The Land of To-Morrow
A Thousand-Mile Canoe Trip Through British Columbia
M. M. BOWMAN
WE PACKED our toboggans at Kamloops, the engineer and I, early in March, intending to “mush” on the ice up the North Thompson River to gain the headwaters of the Fraser. But true to the fate of the best laid plans we were soon to be halted. One hundred miles north of Kamloops our toboggan broke through the fast' crumbling ice. The engineer balked, and we made camp to dry our outfit. The next morning we arose to find the river filled with a procession of drifting ice cakes. Before us lay an uncertain snow-obliterated trail to the “Land of To-morrow,” and our only alternative was to shoulder our
Çacks aud push on upon snowshoes. 'he engineer, ill with fatigue and exosure, turned to the “Land of To-day.” o with the little sinking of the heart that one feels at facing the companionless path, whether of the woods or the town, I transferred from our toboggan what supplies I could carry and took up the lone trail.
Seventy miles north of here, on the Blue River were reported two lone trappers, and these would be the only inhabitants to be met in the first five hundred miles of my journey unless the Cree Indians were in their winter quarters at Tete Jaune Cache.
Ten days’ travel, and the Blue River revealed no signs of the reported trappers. I swung one weary snowshoe over a log, setlled back on my back against the soft snow and make some sober calculations upon the diminishing rate of miles and supplies. I had not reckoned upon the possibility of missing the trap-
Editor’s Note.—In a few days the rumble of the heavy trains on two new transcontinental railways will reverberate through many a newly explored pass and mountain locked fertile valley of the rich province of British Columbia. A thousand miles of steel will soon be completed over this virgin soil where only yesterday the scattered outposts of the Hudson Bay Company marked the only habitation of the white man. Opportunity has her doors wide open to the world for these little-known valleys are rich in soil and mineral and give promise of being just as valuable for special purposes of agriculture as the wonderful valleys to the south have demonstrated. The following story by the author gives the reader a vivid picture of his experiences in invading these regions. He points out that the land policy of the provincial government has resulted in much land being tied up to speculator*
pers, ana I needed their directions on my trailless journey.
A SHOT OUT OF THE SILENCE.
Thus pondering I was watching a river duck coming down the swift stream. With rifle resting upon one knee I waited until it was abreast and fired, when lo! from out the solitude ahead came an answering shot.
Those of you who have ever followed the lone trail will appreciate that shot.1 The two grim spectres of the diminishing knapsacks and the uncertain way vanished before a broad and involun-
tary grin. I could feel the unaccustomed oscular wrinkles creasing my countenance as 1 swung along in the direction of the sound. With a sense of their incongruity I strove to subdue them, but alas, in vain. They refused to smooth out!
Turning a bend in the river I saw a bearded young man in bright Mackinaw and leggings. He leaned upon his rifle supported on the web of his snowshoe, and a closer view showed that he also wore a very cheerful answering grin.
His tiny cabin, eaves-deep in snow, but replete with primitive luxury and hospitality, was proffered me for the night. With pride he exhibited his rare stock of furs as he told of his seven months of isolation continually on snowshoes in this snowiest valley of the Province. That night his calendar was corrected, fourteen more days being crossed off to match amends for as many lapses since last it had been checked by a visit from the outside world.
The next day a chinook wind came and its warm breath made snowshoeing next to impossible. Fortunately I found that my new acquaintance had built himself a dug-out canoe and I was able to enlist the services of both canoe and owner.
So for twenty miles we breasted the swift current _ of the Thompson with pole and witA paddle, now lining up rapids and now cutting through ice blockades until on the fourth day an impassible frozen jam put an end to this means of travel. Landed with my pack on the bank T watched my latest
companion’s return a little wistfully. His hand left the paddle just for an instant to wave a hazardous good-bye as he swept out of sight around a curve in the river, and I was again alone.
The tinge of loneliness was soon forgotten in the good open forest snowshoeing where lately a frosty north wind had hardened the surface. Then events became too interesting for that luxury. The mouth of the Albreda was missed in its deep covering of snow, and soon the puzzling westward trend of the river indicated that I was off my way.
There are few incidents less to the taste on the trail than “back-tracking,” especially on a glaciated snow-slide, but north is north, and not west. The mountain which skirted the river had to be climbed and new bearings taken with what grace I could muster, despite my impatience. For the journey to Bella Coola, my distant goal on the coast would be a long one, and each delay made that objective point seem more remote.
