Three Little Boys, Three Dogs and Three Generations…Kibbee Lake and Back

Three Little Boys, Three Dogs and Three Generations…Kibbee Lake and Back

 

I’ve travelled to and from Kibbee Lake many times, in summer and winter.  Kibbee is part of the Bowron Chain of Lakes, a world class canoeing destination located  in the Cariboo Mountains in British Columbia’s Central Interior.  Campsite #1 along with a small shelter cabin is located at Kibbee, which is at the end of a 2.4 km. portage trail beginning at the Bowron Lake Provincial Park headquarters.

 

Kibbee now appears on maps as a separate lake from it’s neighbour, Thompson Lake although originally the two lakes together were known as Beaver Lake   If you look closely it appears that the two lakes are actually just separated by a very large and very old beaver dam.  Kibbee Lake, along with the creek draining it and running into Bowron Lake is named after Frank Kibbee, a larger-than-life Bowron trapper, big game outfitter and the Bowron Game Reserve’s first game warden.  Thompson Lake is named after_Roy and Norman Thompson, brothers and WWI veterans who established a marten and fisher fur farm on a high bench overlooking  the lake.  They also ran a trapline to the north and east of their homestead.

 

The week of March 25, 2019.  We were in the midst of  a hot weather deluge that had impacted all of western and northern North America in an extreme way.  Temperatures of +15C  during the day, barely freezing at night  triggered talk of global warming.  While this warmth, which was coming on the heels of a somewhat miserable winter was somehow welcome, it was also putting an end to many end-of-winter plans.  Sled dog races were being drastically modified, ice castles were melting, northern winter ice roads were disappearing.

 

My son Tyler and I had first discussed making a trip out on the Chain about two weeks earlier, at the tail end of a real (-30C) cold snap.  “This is really the time we should be going, especially if we were interested in making it around the Chain” he said, “but we can’t do that now because of commitments.  Would you be interested in a day trip, just going out to Kibbee and back during the Spring Break, I’ll ski and you take a dog team, the three boys could ride with you?”  Tyler had planted the seed.

 

In fact  as Tyler and I were having this talk, a couple of friends had just set out to hike around the Chain.  Using snowshoes they completed the 120 km. trip in 7 days with very few problems.   From tracks left in the snow they knew they weren’t the first ones to tackle the Chain this winter, in fact they met two fellows who had turned around at Lynx Creek on Isaac Lake and were heading back to the trailhead.  Our friends camped in  shelter cabins and cook shelters.  It stayed cold, the temperature during the nights stayed below -20C.  When they reached the Cariboo River there was open water. They remembered a damaged canoe they had passed on the bank of the Isaac River and so retrieved it and miraculously also  came up with two usable paddles.  Despite a large split in the canoe, it floated.  They paddled down the Cariboo River to a point just before Lanezi Lake where it was possible to once again start snowshoeing.  They spent the night in the ‘chalet’ at Turner Creek.  After a good sleep they completed a marathon hike the next day all the way to Pat’s Point where they stayed in the shelter cabin that had been built in the 1960’s by  brothers-in-law Vince Halverson and Sid Dannhauer and their families.  They made it back to their vehicle the next day, following a trail through the Bowron Slough left by a skier who had travelled out to the Paul Pavich Bowron River cabin and back.

 

I kept thinking about the possible trip out to Kibbee Lake.  I really wanted to make this trip for several reasons.  It would be a first for my grandsons (aged 3, 6 and 8)  and I.  Before this I had never taken them more than a few hundred metres in a dog sled. It would also be a wonderful experience to share with my son, one of the finest outdoorsmen that I know.  I also knew, although I didn’t really want to think about it, that after raising and running sled dogs for 47 years, this just might be my very last opportunity to run them.  My kennel was down to 5 dogs, all about the same age.   One of them, Tulugak, was the last remaining dog that I had bred and raised. The other four, Wells, Gray, Ace and Cela were all dogs I had acquired from other mushers.   At age 8+ years, as far as working dogs go, they were now close to being past their prime.

 

It hadn’t been a great winter at all.  It all started during the summer when my incredible lead dog Pitsiark had a recurrence of cancer and was humanely euthanized.  She was most of my team, a once-in-a-lifetime dog, a totally reliable gee haw leader, she always wanted to go, she commanded the respect of all of the other dogs, she had an amazing temperament…oh how I miss her.

