Ashcroftonians know that Brink, Barnes, and Evans are the names of streets within the town (although Evans Road, the most recently-bestowed name of the three, is inveterately still referred to as “the Slough road” by locals; old habits die hard). But who were the people who gave their names to these streets?
Before the first European settlers arrived, the area around what is now called Ashcroft was known by the First Nations inhabitants as Tuk-tuk-chin (pronounced Dee-duck-cheen; it meant “speaking the truth” in the Nlaka’pamux language). It was seen as a protected place, nestled on a river and surrounded by hills, where the Great Spirit provided the inhabitants with fish, game, roots, berries, and vegetables. The First Nations people established winter homes here, digging semi-subterranean dwelling-places called keekwilly houses.
It is not difficult to see why early settlers also looked favourably on the area. In 1858 John Christopher Barnes and William Brink arrived in Yale, and while they mined in the area for a short time, they soon realised there was more steady and assured income to be found in packing freight to the goldfields. Barnes himself said that “there were too many hardships to endure in the goldfields as a miner, and the weather was usually disagreeable.”
During the course of their packing, one or both of the men came across a flat stretch of land beside the Thompson River which remained unclaimed, perhaps due to its distance from the Cariboo Wagon Road and the fact you had to cross the Thompson River to gain access to the road. Together they pre-empted land on the southeast side of the river and began farming, ranching, planting fruit trees, and growing grain on what was called the Butte Ranch. They married two sisters, both of them First Nations women, and raised their families—three children for Barnes, and four for Brink—on the land they cultivated, with Brink doing most of the farming and Barnes pursuing his career as a pack-train operator.
When the Canadian Pacific Railway began surveying routes through the region in the early 1870s, it became apparent that the Butte Ranch site would be a natural place for the line to be sited. More than that: the area afforded almost the only spot west of Kamloops where a station and depot could be constructed that would have relatively easy access to the Cariboo Wagon Road that was only two miles away. A bridge would have to be built; but that was easily accomplished.
Unfortunately, William Brink did not live long enough to realise that his property that was thought to be on the wrong side of the river had suddenly become prime real estate. He left his property to his son Billy Jr. and his daughter Ellen, who had married an American named Oliver Evans, who was in turn partnered with a man named Bill Bose, who married John Barnes’s daughter Catherine. I’ll let you all pause for a moment to sort these relations and connections out. A diagram might be helpful.
Barnes and Evans were quick to realise not only the value of their land to the Canadian Pacific Railway, but the value of the land surrounding where the railway was about to site a station and depot; land they already owned. Barnes, Evans, and Evans’s pregnant wife Ellen began surveying a townsite, and Barnes and Evans took stock of the landscape. They decided that if the CPR was going to build a station and depot, a nearby hotel would be a capital idea.
Bill Bose had looked after Barnes and Brink’s pack train of 45 mules, and was known as an excellent driver. It was Bose who, in the summer of 1883, told young driver Bill Walker to wait for him, before Walker guided his ox team carrying several tons’-worth of goods along the perilous route from the Cariboo Wagon Road and around the bluffs down the long, steep hill towards what would soon become a town. Walker was carrying the goods that would form the first Ashcroft hotel.
Although not a founding father of Ashcroft, there is one more man who must be mentioned: William Henry Sanford, better known as “Boston” Sanford. Men from England were known, by the First Nations people in the area, as “King George’s Men”, while men from the United States were known as “Boston Men”. Sanford is credited as the first American man to have settled in the region, so he was given the nickname “Boston”, and it stuck; even though Sanford always said he was from eastern Canada, and not from south of the border.
Sanford was attracted to an area in the Bonaparte Valley between Cache Creek and Ashcroft, and in 1871 began work on a ditch, soon known as Boston ditch, to irrigate the area. The ambitious project began about six miles north of Cache Creek, and ran for some 10 miles.
Sanford then contracted out the building of the ditch in two-mile sections. Unfortunately, some of the men hired for the work appear to have been in it to make a quick buck, and decided to adjust the survey pegs to make a difficult job easier. They then came in, did their work on their “assigned” section, received their pay, and moved on; so that when it came time to activate the entire line, the water did not make it to its expected destination.
However, Sanford persevered, and water was eventually brought to the area. The potatoes grown there had a very good reputation, and an early commenter noted that “the celebrated Boston ranch is one of the finest farms in the colony. The proprietor keeps a hotel which receives an excellent name from those who have stopped at it.” (Sanford had become a partner in the Cache Creek—later Bonaparte—House roadhouse.)
During the heyday of the Ashcroft cannery, tomatoes were extensively grown in the area, which is now known as Boston Flats, in honour of the (not-American) man who first cultivated it.