage trails.  The club  (and individual club members) had cabins built along the West Side route. There were gazetted building lots available on Bowron Lake and several Wells residents had cabins constructed on these lots.  Individuals also pre-empted land  and built cabins in what was to become the Provincial Park after 1961.  This land was expropriated after 1961 however, a few of these dwellings are still standing and serve as emergency shelters, many were destroyed.   Harold Rask was a well known log builder who built several log buildings throughout the Chain, at this point only two have survived (the cabin at the Lynx Creek campsite on Isaac Lake and the cabin on the Upper Bowron River located beside the 1926 Joe Wendle cabin).  The club upgraded the rail portages between Spectacle Lakes and Skoi Lake and between Skoi Lake and Babcock Lake using squared timber rails and ore carts from the mine in Wells. The original  ‘rail line’ had wooden rails and had probably been built in the early 1930’s by Jim Kew and Sid Susag.  The same club, at the urging of the Provincial government even dynamited a canal between Spectacle Lakes and Skoi Lake.  These people were miners, they had the skills and the resources to carry these projects out.


A group of  the Wells miners developed a unique enclave at Unna Lake (known to them as Grizzly Lake) consisting of  a grouping of summer-only dwellings known as shake shelters.  These buildings consisted of a framework consisting of poles anchored in the sandy soil…the buildings did not really have foundations.  The walls were then constructed of cedar shakes that were cut from the giant cedar trees to be found on the north shore of nearby Sandy Lake, where the Interior Temperate Rainforest  is to be found.  A second smaller lake that became known as Rum Lake is connected to Unna Lake by a short stream.  It was in this location that a dwelling  known as the Knot Hole was constructed.  This place was a ‘men only’ location, these refuges were located in other communities as well and became known as Ram’s Pastures.  Also in this location, two additional lakes are to be found and these became well known as Rete Lake and Jean Lake (after Rete McKelvie and Jean (Grady) Speare).  However even though these lakes appear on several maps of the era, they were never officially gazetted and as this is being written, an application to have these lakes officially named Rete and Jean Lake respectively is before the government for consideration.


Creation of Bowron Lake Provincial Park

The Cariboo Gold Quartz mine closed in 1963.  The population of Wells (as had been the case with Barkerville many years previously) waned markedly.  Many of the developments associated with the ‘Wells Era” on the Bowron disappeared as key residents either moved or passed away.  There was a significant world war from 1939 – 1945, people’s (and governments’) priorities and world views were changing.  It is probably reasonable to state that the public was now more favourably considering  protectionism over conservationism when it came to the matter of  new park development within the province.


The largest park in the province at the time was Hambur Park, covering approximately 1,009,112 hectares.  At the time of its establishment, it was one of the largest parks in Canada and was designated a “Class A” provincial park.  It’s huge size accounted for almost 90% of the designated parkland in British Columbia.

Premier Duff Pattullo established Hamber as a new protected area which bridged the gap between several existing mountain (national) parks in the hope that his action would spur the Canadian government to declare Hamber a new national park.He envisioned that a substantial increase in the national park system’s coverage of western Canada’s mountainous terrain would boost tourism revenue.  Pattullo  hoped that the Federal  government would also provide  support for road infrastructure within a nationalized Hamber park. However, no portion of Hamber was ever incorporated into Canada’s national park system.

Within the park’s protected boundaries were extensive stands of commercially valuable timber. Sawmills and logging companies based in Revelstoke and Golden lobbied the provincial government to allow exploitation of Hamber’s timber resources. The provincial government redesignated Hamber as a “Class B” provincial park in 1945. Commercial logging and mining were permitted in parks given this designation.

Hamber remained undeveloped throughout the 1940s and 1950s. No tourist resorts, campgrounds, trails or scenic lookouts were constructed within the park even though a considerable section of the Big Bend highway which in 1962 would be officially designated the Trans-Canada passed through it. By the late 1950s it  also had become clear through negotiations with the United States that hydroelectric dam projects would be constructed along the upper Columbia River. One of these planned projects, Mica Dam, would result in substantial environmental disruptions within the park’s boundaries caused by the flooding of the Columbia River valley (and the Big Bend highway) above the dam. Because the highway followed this valley between Revelstoke and Golden, it had to be re-routed through Roger’s Pass before the dam could be built thereby bypassing Hamber almost entirely.