 

I ran the remaining dogs a fair bit in the fall, using the ATV, which gives me quite a bit of control over the team.  I had always run Ace double lead with Pitsi and hoped that he might step up to the plate as a single leader.  It turned out that he is a pretty decent  lead dog, but not if he is leading on his own.  He knows his commands, he is eager to run, but if  up front on his own he likes to sniff every bit of animal scat and to pee on every tree.  This never happened when he was running with Pitsiark, she wouldn’t tolerate it.  My only option with the dogs that I had to work with was to run Tulugak with Ace.  Tulu had never run lead before, for her whole mushing life she had run swing, directly behind her sister Pitsi, a position where her movement was restricted not just by the fact that Pitsiark would not tolerate it if  Tulugak didn’t keep her line tight, but her movements were also restricted by both the tugline and the neckline that fastened her to the main gangline.  It turned out that she had also learned all of the commands, and knows them well, she is also a pretty athletic agile dog.  I thought (with fingers crossed) that she and Ace just might make a great pair.  But Tulugak has always had a chip on her shoulder, and she likes to fight.

 

My dogs are Canadian Inuit Dogs.  I could go on for pages about these incredible animals, saying nothing but wonderful things in the process.  These dogs are not a breed, they are what is known as an aboriginal landrace.  Like all landraces, the Inuit dog evolved in a particular environment (the Arctic, which happens to be one of the harshest environments on the planet) and in the process adapted in a manner that enables them to survive in this environment.  Their thick double coat, their incredibly compact and tough feet, their voracious appetites, their ability to work for long periods on very little food,  essentially their ability to thrive in an environment that allows only the fittest to survive.  With humans these dogs display an even,  warm temperament.  With each other, particularly between dogs of the same sex, often the gloves are off and the fight is on.  The reason for this is pretty basic.  If these dogs could talk it would sound something like “….if  I am dominant over you, then I will stand a better chance of getting  my fair portion and maybe even all of the food.  More importantly I will also stand a better chance of passing on my blood lines to the next generation.  In other words I will survive.”

 

It became obvious in the fall when running the dogs with the ATV that Tulu was going to be a problem. She saw the only other female in the kennel as her competition and she became her target, poor Cela.  I very quickly realized that as long as Tulu had the freedom of being the lead dog, she could and would run anywhere she wished, even if it meant turning around and heading right into the middle of the dog team where Cela was running.  Ace would try valiantly to keep her on track and to keep the lead dog lines tight, but if  Tulu chose to pick a fight, and if I didn’t see it coming in time to intervene, the end was often chaos.  This wasn’t much fun and things got even worse once I switched to running the dogs on the sled in deep snow where I had even less  control over the team if and when Tulu chose not to listen.

 

I wasn’t running my dogs as much as I would like, I found that even the thought of a possible dog fight triggered my anxiety.  Like I said, it hadn’t been a great winter at all so when Tyler suggested the trip out to Kibbee, Lake my first response was to apologize and to state that I didn’t think that it would be possible.  I couldn’t believe that these words were actually coming out of  my mouth.    I realize now that I had become really affected by Tulu’s fighting.  Also at the time, three of the dogs experienced potentially life threatening problems.  Within a three week period,  Gray developed a huge abscess on his jaw that required minor surgery and medication.   Ace developed  Masticatory Myositis which was the cause of a condition known as Trismus or the inability of poor Ace to open his mouth and which required special feeding and treatment with an anti inflammatory drug.   As if this wasn’t enough, Tulugak  developed gastric torsion that required emergency but successful treatment.

 

Throughout all of this I kept thinking about  the reasons that I would like to go on this little trip to Kibbee Lake and became determined to do my part to make it happen  A few days later I let Tyler know that I would like to see the trip to Kibbee  take place and that I would like to be part of it.

 

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Historically Inuit families only maintained a very small number of dogs and there was good reason for this.  Both the dogs and the Inuit ate almost exactly the same thing, meat and essentially every part of the animal whether a marine mammal like a seal, walrus or even a whale or a land mammal like a caribou, muskox or bear and of course both humans and dogs eat fish.  The Inuit were hunter gatherers.  Obtaining food for survival was their priority.  If it came down to having enough food for his family or for his dogs, the Inuk hunter would of course feed his family and himself first.  It also meant that two or possibly three dogs was the maximum number that one Inuk hunter with a family could support.