The Albreda’s mouth found, I waded the Thompson and again faced my destination. Northward my course was now laid up the Albreda and across the Canoe River to the head waters of the Fraser.
For the following three weeks my Indian snowshoes stood me in good stead. Such small game as I encountered in the frozen valley went to replenish my rapidly shrinking provisions and camps were made only where night overtook me. Many tributary streams misled me. On ice bridges and by felling trees I crossed and recrossed only too often to find that I must retrace my steps. But I suppose such incidents have no proper place in a true sportsman’s reminiscences. Otherwise I often wonder how many of
us would repeat our periodic visits to the wilds?
AN INDIAN VILLAGE.
Threading the snowy Albreda Pass I was forced to swim the Canoe River while drift ice was still in evidence, and on April 28th crossed the low divide between the Canoe and Fraser rivers. The picturesque teepees of the Tete Jaune Cache were the first assurance that my compass had not misled me. There, indeed, was the “Iroquois village” marked on my map, and, most reassuring of all, a rythmic beating of tom-toms announced that the Indians were at home.
The melancholy drumming subsided at my call and the little Cree settlement flocked out en masse to view the white stranger. A stalwart young savage poled deftly across for me, and I was led without question to the largest teepee, where I supped and lodged, grateful enough for the rude hospitality. Moyese, my host, who turned out to be chief among them, sat apart during the repast and waited with quiet dignity, in accordance with strict Indian etiquette until all had finished before partaking of the meal. A keen pleasure was the quickening effect of even this savage company after the lonesome month’s pilgrimage. In the universal Chinook of the northwest we exchanged our brief stories as we smoked our pipes. There was the quiet Moyese, aquiline and grimly forceful by the firelight ; his industrious squaw, who worked incessantly at making moccasins as she puffed at her stone bowl; Louis, her brother, and the white guest—each on his blanket, around the. central fire while the smoke rose in a thin blue column to the teepee cone. So far into the night we visited in huge comfort, then each drew his blanket around him and slept.
At the first ray of daylight I arose
from the light sleep of the stranger in a strange land. My companions still sleeping, their heads downhill after their custom, I slipped out from the edge of the teepee and with axe and rifle set out in search of timber for a paddle of my own design. The Cache settlement, the only Crees in British Columbia, and as old as its history, may have been great hunters and trappers but they were not the canoemen of the Chinook tribes. From that half-dozen dug-out canoes I chose one which would meet requirements and was soon busy hewing out a paddle after the model of the Chinooks. Grunts of surprise not unmixed with contempt it brought forth, for nowhere is conservatism more marked than in these most primitive crafts. But I was bound for the deep waters of the great lower river where they never ventured and where their slender poling-blades would be little more than useless.
NEW COMPANION IN ADVENTURE.
While thus preparing for the long canoe trip there occurred one of those strangely rare coincidences of the trail. A lone adventurer had mushed in from Edmonton over the Yellowhead Pass. The barking of a score of dogs brought the first tidings. Then a young buck appeared, mnning, and while he talked rapidly all eyes were turned toward me with apparent curiosity as Moyese announced “White man chaceo.”
I think I did not disappoint them in my demonstrations. When they overtook me in my haste to meet the Chee Chaceo I believe I was shaking his hand with much the same breadth of grin my late acquaintance of the Blue River had provoked.
It was a brown and bearded young Montanan who swung his heavy pack to ground and returned my greeting. With the characteristic self-reliance of the mountain-bred he had fought a
hard battle to gain a point from which he had no idea how he must proceed, so it was with apparent gratitude that he took bow paddle with me. To this chance meeting I shall never know how much I myself must owe, for subsequent acquaintance with the rapids proved them to be distinctly a two-man job, and inasmuch as I had set out to carry it through alone it is highly probable that I am indebted to him for something more than his excellent company. The river had claimed some sixteen victims,! was told by the natives.
Swift, shallow water characterizes the river for the first fifteen miles, and our little craft had many close calls among the riffles and “sweepers” down the sharp turns of the stream. Rapid followed rapid, each turn calling for quick judgment and quick action as the tiny canoe raced along to the northward. The speed equals the fondest dreams of the adventurer for it must be remembered that the swifter the current the greater the speed that must be maintained to keep the necessary steerage headway.
INTO THE GAME BELT.