In light of these circumstances, provincial officials concluded that the park no longer had a legitimate reason to exist in its current form. In 1961 and 1962 the British Columbia government redrew the park’s boundaries. Most of the park was deleted, except for a small area centered on Fortress Lake in a remote part of the western ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The new Hamber Provincial Park consists of only 24,518 hectares, a reduction of 98% relative to its original size.

While all of this was unfolding, a post-war public had discovered a new pastime known as car camping.  The public was keen to get out in their automobiles along with their camping gear and experience the beauty of the province.  This put tremendous strain on road construction resources, one of the first car camping destinations in B.C. was Manning Park.

Many believe that this combination of factors was also the reason that in 1961, Bowron Lake Provincial Park was created. There had been some preliminary work done by government to ascertain the Bowron’s potential for meeting public expectations for more road accessible parks.  The Bowron was also a great candidate to compensate for the loss of Hambur Park, and it was road accessible.


Development of a Wilderness Canoeing Destination

From its inception, this Park has  been viewed as a wilderness paddling destination.  Initially the focus was on canoeing, but very quickly kayaking and most recently stand up paddle boarding  are popular. Many people wonder why did it take so long for the government to acknowledge the incredible beauty and outdoors adventure potential of this area?


The fact is, this area was actually being considered for hydro electric power development, specifically at the Cariboo Falls on the  Cariboo River.  It was only in 1954 that  theBC Power Commission advised the government that it was not feasible to develop the Bowron Lake system for hydro.   Two years later an area of 297,000 hectares was designated as a Use, Recreation and Enjoyment of the Public reserve.


In 1961 the government reduced  the size of Hambur Park to  24,518 hectares surrounding Fortress Lake while at the same time designating the Bowron Lakes as the province’s newest park.  Was this a co-incidence?


Parks “wilderness management”  principles were beginning to reflect lessons learned and being applied to visitor management by U.S. National Parks and U.S. Forest Service.  Information signs placed along the canoe circuit marked the beginning of designated camping sites.


The B.C. Parks Youth Crew Program started in 1956 and ran for 30 years.  This program proved to be a great experience for hundreds of youth although some field staff considered the participants a nuisance as they required training, supervision and room and board.  This was a summer-only program for students on vacation and consisted of a six week work term, with half spent working on a roadside project and half in the back country in a Park like Bowron. A residence as well as a kitchen was established at Bowron for both Youth Crew and Regular Field Staff.  Many young people valued their work experience at the Bowron as part of the Youth Crew.


In 1995 the government created what is now called Cariboo Mountains Park, which effectively connects Bowron Lake Park with Wells Grey park.  It was also great to see the Park’s expansion in 2000 when Bowron Lake Park was enlarged by the addition of three areas that were recommended through the Regional land use plans adjacent to the Park.  These areas included the Wolverine drainage, the Betty Wendle drainage and a tributary of the Upper Cariboo River drainange.  These additions serve as  buffers against any threats from resource extraction or outdoor winter recreation (snowmobiles) that may come from the areas north and east of the Park.


The Objectives as stated in the official Park plan for Bowron Lake Provincial Park are:

  • To manage the Bowron Lake canoe circuit as a safe, wilderness-oriented canoeing experience
  • To provide a destination, 6 – 10 day canoeing opportunity for intermediate canoeists and kayakers
  • To accommodate a 1 – 3 day canoeing opportunity for regional and local users
  • To minimize the impact of visitors on the natural values and wildlife of the Park
  • To accommodate a minimal level of winter activities in the Park
  • To maintain a level of infrastructure on the canoe circuit consistent with a wilderness experience


The Future for Bowron Lake Provincial Park

While originally B.C.’s Provincial Parks were managed and maintained by Provincial Park employees, between 1989 and 1991 the number of contracts for the provision of park visitor services in the province increased from 47 to 197.  Those contracted to provide the park services are known as Park Facility Operators (PFO’s).  Over time, in an effort to create as many operational efficiencies as possible, PFO’s have become responsible not only for  such specific services as facility maintenance, firewood and sanitation but also for all aspects of park operation, including security, public information, interpretation and revenue collection.  In selected parks they were also encouraged to provide small seasonal retail concessions such as boat rentals.  This increased profile of the contracted PFO has had the impact of increasing the ‘distance’ between the government administrators, planners, decision makers  and service providers and the actual consumers.