 

As hunter-gatherers, the Inuit were nomads, they had to move with the seasons, following the migration patterns of the wild animals in order to be able to hunt successfully, in order to survive.  Moving for the Inuit family meant loading everything they owned and needed for that particular season on to the komatik (sled) and together, along with their two or three sled dogs the hunter and his wife and possibly the older children would pull the komatik to the spot where they knew they would find food.   The younger children as well as the elders would ride on the komatik along with the  caribou skins that were required for shelter, the hunting  and cooking tools,  and possibly a little food.  There was no real concept of travelling fast or of reaching a pre-determined destination in a specific period of time.  If the season made pulling a komatik impossible, the Inuit Dogs became pack animals and carried about a third of their body weight on their backs.  Wherever the Inuk hunter found himself with his family and with their belongings, was the place that they all called home. Everything they needed to survive was right there with them.  This was to change.

 

There are many classic images of an Inuk on a large komatik  being pulled by 10 – 15 gorgeous Inuit Dogs harnessed in a fan hitch, travelling over the sea ice, often with an iceberg as a backdrop.  These images are actually of very recent origin, probably beginning with the 1940’s.  This is the era when the traditional life of the Inuit began to change dramatically, and not necessarily for the better.  This is the period when the trapping economy exploded, particularly the demand for white (Arctic) fox pelts.  This was the period when the fur trade reached its zenith and trading posts run by large trading companies like the Hudson’s Bay Company or Reveillon Frères as well as by  independent traders, sprang up throughout the North.  This was also the beginning of the period when Inuit were enticed/forced to move into settlements, it was the beginning of the end of the Inuit hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and as time has sadly shown, it was ultimately the beginning of the demise of the Inuit Dog.

 

In order to trap more furs, the Inuit had to travel over much longer traplines and this required more and more dogs.  The furs in turn were traded at the trading post for processed food, canned goods, flour, sugar, coffee and tea, jam and honey, pasta, oatmeal, and rice.  The Inuit hunter spent more and more time trapping and less time hunting.  More of the wild game that he did hunt was used to feed the bigger dog team while his family’s diet became more and more dependent on the food available from the trading post.

 

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For the Kibbee trip I decided to use only  three dogs, Tulugak, Wells and Gray.  I will never forget the first hook-up for these three.  We were at the trailhead at Bowron, because of the anticipated narrow trail I planned to run the dogs in single file with Tulu in lead, then big red Wells followed by Gray (who is grey). [ By the way, can you guess just which provincial park in British Columbia I obtained Wells and Gray from?] The dogs were hooked into the single file gangline and Tulu immediately turned around and made her way to the back of the team while Tyler and I stood back and watched.  She was looking for a fight but there was no-one to fight with. That strong survival instinct was still present but there was no reason for her to beat up either Wells or Gray who could one day be the father of her puppies and would therefore ensure that her bloodline would continue.  She sniffed the two males and they sniffed back and soon she took her place at the front of the team and that was that.  The dogs were great and I felt very relieved!

 

The plan was to make a dry run without any children out to Kibbee and back on the Monday, just to see if the trip was do-able, and if so we would  do the real thing with the kids on the Wednesday.  Folks had obviously been skiing and snowshoeing out to Kibbee over the winter so there was a somewhat narrow trail with a solid base.  The dogs in single file had no problems, Tyler set a wicked pace skiing in front of the team.  We ‘pulled the hook’ at about 10:30 a.m., the day was starting to get warm but it had frozen that night so we weren’t really sinking in. The sun was shining brightly, it was a lovely day, soon we abandoned hat and gloves.  At the end of the portage trail, at the spot where in the summer you put the canoe into the water for the very  first time, there is a little drop-off onto the lake.  There were several trails out on the lake to choose from, there was none of the dreaded overflow that is the nemesis of so many groups that try to ski around the Chain in the winter, the dogs did really well, it was bright, warm and very pleasant.

 

We made it to Campsite #1 and the cabin very quickly.  I staked out the dogs in some trees and we just sat in the sun on a wooden bench that was almost buried in snow, we soaked in the warmth as we ate our lunch and watched as a butterfly came to land on the handlebar of the dog sled.  There was no question that in two days we would travel out with the children.

 

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Everyone  was excited in anticipation of  this adventure.  Nana made a lunch fit for Hannibal’s army.  The dogs knew the drill, having just completed the trip two days earlier. I chose to use a bit shorter sled than I had used on Monday,  the narrow trail made it very difficult to turn a longer sled in the middle of the trail. We chose to move the starting time ahead by an hour to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures.  It had rained since Monday and we feared that the trail might have softened significantly.