The second day downstream ended the problem of food supply. We were at our breakfast when a persistent splashing up the river attracted our attention. A large bull caribou had waded out on a sand bar where he was noisily taking his early morning splash. A beautiful picture he made in the morning light, proud of poise and confident in his long unbroken solitude. The distance was about two hundred yards. Our rifles cracked together, both shots being effective. The surprised animal whirled completely around, then plunged heavily into the river, and by the time we had leaped into our canoe and paddled up to meet him he was dead, one shot having severed his jugular vein.
After leaving Moose River, some eighty miles down the Fraser the greatest game belt in the Province begins. Repeatedly I photographed at close range a caribou which had taken to the river at our approach. Thus caught at our mercy he swam superbly, proving a pretty subject for the kodak. We held the frightened quarry in midstream for over a mile of swift water, then headed him ashore and took a final exposure as he dashed up the bank.
About a mile farther on we were caught upon a gravel bar, and while thus delayed what was our surprise to see our late friend the caribou in midstream, swimming past as though for dear life. His particular instinct when in danger seemed to be keeping to the water and he was true to its letter. Again we drove him upon the bar, and the last we saw of him he was still
watching us from the bank with head and tail erect in a panic of uncertainty whether or not to plunge into the icy river.
Moose as well as caribou were very plentiful at this point. About an hour’s travel from Kenny Creek, on the following day the prettiest of sights to the hunter’s eye was discovered by the merest accident. Noticing a steep knoll on the east bank we landed to survey the surrounding country and from its top sighted a herd of eight moose grazing peacefully in a nearby muskeg. After hurriedly placing a new roll of films_ in the kodak, an hour’s patient stalking on hands and knees through several inches of moss and water brought me among them and within about seventy feet of three fine specimens.
The task of stalking big game with the camera is quite as interesting as and far more difficult than with the rifle. Both wind and sun must be taken into consideration and a shot can easily be had where a picture cannot' be taken, as I learned to my keen disappointment when I developed my films. Needless to say all of these huge bearded bovines might easily have been shot from my position but the pictures proved to be unfortunately timed in spite of my exultant confidence in half a dozen exposures of these splendid subjects. I left them still in the muskeg so little disturbed from the glimpses they had of me that they had only trotted a few hundred yards away.
Continuing downstream the game required no hunting. On the following afternoon, shortly before reaching the Little Smoky River we surprised Bruin at his evening meal on the body of a moose at the river’s edge. Two shots from mid-stream at so perfect a mark were unnecessary but proved to instantaneously effective that the huge animal settled without even rolling from
the body of his prey, where we photographed him exactly as he lay. Plow Bruin came by his unfinished prize will have to remain among the untold tragedies of the wilds. The bear was an exceptionally large one and the moose had perfect antlers, though not of unusual size. So although I had refrained from killing a moose for his horns I was still able to add a fine pair of blades as well as the bearskin to my trophies, and paddle on down the river consciencetree.
IN THE GREAT UNKNOWN.
Contrary to expectations the long canoe journey was attended with no monotonous hours. We had passed the fifty-third parallel and were nearing the fifty-fourth. The short and sharp plunge of the Goat Rapids had been run amid a deluge of spray that obscured the bow paddle; Jess, the insatiate angler, had caught uncounted numbers of trout and turned them back into the river, and we had killed or photographed much of the big game the country afforded. The Fraser, too, seemed to have settled into a less turbulent mood as it wound peacefully back and forth in its broad penoplane.
But simultaneously with the first vague conjecture as to whether even a continuous downhill life could ever become monotonous, there would come the inevitable surprise. Every bend of the river concealed a new vista into the Unknown, and, most poignant of all, was that subject of so delicious an uncertainty that although it was the object of much silent contemplation we seldom mentioned it: the Grand and Giscombe Rapids had yet to be run. Then, too, there were the tributaries to explore—a pastime in which my partner took little interest, being always content to stay and fish while I did the prospecting. He wondered what I saw to repay me for scrambling up the tim-
bered banks when they all looked alike anyway.
Jess had a habit of half filling the canoe with water while I was away on these side trips and making an aquarium of it with trout, which he caught in hundreds, keeping them to show me with arrogant pride, after which he would capsize the canoe and watch them swim away. Now such harmless pastime is all very well when there is nothing else to do, but one day I returned very hungry and found not the expected dinner simmering on the camp fire. No Jess was in sight, but at the river’s edge was the canoe, half filled with water in which swam a fine catch of trout. With subtle revenge I turned over the canoe, and cast a log over the painter to give the appearance of its having been done by driftwood. He would not have the satisfaction of showing his catch to anyone this time! Just as I finished my coup Jess spoke, grinning broadly, from the bank.
