BC’s gold rush history documented by Mark S. Wade

Physician, historian, journalist, newspaper publisher, Mark S. Wade lived most of his dynamic and incredibly active life in Kamloops

By Esther Darlington MacDonald

Physician, historian, journalist, newspaper publisher, this Cariboo medical man lived in the Cariboo-Kamloops most of his dynamic and incredibly active life.

Mark Sweeten Wade was born in County Durham, England in 1858. He began medical studies at Durham University, and then, for reasons unknown, furthered his studies at Glasgow. What prompted Wade to change course again and immigrate to America may have been a growing sense of adventure and some inner instinct that impelled him to embark into the unknown wilds of a country only recently opened up. He finally obtained his doctorate in medicine in 1882 at Fort Wayne University in Indiana.

American life didn’t agree with Wade. His instinctive British pragmatism seåems to have included an aversion for the kind of American business brashness that was all too apparent, even in those early days of a country discovering its potential. Wade left for Canada and joined a survey party in Fort Garry, which is now part of the city of Winnipeg. This introduction to pioneer life captivated Wade as he helped lay out the townships of Moose Jaw and Regina.  After a year of capturing the excitement of a Canadian west just opening up, Wade sought out more of the same. He signed up as a medical officer with the C.P.R.

The railroad was employing over 7,000 men under the leadership of Andrew Onderdonk. Wade described the work as:

“Patching up Chinese coolies, who would persist in tamping black powder into the rock holes with steel bars.”

The work was so dangerous that the death and injury toll was high, particularly among the Chinese laborers. The Chinese contribution to the railroad’s construction has only recently been recognized.

Wade’s work was mainly around the Yale and Spences Bridge areas. He spent two years doctoring railroad workers, after which the Provincial government in Victoria asked Wade to move to Clinton.

Clinton in 1885 was a hub of activity centered around the catering and servicing of the horse-drawn transportation industry. Blacksmiths, hotels, saloons, general stores – both Chinese and occidental, thrived along the town’s main street, the Cariboo Road.

Wade was not the only physician in that bustling community. Dr. George Sanson had established a practice in Clinton the year before. Sanson also established  home-based clinics in Ashcroft and in Lillooet as well. South Cariboo was booming.

While in Savona, Dr. Wade met pretty Emma Uren. After their marriage, they moved to Clinton where they lived for three years. In 1888, the couple left Clinton for California where Wade embarked on further studies at the University Medical School in San Francisco. He became a specialist in eye, ear, nose and throat. Their son, Mark Leighton Wade, was born and the couple moved to Victoria.

The little city was booming. Brick and stone buildings began to mushroom along the city’s main arteries. A new hospital was built, the Royal Jubilee, with 100 beds. One of the main industries near Victoria was a chain of salmon cannery factories. The Esquimalt and Nanimo railroad was being built. Victoria was a continually busy port. Dr. Wade was kept busy day and night when an epidemic of smallpox erupted among the growing populace.

But Victoria was also a charming, culturally alive growing city near the turn of the century. Dr. Wade’s career was climbing and his family was growing, but his taste for adventure never left him. In 1895 the Wade family returned to the Cariboo and settled in Kamloops.

Mark Wade became thoroughly absorbed in the history of the area. He began to exhaustively explore every nook and cranny, seeking the stories of early pioneers. His vast accumulation of knowledge of the Cariboo was acquired with meticulous attention to facts and details. He interviewed literally hundreds of those early pioneer folk for their personal histories. He lived among them, – learned from personal experience of their adventures, travails, successes, in the opening of a hitherto unknown, and in many areas, unmapped wilderness.

In addition to his medical duties, he became editor of The Inland Sentinel in Kamloops. In doing so, Dr. Mark S. Wade’s name added to the illustrious list of early pioneers, for the Sentinel was one of the earliest newspapers in BC.  In 1904 Wade became the owner of the Sentinel. He used the newspaper’s press to publish his first book, The Thompson Country, in 1907.

Wade’s love of history did not hinder his activity in other areas however. He served as a local magistrate, an alderman, was president of the Board of Trade, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and Vice President of the Liberal Association. He was also an amateur prospector and helped form various small mining ventures. To top off Dr. Wade’s remarkable accomplishments, he also became a fine guitarist and performed at numerous concerts.

Dr. Wade was a Christian, but had no denominational bias.

The Sentinel was sold in 1912, and two years later, when he had retired from his civic responsibilities, he and Emma toured Europe. They left Europe just in time to avoid the outbreak of the First World War. Gas and shell shock victims of the War were hospitalized at Tranquille Sanitorium. Mark Wade worked with the staff and did research of the patients’ on their auditory and optic nerves.

As if these time and thought consuming activities weren’t enough for the good doctor, Wade produced the history, Mackenzie of Canada, in 1927. The work’s definitive history is still vital research for historians. The Overlanders of ‘62 was published after his death in 1929.

Dr. Mark S. Wade’s exhaustive history of the Cariboo Road, a privately published book that is much valued by historians, including the writer, who acquired it through the generous donation of a couple living in Quesnel in the early 1990s, is an absolute  treasure.

People have sometimes asked me, where do I get my information about the Cariboo and its people? Dr. Wade’s book is one of my treasured sources. Why? Because Dr. Wade actually knew and interviewed the earliest pioneers, lived among them, and only used the most verifiable information about them. First hand stuff, you could call it. Primary source, it’s called in the field of historical journalism.