 

Our local ski hill, Troll Resort, is located on the way to Bowron Lake.  This winter, the owners experimented with a small trailer park (complete with two tiny homes) for  regular skiers who would like to park their mobile homes at the resort for the winter. My son had access to an unused school bus and had arranged for it to be part of this winter auto court.  As it was Spring Break for the children, they had gone skiing on Tuesday and spending the night in the bus was part of the adventure. I met them at the bus at 8:00 a.m. sharp.  There was a lot of excitement in the air.

 

We arrived at the Bowron trailhead by 9:00 a.m.  It was warmer than we had hoped and the trail had definitely softened over the past two days. We  knew the routine, I got the dogs and sled ready while Tyler got the kids ready.  For the children it was snowsuits all around.  These incredible pieces of  childrens’ winter clothing were  irreplaceable when it came to a child’s active winter lifestyle.  But they are also well named…toaster suits.

 

I let Tyler organize just where the kids should go.  We started off with  3 year old Garnet and 6 year old Eli in the sled, with 8 year old Logan riding on the left hand runner, with me on the right hand runner.  The kids in the sled were sitting on a foamy, Logan and I were able to pedal with our ‘outside’ leg, the one that wasn’t standing on the runner. Tyler was equipped with his back country skis and skins and he skied in front of the dog sled.  The dogs were great!

 

All right, Let’s go! It was slow going but we were moving well.  Logan caught on to the pedalling right away.  I was working hard, the shorter sled didn’t have the same kind of floatation on the soft snow as the longer sled would have.  I generally whistle to the dogs to encourage them to move along and soon there were four different whistling sounds floating through the air coming from each of the four riders on the sled.  The trick was to stay in the middle of the trail, where the hard pack was.  The dogs did fine, running in single file they were each able to pick their way right down the middle of the packed trail.  The loaded sled on the other hand was another story. If it veered to one side of the trail it almost immediately was grabbed by the soft snow which in turn caused the sled to veer right off the trail, often into a tree well.  It was a lot of effort to get it back on to the trail.  Soon Logan chose to run behind the sled, he was fantastic.  Eli and Garnet encouraged the dogs along, and soon I heard this three year old high pitched voice imitating mine….”alright pups let’s go, let’s go”.

 

The toaster suits soon became ‘roaster suits’….it was getting hot.  “I’m sweating, it’s too hot, how much longer, can’t we go faster – I want to go faster, let’s go pups, when are we going to be there, this is the longest hike ever”.  The two oldest boys took turns walking behind and riding on the sled.  They were careful to make sure their little brother was o.k.  It is primarily an uphill journey from the start to Kibbee Lake…in hindsight, it actually was going really well.

 

When we got to the lake, of course the trail was perfectly flat.  To heck with following the safety of the shoreline, let’s take the shortest route over the ice.  The sled moved smoothly, there was no suggestion of danger, but as each set of human and canine feet (along with the sled and ski runners) passed over the route, the overflow became more and more evident.  The dogs loved it, the pulling was easy, the overflow was not a problem for their feet and I suspect it was also cooler for them as well.

 

I didn’t really have to give the dogs much thought, they were doing their job and doing it well. “let’s go pups”.  Tulugak was wonderful, last Monday and today were the very first times that she had ever run single lead without any hint that she was going to fight.  I’m not saying for one minute that she is as great a sled dog as her late sister Pitsiark, but she was sure doing well today. As for the provincial park brothers, they were steady and powerful.  That image of the Inuit family with mother and father ‘in harness’ along with the two or three family Inuit dogs, all pulling the heavily loaded komatik to new hunting grounds flashed through my mind.  Was this really what it must have been like?  These were the same dogs, these would be the same spring conditions, but I’m not sure if those toaster suits were anything like the caribou skin clothing that the Inuit children of 70+ years ago would have been wearing.

 

Before too long we were at campsite #1, Kibbee Lake.  The children became quite excited when they saw the orange #1 marker sign.  Both Logan and Eli had been to this place before. For Logan it was in the winter, he was just a few months old and his parents had made  an overnight trip out to this spot on skis.  He was also here when he was two  years old, on that occasion his parents completed an epic 14 day canoe trip around the Chain when in addition to Logan, little Eli was also in the canoe.  The plan for that trip was simple, you paddled when the children were sleeping and stopped when they were awake and needed attention.  The canoe that was being used  at that time was a big 20 footer, complete with a covered nursery and a jolly jumper (to be used on dry land only).