“Weren’t they beauties though?” he caroled. “I saved a couple for lunch, so it’s all right!”
So the days passed as the swift-current wafted us steadily northward, now through garrulous flocks of nesting geese on the little islands, now catching glimpses of moose and caribou on the rivers edge. Through narrow, rockbound gates we sped at railroad speed, down birch-lined vistas we slipped where only the dipping of our paddles broke the peaceful silence. Once, a mile up the Little Smoky River we found a spacious log cabin and a huge gold dredge—evidently relics of the Caribou strike of ’68. All were long deserted and everywhere deep-cut trails showed that the moose and caribou had resumed their sole sovereignty.
Now the Fraser valley broadened perceptibly from its narrow mountain confines into a great flat forest as the Cariboo Mountains were left to the south,
and simultaneously came a notable climatic change—that of increased precipitation and lower temperature. Blustering flurries of snow and rain were almost daily encountered and deciduous trees were noticeable later in leafing out.
As we neared the Grand Canyon at Red Mountain, creek geese lit and beaver sported within fifty yards; a moose cropped the skunk cabbage unmolested in plain view up the stream— and still the silence reigned.
After passing Mountain creek we had not long to wait. A few miles down stream the Fraser suddenly narrowed to about two hundred feet, in a towering gateway of rock. Landing our outfit we found an old portage trail around the western cliff and over this we carried our load, then proceeded to a leisurely inspection of the rapids.
RUNNING A GORGE.
The Grand canyon proved to be a sheer cut of about one hundred feet in depth where the great river, contracted like a hydraulic jet, tears its way through the mountain for three quarters of a mile in continuous white rapids. The course was fairly clear of rocks and it was soon decided that by gaining certain definite positions in taking each initial breaker, our little craft was equal to the test. Huge flakes of snow were falling lazily as we took our places for the run, Jess on his knees forward, I in the point of the stern.
Keeping up all possible speed to direct the canoe into a carefully selected course we launched over the glassy verge. In a moment we were in the grip of the current, the spray on our faces, a deafening roar in our ears. So overwhelming was the power and speed of the angry waters that once into the melee the current could not be cut across, but true to our calculations we shot each riffle squarely and safely at the desired point. It was worth many weary days on the Albreda-to see the
prow leap clear of the water over the breakers—to feel the tiny craft plunge with resounding thud as she landed, true and safe, heading bravely for the next uncertain break.
Across the fifty-fourth parallel to the north lay a low, flat country, marking the height of land between the Fraser and the great Arctic slope. The Giscombe Portage was at hand, where by carrying for a distance of eight miles a canoe may descend by the continuous waterways of the Crooked, Parsnip, Peace, Slave and McKenzie Rivers into the distant Arctic sea. The proximity of such a vantage point is enough to make the heart of the traveler warm with adventure before stern reason banishes his dream, and he turns his craft southward down the Giscombe Rapids.
These latter are a splendid course of fast water eight miles in extent, terminating in the Willow Riffles. The rocks, however, were in all cases far enough apart to be easily avoided without getting into bad water. In fact so easy was the descent that we did not take heed and reconnoitre at the warning roar of the lower Riffles. So it happened that only too late we found ourselves in midstream headed for a considerable falls at a speed so great that there was no course left but straight ahead. Flying paddles with the earnest industry born of that first law of preservation we shot our canoe over true with the current, the bow barely taking the white water beyond the break in safety as the stern touched the submerged verge of rock.
This was the last of the broken waters and the beginning of the end of our long canoe trip—a fact which we both realized with some slight tinge of regret. On that day we descended fiftyfive miles of the Fraser—the longest day’s run of the journey—and landed in Fort George at nine o’clock in the first dusk of the northern evening. The three hundred and fifty miles from the Tete Jaune Cache had taken seventeen days, about ten of which were actually consumed in traveling down stream.
At Fort George I bid goodbye to my friend Jess and packed a horse with three weeks’ supply of provisions, taking the Nechacco trail, again on foot, bound now for the coast of Bella Coola.