Steps need to be taken to develop or increase public input in this process.  The development of  a  Park-specific public advisory body to work with Park managers is indicated.  This would be a group that would serve in a volunteer advisory role, offering public feedback to Park managers, but also sharing information regarding Park initiatives with the paddling public. Such a group would be different from a volunteer service group that would exist to help with various work projects around the Chain.


There exists a need for greater information regarding the status of both flora and fauna within the Park. A similar volunteer public group working with direction from  biologists and naturalists would be in a position, for example to enter data onto a website like eBird, which over time would provide valuable database information regarding Bowron’s bird population.  Similarly, documentation of numbers of large ungulates such as moose and mountain caribou, particularly at the current time when both populations are under stress would be invaluable.  At the same time reporting numbers of grizzly bear sightings  following the ending of grizzly trophy hunting would be valuable.


It is important to continue to do everything necessary to maintain the Bowron as a wilderness canoeing destination aimed at those with  intermediate level paddling skills.  The Bowron is unique in the world !  It is important to maintain the ‘no motors’ policy in the Park, it is unfortunate that the work crews in the Park must use motors, but difficult to see how this can be avoided.


Over the years the Park has worked hard to maintain a balance to develop access to this area with out compromising the wilderness that makes this place so special.  Developments like the use of canoe carts have opened up the paddling experience to many who would otherwise not be able to have the ‘Bowron experience’.  Developing and maintaining the portage trails to a high standard similarly opens up this paddling experience to those whose  mobility and/or  vision is compromised.


The integrity of the area must continue to be maintained.  Limiting the number of users on the Chain at any one time is essential.  Limiting the camping to clearly designated areas is absolutely necessary.  The studious use of bear caches is a very significant development that has virtually eliminated negative interactions with wildlife around the Chain. Encouraging the burning of a minimal amount of firewood is important.


Rigidly limiting access to the Chain itself is essential.  Moving the trailhead for the Goat River Trail away from the Park, discouraging all access to the Park via Wolverine Bay, Restricting all snowbobile access to the Park in wintertime, the inclusion of ‘buffer areas’ in the Betty Wendle, Wolverine Bay and Cariboo River headwaters areas has helped to restrict any access from the north and east of the Park.  The development of the Cariboo Mountains Park, essentially linking Wells Grey and Bowron Parks is a significant positive development, clearing showing the world that this is a significant wilderness area that is to be respected.


There must be regular monitoring of the use and of any possible negative developments within the Park.   Illegal snowmobile access, illegal hunting, inappropriate tree harvesting or fire building. The fine for illegal snowmobile use in the Park is actually not much higher than the cost of registering to travel around the Circuit.  There is room for increased fines.


It would be very positive to see the rebirth of a program such as the former Youth Crew program that introduced B.C. students/youth to the  ‘wilderness world’  by offering a valuable work experience during their summer vacation.  There are many social, economic, environmental, personal development and increased awareness reasons why such a program would be very valuable.


There are now many valuable log structures within Bowron Lake Provincial Park.  Log structures require regular preventive maintenance in order to guarantee their ongoing integrity.  It is advisable to ensure that regular maintenance of these log structures is maintained, possibly with the use of maintenance contracts with specialized service providers.


The emergency shelter cabins are an integral part of the ‘Bowron experience’.  They are regularly used in emergencies, situations do arise when shelter from the elements is required over and above the use of tents.  Park users know of their existence and do depend on them in the event of an emergency.  Many of these structures are 50 years old, some even older.  They also require regular maintenance/upgrading in order to maintain their integrity.


In many of the campsites, the tent pads have become liabilities.  The tent pads have become water ‘collectors’ rather than enabling the camper to remain dry in their tent.  Recently a limited number of wooden ground level platforms made of treated wood have been introduced in place of the traditional tent pads.  It would be great to inform the camping public about the proper use of these wooden tent platforms and to seek feedback on the success of this development.  At this early point in their use, this writer fears that irresponsible campers may see these tent platforms as a ready source of  ‘dry’ firewood.


Finally, the history of the Bowron is significant.  Park managers are encouraged to undertake such initiatives as the completion of Statements of Significance for  Park structures and ‘places’, both man built and natural locations.  Park managers are encouraged to promote the increased use of archaeological studies to gather more primary information about he pre-contact history of First Nations within the area.