 

Today the dogs were staked out in the same place as Monday, the children sat on the same bench that Tyler and I had used two days earlier.  They stripped down to their ‘fuzzies’, taking off those roaster suits. The sun was warm, the sandwiches were delicious (Nana had made each boy’s favourite) along with some treats and juice and once again the butterfly landed on the handlebar of the sled.  We had brought a special gift, a pair of hand dipped candles and these were placed inside the cabin, hopefully for someone to use.

 

After about an hour it was time to start the return journey.   Everything was done in reverse.  On the lake the overflow had now filled our incoming tracks, the going was good but the conditions were now quite wet.  All three boys were riding comfortably in the sled, the dogs were working really well. Once off the lake there was a longish initial uphill and things slowed down. As the trail got softer it became more and more difficult to steer the sled which seemed to be continually drawn into tree wells.  Logan helped out by hiking behind the sled until we reached the height of land.  On the predominant downhill sections everyone was riding and we made great time.  Before we knew it we were back at the truck, but not before one more little adventure.

 

Just after passing the Park Registration Centre Tyler called back “skiers ahead”.  Sure enough,  three or four men (it all happened in a blur) were heading toward us.  They were on skis, each was pulling a fully loaded pulka. We exchanged greetings as we passed, almost without stopping.  They were on their way around the whole Chain, we shared information about the conditions we had experienced, mentioned about our friends who had completed the circuit a few weeks earlier, said “Good Luck” and as both groups moved on we silently wished them well. (Note:  I later learned that this group was from Kamloops and that they did indeed successfully make it around the Chain….good for them!)

 

Once back to the truck the children were feeling cold and they stripped out of  their wet clothes.  We turned on the engine and heater and  essentially transformed the truck into a sauna.  It took about a half hour to load the equipment into the dog trailer and the dogs into their dog boxes and to be on our way,  just as raindrops appeared on the windshield.

 

Destruction of Cabins….Information Sheet #2

Bowron Lake Provincial Park…….Information Sheet #2
Destruction of Cabins…..Update, May 6, 2014

On February 13, 2014 I produced a Bowron Lake Information Sheet entitled simply Destruction of Cabins. This three page document (I call it Information Sheet #1) outlined my experience at Pat’s Point on the Bowron Chain during Thanksgiving weekend, 2013. If you would like to read this full document you can find it at http://www.celebratethebowron.com

I became concerned when it became evident that the Ranger cabin at Pat’s Point had been destroyed and cut into firewood and had been replaced with a spanking new, gorgeous, fir, post and beam, fixed roof, duplex building with provisions for running water and a greywater sewage system. This experience raised a RED FLAG for me regarding management decisions that could have a significant impact on the future direction of Bowron Lake Provincial Park. As I stated in Information Sheet #1, “….there is a current program of destruction of cabins and shelters in the Park that appears misguided, implies a misuse of taxpayer funds and which is definitely occurring without consultation.”.

Since producing the first Information Sheet, I have learned some more interesting facts. This information has come from the minutes of a March 19, 2014 meeting that occurred between the BC Parks (Bowron Lake Park) managers and the executive of BLES (Bowron Lake Enhancement Society), the first meeting between the Park managers and members of the general public since the Park Use Plan was developed in 2002. In addition I have been speaking with others who have first hand knowledge of Park history. I want to share this information which will provide some corrections to some of the statements I made in Information Sheet #1 as well as some clarification and updates regarding future plans for the Park. It appears that this will be an ongoing discussion.

In Information Sheet #1 I posed a number of questions for Park managers. I will repeat and comment on these same (boldfaced) questions below.

What are the intentions of Park managers with regards to greater consumer involvement in the planning for and development of Bowron Lake Provincial Park?

The fact that the meeting between Park managers and the BLES executive took place on March 17, 2014 provides an answer to this questions. This meeting was a welcome and positive development and hopefully will be the first in an ongoing series of such meetings.

It was learned at this meeting that there has been a shifting of responsibilities among the BC Parks staff members working out of the Williams Lake office. In addition there are staff vacancies to be filled.