Skirting the north side of Fraser Lake I arrived at Stellaquo Indian Village on May 26th and here I traded my jaded horse for a tough Siwash Cayeuse. The Endako and Nithi Rivers had to be swum and since by now the freshet season was at its height I hired a Stellaquo Indian, Azatz by name, to ferry me across the end of Francois Lake. It was late in the evening when we got horse and pack safely over and we made camp together.
Now the trail turned southward past Cheslatte Lake where the Indians were
the poorest and most degenerate I have seen. Living entirely upon fish which they catch easily with their nets and traps they show physically the effects of their slothful existence. A sort of scurvy seemed to be among them.
The beautiful meadows of Cotsa Lake were reached two days later. My dim trail terminating in the lake where it narrows to an eighth of a mile I set about with hand axe and pack ropes to build a raft—the first of many before the Bella Coola was reached.
This art is simple enough on the trail where no nails or saw are to be had. Six dry logs with two light crosssticks notched to fit were bound together with the pack ropes; a paddle hewn from green poplar, and my ferry boat was complete. This much for the pack ; but the task of leading an untamed Siwash Cayeuse alone behind a raft was quite another matter, and finally resolved itself after many futile attempts into the interesting experience of first ferrying across and leaving clothes and saddle, then returning and swimming the icy waters along with the pony.
The great number of these lakes was indeed a striking feature of the western Caribou interior. _ They are for the most part slowly flowing waterways, often fifty and seventy-five miles long and seldom more than a mile wide. They contract into swift rapids and broaden into beautiful placid pools, all flowing eastward to feed the headwaters of the Lower Nechacco. Not a camp was made except on some pretty body of water. All teemed with trout and many were infested by swarms of large gnats, which attacked my poor horse so that I had to protect her flanks and ears with ointment to prevent the skin from breaking from the effects of their poisonous irritation.
Strenuous days were these tramping from daylight until dark over a trail so rough that my little cayeuse, when not floundering up to her belly in the black ooze of the muskegs was picking her way painfully over the sharp rocks and maze of fallen trees. Lightly as she was packed the long stages were telling on her so that she barely lasted out the trip.
At Algotcho’s Indian village I replenished my supplies, of which I was much in need, having been without food for over two days. Game had been scarce in the monotonous waste of the plateau and time too pressing to stop and hunt. The Indians here were remarkably prosperous, being like the Crees of the upper Fraser, great hunters and trappers. In features they are clean-cut and handsome, having the aquiline nose, the prominent chins and stalwart stature of the Eastern tribes. There were no whites within nearly two hundred miles but they kept many
horses and were in possession of ample supplies of good staple provisions which they had packed in from Bella Coola in the previous fall.
The outlying peaks of the Cascade Range were now soon passed, marking the end of the long journey over the great interior plateau.
Bella Coola at the head of this deep inlet of the coast was reached on June 11th, completing the one-thousand mile trip through the new interior in one hundred and three days. Three times only had I camped twice on the same spot during the entire journey and every valley and stream of promise tributary to the trail I had prospected. But notwithstanding the assiduity of my search I had failed to locate the section of land I had set out to obtain. Not that plenty of good was not to be found, for nearly ten per cent of the country traversed I should judge was excellent for agricultural purposes.
Inasmuch as there are many others who have been encouraged and will be by the very recent Government Bulletins of New British Columbia a few facts about the land situation from one who has seen its rough side might here be in order.
The fact is that everywhere along the proposed line of the new railway all available tracts of any considerable extent have already been staked for miles on either side of the route. And not by home-seekers in quarter sections, nor by cattlemen in sections.
British Columbia has such dire need of SejtlnS under cultivation has been staked by agents in large tracts—as much as 50,000 acres in some instances —for ^ capitalists, many of whom are Americans who have no intentions of making other than speculative use of it. They have never seen the land which they control; a few scattered bands of Indians are still its sole occupants. Nor would they submit to the hardships necessary to do so, being content to hold it until the building of the railroad increàses its value many fold.
The stupendous undertaking of building two transcontinental roads both largely over uninhabited territory, and the merging of private and public interests to this end are steps in national progress that are raising Canada’s rating in the commercial world. They are also experiments, the success of wfflich depends upon the rapid settlement of the country. That the cream of the land in British Columbia on which she depends to realize on this enormous outlay of capital should have been allowed to pass into the hands of outside speculators can only be rated as a shameful failure on the part of British Columbia in carrying out her part of Canada’s great national enterprise.