Cariboo’s Road-Burning Bishop

LUKIN JOHNSTON November 15 1927

Cariboo’s Road-Burning Bishop

LUKIN JOHNSTON November 15 1927

Cariboo’s Road-Burning Bishop

The Rt. Rev. Dr. W. R. Adams demonstrates the simplicity with which one of the world’s vastest dioceses can be covered


A FAVORITE saying of dear old Canon Scott, beloved chaplain of the First Canadian Division, was “The Lord will provide.”

I adopted this as my motto when I set out from Vancouver to walk over the new Cariboo Automobile Highway and into the wilderness which lies beyond. Of the truth of Canon Scott’s saying I can bear witness, for in ten days I covered one thousand miles, without making any provision ahead for transportation and with a very limited supply of money in hand.

Walking is out of fashion. Nowadays, if you set out on a hiking tour, it is necessary to hang a sign on your back reading somewhat as follows:




On the fourth night I reached Quesnel, present terminus of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, three hundred and eighty miles from Vancouver. Vaguely, I had chosen, as my destination, a tiny settlement called Woodpecker, a roadhouse fortyeight miles north of Quesnel on the road to Prince George. There is a stage twice a week, but it had left by the time I was ready to proceed. The outlook was gloomy. I determined to concentrate very harftj mentally, so that some alternative means of transport might come in sight.

In mid-afternoon, ‘The Lord provided.’ He provided no less than a bishop of the Anglican church, ready and willing to assist this humble traveller.

The telegraph operator had kindly asked various stations to give word of any automobile travellers heading northward. Word came back that the Bishop of Cariboo had just passed Cottonwood, on the Barkerville road, and that he was going north.

Now, Cottonwood is twelve miles distant from Quesnel, but I was assured that His Lordship would undoubtedly arrive in ten minutes or so. It appeared that the Right Reverend Dr. W. R. Adams had the reputation of being an excellent citizen, but a fast driver of autos withal. Rumor has it that once, when he was very new to the business of piloting a high-spirited car over the mountainous hills that are in Cariboo, His Lordship’s auto turned completely over down a steep place. Thus and thus they say in Cariboo—and report even has it that once a blue paper was served upon him as a warning that he should be more circumspect when handling the wheel of his mettlesome car.

However that might be, I was soon to have a chance of testing the truth or falsity of such tales, for Dr. Adams kindly agreed to drive me the forty-eight miles northward to visit the good people who dwell round Woodpecker and Strathnaver, and to deposit me, safe and sound, at some point on the road south of Quesnel in two or three days’ time. This .was unlooked-for good fortune, and in high spirits I took my place beside the bishop.

The diocese of Cariboo comorises a

vast territory stretching from Kamloops to Prince George, and from the one hundred and twentieth meridian on the east to the lower Fraser Valley on the west. The inhabitants are few and far between, except in such

centres as Kamloops, Prince George and Quesnel. Hence, when I think of the Bishop of Cariboo I am often reminded, disrespectfully, of the ridiculous lines of W. S. Gilbert in the ‘Bab Ballads.’ There are some verses on ‘The Bishop of Rum Te Foo’ ^which, of course, rhymes with Car-i-boO' and they run like this:

His people—twenty-three in sum Played eloquently the tum-tum They lived on scalps served up in rum Did they of Rum Te Foo.

And when good Bishop Peter came (For Peter was this bishop’s name)

To humor them, he did the same As they of Rum Te Foo.

—all of which is very nonsensical—but perhaps it explains why Bishop Adams drives like Jehu, the son of Nimshi—for they all do that in Cariboo.

Far From the Madding Crowd

TT IS not unnatural to ask why WToodpecker, a mere dot on even a large scale map of B. C., should be chosen as the objective of a five hundredmile journey. To answer this question fully would involve revealing to the public gaze the whole of the tragedy of the Pacific Great Eastern for Woodpecker, and its near neighbour, Strathnaver, lie on the uncompleted portion of this most abortive railway. My object was to see this much-maligned section of British Columbia, through which many miles of grading for the railway was done, and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on laying steel, before the whole work, from Quesnel northward, was abandoned. In the eighty-two miles between Quesnel and Prince George, there are not more than one hundred and fifty settlers, and it was to see how they fared so far from town, and so near and yet so far from a railroad, that I penetrated so far off the beaten track.

Now this was a worthy object which commended itself to the good Bishop of Cariboo. So, swiftly but safely, we drove over the twisting road to the readhouse of one Edward Down, who is postmaster and storekeeper at Woodpecker.

We had stopped once or twice on the road to view some particularly striking scene. Time and again as you reach the top of a hill you can look over hundreds of square miles of unbroken forest. Areas as big as Belgium—and the home only of countless, mçose, caribou and deer—lie before you, bounded by the snowcapped peaks of the Rockies on the distant eastern horizon. For many leagues there is no sign of human habitation. Seven miles south of Woodpecker we passed Strathnaver, scene of an ill-fated colonization scheme of the late Duke of Sutherland about fifteen years ago.