The responsibilities of the Ministry of Environment fall into five Divisions:
Environmental Protection Division
Environmental Sustainability and Strategic Policy Division
Parks and Protected Areas (BC Parks)
Climate Action Secretariat
Conservation Officer Service

These services are offered throughout the province through Regional offices. In reality some smaller Regional offices (i.e. Cariboo Region/Williams Lake) are accountable to a larger Regional office (Thompson Region/Kamloops) and in fact are referred to as Sections. The individual with overall responsibility for BC Parks (and therefore Bowron Lake Provincial Park) in the Cariboo Region is referred to as the Section Head. Dave Zevick, the Section Head at the time of the March 19th meeting has accepted a transfer to a position in another office and was to be leaving Williams Lake very soon, his replacement has not yet been assigned. Helen Rimmer, who has been the Supervisor with primary responsibility for Bowron Lake Provincial Park for the past 10 years has assumed different responsibilities within the Williams Lake office and her role at Bowron Lake has been assumed by Heather Gorrell, the former Cariboo South Supervisor. Heather is now the “go to” person regarding Bowron Lake issues, she has indicated that she would like to have regular/ongoing meetings with Bowron Lake stakeholders.

If necessary, will….documenting the provenance of the Park’s significant structures and places become an ongoing priority?

There is no indication that BC Parks has made any attempt to document in writing, the provenance of any of the cabins and other structures that currently exist or that existed in the past around the Bowron Chain. All may not be lost however, apparently “photo documentation” of the destroyed Pat’s Point cabin has been completed and I have also heard a suggestion that old BC Parks files may not have been destroyed and if this is the case, it may be possible to glean some information from these, however this will require the efforts of a committed researcher as well as the co-operation of BC Parks. I will pursue this matter.

It does not appear that a Statement of Significance has been completed for the Pat’s Point Ranger cabin. I have tried to gather some information regarding this structure that may prove useful when developing a Statement of Significance for this (now destroyed) building. I did confirm that the Pat’s Point Ranger cabin was in fact one of the newest log buildings on the Chain (at the March 19th meeting it was stated that this cabin was constructed in 1980). It was built by the late Frank Cushman and his son Tim. They felled the trees on site and used horse power to skid and raise the logs for the building. This was one of two Ranger cabins that Frank Cushman built in the Park. The Frank Cushman family have deep roots in the Park. At one time Frank and his wife Ruth owned and operated what is now known as Becker’s Resort. Frank established Wolverine Mountain Outfitters based at Kruger Lake which is right on the Park Boundary. Frank’s guiding area was huge and at one time it actually included much of what was to become the Park. At least one of the existing shelter cabins (located on Indianpoint Lake) was built by Frank and was used as part of his guiding and trapping area. What remains of this guiding area still essentially surrounds the Park.

To set this cabin into a context, it is helpful to know just what was happening in the Park at the time it was constructed. The Bowron became a Park in 1961. While it took Park officials a while to develop a plan, over the next ten years the basic plan for the Park as we know it today unfolded. This plan included establishing wilderness campsites with basic amenities, four cooking shelters, portage trails, a main registration/staging area and the construction of four Ranger cabins. Until the 1990’s there were no contracted staff providing management/maintenance services in the Park, all of the “workers” were BC Parks employees, either full time or summer/part time. There was also a vibrant program for employing youth in the Park. There was a need for accommodation around the Chain for the Park Wardens, hence the construction of the four Warden cabins throughout the 70’s. Prior to their construction, some of the existing shelter (emergency) cabins were used as Warden cabins.

It is important to note that this early planning was true to the philosophy that underlaid the creation of Bowron Lake Provincial Park, that it would offer a wilderness paddling experience for the intermediate level paddler. In fact, BC Parks actually destroyed (or let mother nature destroy) many of the “modern” amenities that existed around the Chain in 1961 such as the wooden tramway that ran between Spectacle and Skoi Lakes and between Skoi and Babcock Lake, to safeguard the notion of a wilderness paddling experience. Similarly the canal that had been dynamited between Spectacle and Skoi Lakes was allowed to sluff in so that it would not be usable. Many cabins that existed around the Chain were destroyed including George Gilbert’s cabin at Silvertip Point on lower Isaac Lake. The enclave of “shake shelters” that existed on Unna and Rum Lakes disappeared.

Today there are seven shelter (emergency) cabins in existence around the Chain. These all had “prior lives” dating back to pre-1961, when Bowron Lake Provincial Park was created. When Thomas McCabe made his map of the Chain in 1925, he documented the existence of at least 17 habitable/emergency shelter cabins around the Chain (excluding those located on Bowron Lake) and McCabe’s numbers do not include those cabins that were constructed by Wells residents and the Wells Rod and Reel Club during the 1930’s – 50’s.

