When we left the first instalment of this series—in which I’m exploring the history of the place names that surround us—we were clinging to spring. Now summer is here, just in time for us to reach the junction of Highways 1 and 97 (formerly Hwy. 2). Just before we get there, however, we pass Arrowstone Provincial Park on our right. The name comes from the fine black basalt in the area, which was called arrow-stone by the Secwepemc First Nations, who quarried it and used it to fashion arrowheads.
It’s easy to look at the name Cache Creek and assume a connection with the gold rush; the French word “cache” means “hiding place”, so what could be more natural than to think that some long-forgotten prospector hid his gold at this spot? However, the first mention of Cache Creek is in a map from 1835, more than two decades before the gold rush, so you can put those metal detectors away. The spot was called (in 1859) the “Rivière de la Cache”, and given the French-Canadian connection with the fur trade it seems more likely that the area was a collection point, or cache, for furs that were destined for Thompson’s River Post (later known as Fort Kamloops), where a Hudson’s Bay Company fort was located.
Now we have a choice: north or south? South, I think; so on we go, passing over the Bonaparte River. The river has had this name since at least 1826, making it almost certain that it was bestowed by a French-Canadian employee of one of the fur companies in honour of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who died in 1821.
We are heading towards Boston Flats, halfway between Cache Creek and Ashcroft. In the early days of European settlement the British were known as “King George Men”, while those from the United States were called “Boston Men”. Wilson Henry Sanford settled in the area in the early 1860s, and despite claiming to be from Eastern Canada he was identified as a “Boston” man, and nicknamed accordingly, by the First Nations people.
“Boston” Sanford established a ranch on the flat area just north of Elephant Mountain, and in time it was celebrated as one of the finest farms in the colony. Sanford was also, for a time, part-owner of the roadhouse known as Bonaparte House, as well as a trustee of the boarding school in Cache Creek, so it is fitting that the site of his ranch bears the name Boston Flats in his honour. (We won’t be travelling as far south as Boston Bar, but that town also derives its name from the “Boston Men” who panned for gold on the bar in the Fraser River near the town’s location.)
It’s not difficult to look at Elephant Mountain and see its resemblance to a sleeping pachyderm. There seems to be some confusion as to whether it is actually a mountain; the provincial park there is called Elephant Hill. Be that as it may, we’re now passing it as we detour through Ashcroft, which has gone through several names.
When brothers Henry and Clement Cornwall arrived in B.C. in 1859 they planned to try their luck in the goldfields; but with few claims available they eventually settled in the Thompson Valley, where they established a ranch which they named Ashcroft in honour of their family home in England. By 1862 their 6,452 acre ranch boasted a roadhouse, and when the Cariboo Wagon Road was pushed through the middle of their property it passed right beside the establishment, which soon gained a reputation as one of the finest in the Interior. The Cornwall brothers added a sawmill and flour mill, and their roadhouse at Ashcroft soon served as the local post office, as well as a courthouse and jail.
Down on the nearby Thompson River homesteaders William Brink and J.C. Barnes were doing well farming their claims, which included a long flat site directly beside the river. When CPR surveyors came through looking to find the best route for the proposed railway it was decided that this mile-long site was the ideal place to build not only the rail line, but a station and supply town. The creation of a new townsite meant that it needed to have a name; but what was it to be called?
William Cornelius Van Horne, general manager of the CPR, wanted to call the new town St. Cloud, after the railroad head in the Red River Valley. He was also impressed by the huge clouds overhead when he visited the site, so the name seemed an appropriate one. Locals, however, were already referring to the town as Barnes Station; and this name might have stuck, if not for some federal government penny-pinching. The post office had been moved from the Cornwalls’ roadhouse to the new settlement, and Ottawa needed a name for it. Rather than go to the trouble and expense of changing the post office’s name from its previous designation, the Surveyor General decided that it—and therefore the town it served—would retain the name Ashcroft.
The Cornwalls were upset that Ottawa had usurped the name they had been using, and argued that the new town should be called Ashcroft Station. Over time, however, Station was dropped, and the Cornwall ranch added Manor to its name, to distinguish between the two places. The Cornwall Hills and Mount Cornwall—which look down over both Ashcrofts—commemorate these brothers, who played such an important role in the early days of the province.
Next time: south along Highway 1 as far as space allows.