We were not the only guests at the stopping-house that night, for we were introduced to a young student-missioner of the LTnited Church, in British Columbia for a year’s stay from

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his Newfoundland home. Fortunately, ministers of different Christian denominations do not nowadays see in each other representatives of the Evil One, himself, and although the ‘opposition’ was in ahead of us, the greatest harmony prevailed.

I retired early, having passed three almost sleepless nights, and Mrs. Down showed me to my room. Vaguely, I suspected some complications with regard to beds for, with the Down household, we were a large party. It may have been that this thought urged me to make the first break for bed. I was shown to a spotless room with a double cot arrangement in it.

“Do you think the bishop would mind sleeping with you?” asked Mrs. Down. I replied that I felt sure His Lordship would be delighted at the prospect and that it would be a great honour for me, but I added, that if it could be arranged, I thought we should both sleep better separately—even if I had to take a blanket on the floor. So I went to bed, expecting to wake up with a real live bishop beside me. Instead, I woke up in the darkness, alone—except for a single mosquito of the most virulent type.

In the morning, when I came down to breakfast with my right eye entirely closed, and with masses of bumps on my head and hands, I was assured that my partner, of the night, was, absolutely, the only mosquito which had been seen in Cariboo in 1927. The bishop, I heard, slept in another room with the studentmissioner and the hired man—but he certainly had the best of it in the long run.

Before breakfast, and while I was still only half awake, the bishop held a celebration of Holy Communion for those of the household, who belonged to the Anglican church. As I listened to his voice repeating the ancient form of service, I could picture the scene below. In that household, no doubt, in future things will date from ‘the night the bishop stayed here.’

A Railway Tragedy

ACROSS the road from Down’s place there lies an enormous pile of sawn timbers—half a million feet they told me. It has been there for years, and is slowly warping to uselessness. It is just one of the many things in these parts, which remind one of the hopeless tangle into which this political football of a railway has drifted. The people in this district and about one hundred others within twenty miles, settled here because they believed it certain the railway was to be built through to Prince George. Not only was the grading finished, after many vicissitudes, but the steel was actually laid from both ends until only a gap of forty-five miles remained unfinished. The site of the station across from Down’s was already picked out. Most of these settlers staked years of toil and all their capital in the belief that the railway was coming.

But it is as far off as ever, with little or no prospect that the Provincial Government will build it north from its present terminus at Quesnel. The settlers’ only hope is that it may be purchased by United States capitalists and continued through to Prince George and perhaps to the Peace River block to connect with the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia railway.

In the Duke of Sutherland’s estate at Strathnaver, seven miles south of Woodpecker, there are four thousand acres with not a settler on them. The land is splendid, natural meadow, knee high with natural hay and grasses. The late Duke is said to have paid $12.50 an acre for the land and the present holder of the title might be willing to accept half that price.

We called on many of the settlers hereabouts and from each we heard the same bitter tale of unfulfilled political promises. At each settler’s place, despite the early hour, they were determined to show us some hospitality. One produced homemade wine and cookies, another tea and home-made bread, and still another, whom we took unawares, laid out a white table cloth, deposited two glasses thereon, and invited us to “Tak a wee drappy of health salts.” Could hospitality go further?

We called in at the tiny log building, which is the Strathnaver school. Inside, the youngsters sat demurely at their desks. Through the windows came the tinkle of a cowbell—the only sound to break the overwhelming silence. To the west and southwest the view extended over league upon league of unbroken forest. These six tiny atoms and their plucky teacher seemed so utterly small and insignificant in this empire of stillness.

That night, we lay at a ranch house near Soda Creek, more than one hundred miles to the south. There, too, we found a house full of unexpected guests—all of them made warmly welcome as is the custom in Cariboo. Among our fellowtravellers was one who offered to pick me up at 150-mile House on the morrow a„nd help me some miles along my way.

The Bishop set off gaily enough for the twenty-mile drive, but before long our plans were sadly interfered with, when we came to a broken culvert across the road, which an Indian was supposed to be repairing. The native had succeeded in producing a gap four feet wide and the only means he provided for crossing this waterjump were two thin planks. The bishop preferred to take a chance of skirting this trap by plunging boldly through the ditch at the roadside. Unfortunately,.the car stuck fast at a dangerous angle. With pick and shovel and branches of trees, we laboured for an hour.

“I sure did get youse boys in a h—1 of a mudhole,” said the Indian smiling broadly at the Bishop.

After an interval, he produced a weather-beaten saddle horse. This he mounted, and with a rope attached to the horn of his saddle and to the axle of the car, eventually he managed to haul us out. A few miles farther on a tire blew, but the bishop, his own expert mechanic, made light of such an incident.

We reached 150-Mile House in Safety. At noon, the bishop h^d a confirmation service at Williams Lake, eleven miles farther on. Two days later he must be at Redstone, one hundred and thirty miles to the west on the western side of the great Chilcotin Cattle country. The end of the week must find him back in his See town of Kamloops, a good 200 miles eastward from Redstone.

This little jaunt with Bishop Adams was sufficient to give one some insight into the job of being a bishop in a pioneer diocese like Cariboo. The man who wears the mitre in such a country must needs be able-bodied and resourceful, ready to take things as they come with a cheerful smile—for only so can the way be found to the hearts of the brave settlers and ranchers of this lonely territory.


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