Are there plans to demolish the Indianpoint Lake Ranger cabin in 2014? Are other cabins or structures scheduled for destruction in the next few years?

The Indianpoint Lake Ranger cabin will not be destroyed in 2014 but the Ranger cabin located at Babcock Creek will be destroyed as soon as weather conditions permit, most likely in May of 2014. As soon as this cabin is demolished, another post and beam duplex, fixed-roof structure identical to the one that was erected at Pat’s Point will be erected on the same footprint as the existing Babcock Creek Ranger cabin. The goal is that it will be ready for occupancy by July of 2014.

The Babcock Creek site is somewhat unique in that there isn’t really another suitable site available to construct a new Ranger cabin due to the fact that the existing site allows for fairly easy access to Babcock Lake via a wooden boardwalk (that is not available or easily accessible to the paddling public). This means that Wardens are able to dock their motor boats on Babcock Lake with easy walking access to their cabin where a second boat is available that allows them to travel all the way to McLeary Lake.

There is another reason however why the policy has been to build the four replacement cook shelters as well as the Pat’s Point Ranger cabin (and now the Babcock Creek cabin) on the identical footprint of the original (now demolished) structures. If a new building site was utilized, Parks would be required to undertake an archaeological assessment of the proposed site for the new structure, to ensure that this site was not of special significance for First Nations governments. Parks states that they are committed to honouring the policy of an archaeological assessment for new construction, but not if they are building a new structure on an old site, even though it is highly unlikely that any archaeological assessment was ever done on the site in question when the original structure was constructed.

There is a significant dearth of any archaeological/primary evidence regarding First Nations habitation in the area of Bowron Lake and around the Chain. Much (most?) of the evidence that does exist is at best anecdotal. It would seem that BC Parks is essentially using a “loophole” to avoid the archaeological assessment process even though they are officially supportive of the practice. Why this glaring inconsistency? Could this have anything to do with pending land claims negotiations/settlements between First Nations and various levels of government?

Park management shared the details of what is essentially their Seven Year Plan for Bowron Lake Provincial Park. I’m not sure just when “year #1” began but developments to date have included upgrades to the registration building site to ensure proper drainage etc., improvements in the front country campground, provision of metal bear caches at the campsites, the construction of 4 replacement cook shelters and construction of the new Pat’s Point Ranger cabin. Developments to come over the next three or four years include the new Ranger cabin at Babcock Creek, widening (and reopening) of the hiking trail to Cariboo Falls to a minimum width of 30+ feet for safety reasons, replacement of the Ranger cabins at Wolverine Bay and Indianpoint Lake with structures identical to the new Pat’s Point Ranger cabin structure (with some prior remediation/water drainage work required at the Indianpoint Lake site), installation of greywater systems in each of the new Ranger cabins and some upgrades to the portage trails.

What is the rationale for the replacement of the four Ranger cabins? Officially they are being replaced for health reasons, because they have apparently become overrun by mice and bats. Some of the structures are also on unstable foundations and there are “water issues” at Indianpoint Lake. The fact is, these cabins have always seen minimal use, but certainly since the introduction of the PFO/contracted maintenance system they have seen even less use. It is also quite possible that with the high turnover of transient contract employees, there has been virtually no incentive to care for and maintain these buildings to any reasonable standard. In short they have become very run down, dirty and have not seen any kind of preventive maintenance. It is no wonder that the mice and bats have moved in.

All log structures require preventive maintenance (and this is also true of the new post and beam timber frame structures that are being built on the Chain, I hope that the contract to build these new structures also comes with a provision for ongoing preventive maintenance). It is tragic that the existing Ranger cabins have been allowed to deteriorate. However, if ever there was an area of B.C. that possessed the knowledge of how to stabilize and rehabilitate log buildings it is the Quesnel/Cottonwood House/Barkerville/Quesnel Forks/Bowron Lake region which is home to innumerable heritage log structures. There is no question that with the knowledge that is available in this area, the existing log Ranger cabins could be rehabilitated and the presenting health risks could neutralized .

Throughout these Information Sheets, I have referred to the new post and beam buildings as “fixed roof” structures. The term “fixed roof” is a BC Parks term and it is used in BC Parks literature in connection with a BC Parks plan to see rental accommodation developed , either by private developers or by BC Parks themselves within certain BC parks. I’m not quite sure just what “fixed roof” means, perhaps it is used to distinguish these buildings from tents. It was shared by Park managers that the notion of developing rental accommodation in Bowron Lake Park was part of the reason that this type of duplex building was chosen for construction. While the implementation of such a “service” would require some time to develop, this line of reasoning confirms my worst fears regarding the future degradation of the wilderness paddling experience for the intermediate level paddler in Bowron Lake Provincial Park.

Apparently the promotion of “fixed roof” rental accommodation in BC parks is seen as a way of generating revenue to offset the cost of the contracted Park Facilities Operator. The more money that the PFO can generate from revenues like user fees, canoe rentals, souvenir and firewood sales and from the rental of “fixed roof” accommodation, the less the amount of money that will have to come from public coffers.

What steps are Park managers taking to ensure that no more cabins will be destroyed and that if replaced, the existing Ranger cabins will become much needed shelter cabins?

The destruction of the existing Babcock Creek cabin is essentially a done deal. Apparently the replacement post and beam structure has already been constructed and is waiting to be helicoptered into the Park for assembly. But Park managers and the contractor building the replacement Ranger cabin are reportedly not against the idea of the existing cabin being dismantled (as opposed to being cut up for firewood) and being reassembled on another site for use as a shelter(emergency) cabin as long as the disassembly of the existing structure is done expeditiously. This is welcome news but it also raises some hurdles.

Because the Babcock Creek site is so small, if the existing cabin is to see a new life, it must be dismantled and moved, there is simply not enough room to store the materials from the old cabin on site. The option is most likely to cut up and burn the old Ranger cabin. There is a real time crunch and quite frankly for the contractor who is erecting the new structure, time is money. Because the new structure is ready to go, the old structure must be removed (in one way or another) as soon as weather permits.

In order to “save” the old cabin, a group of hardy workers would have to descend on Babcock Creek to dismantle the existing building, labelling the logs for reassembly, the logs would have to be moved from the site and stored under cover. It would seem that these workers would have to be volunteers as at this point there is no money to pay such a crew. This would require a significant amount of organization and co-ordination and as stated, there is a time crunch. Once the logs were moved, it would be necessary to wait while an archaeological assessment was completed on the proposed new site for reassembly of the cabin, again more money. If all was a go, resources (manpower, equipment and money) for reassembly of the cabin would then have to be found and mobilized.

It looks like there is a very slim chance that the existing Babcock Creek cabin can be saved. But there is still the opportunity to develop a plan for the Wolverine Bay and the Indianpoint Lake cabins. Most importantly, it would appear that Park managers do appreciate the fact that there is indeed a need for more shelter (emergency) cabins around the Chain. Perhaps it will be possible to build the new (replacement) Wolverine Bay and Indianpoint Lake Ranger cabins on new footprints, leaving the existing cabins intact so that they can be converted into much needed shelter (emergency) cabins without having to be dismantled and moved.

How much did it cost at Bowron Lake Park to build a fir post and beam fixed roof duplex off site and then to assemble it in the middle of a wilderness park with all materials, tools, supplies and workers being helicoptered in and out?

To my knowledge, the construction costs associated with the four new cook shelters and the Pat’s Point Ranger cabin have not been publicly revealed. They are significant, high quality structures. The fact that they were built off site and reassembled in a wilderness area using expensive helicopter transport for all materials, equipment, personnel both in and out of the Park suggests a significant amount of money for transportation alone. The existing structures had to be demolished and all of the expensive building materials that could not be burned and that had themselves probably been transported by helicopter into the Park in the first place had to be destroyed and/or transported (by helicopter) to a landfill site. Not only does this have dollar signs stamped all over it but it is also such a tragic waste and loss of valuable and scarce buildings within the Park and even if they had to be dismantled, it is a loss of valuable building materials.

It would be appropriate to simply ask the Park managers how much these structures cost. Did the negotiated contracts include ongoing preventative maintenance of the structures? Log and timber structures settle, they “shrink” and the wood becomes checked and sometimes the structures shift. It is important to keep log and timber frame structures clean and to wash the woodwork annually, to treat them with a mould inhibitor and to protect them from damaging ultraviolet rays and water damage.

If information regarding the cost of construction is not forthcoming, it may be appropriate to request these figures by submitting a request under the terms of the British Columbia Freedom of Information and the Protection of Privacy Act.

Jeffrey Dinsdale
May 6, 2014