by Esther Darlington MacDonald
When the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built and had reached Ashcroft, there was nothing there except two buildings, one of which Dr. Mark S. Wade described as a “wretched establishment”. Dr. Wade had been hired by the railroad to provide medical service to the railroad crews, many of them Chinese, and was stationed at Spences Bridge.
With the establishment of the railroad in Ashcroft in 1884, the government realized the need to connect the Cariboo Road with Ashcroft.
The branch road began at Boston Flats. The cliffs of igneous rock were detonated with explosives, and a road was hewn out above the Bonaparte River. A ‘substantial’ bridge was built crossing the Thompson River.
When Dr. Wade first visited the site, there was no road and no bridge. He wrote that he “alited from the stage at Cornwall’s hotel” on the Cariboo Road, and walked down to the Thompson River following an old Indian trail. When he reached the river, he crossed it in a canoe.
The good doctor doesn’t say how he came by the canoe, but chances are, he hired it from the Indians above. Ashcroft was then very much in ‘embryo’, consisting of the “wretched establishment” mentioned above, and another building, a log cabin.
A few weeks later, Dr. Wade visited the site again on horseback from Spences Bridge, following the rail line and such trails that existed, eventually passing through Penny’s ranch at Walhachin.
While at a construction camp there, Dr. Wade’s horse became ill. He abandoned the horse and now had to find a way back to Spences Bridge. As he pondered the dilemma, a raft of logs from the Shuswap swung by, drifting down river. By dent of some acrobatic dexterity the doctor probably didn’t know he possessed, he managed to jump on the raft which was moving along at a ‘goodly rate’ toward Spences Bridge. When they reached Ashcroft, passing over the Bonaparte white water apparently, without incident, the skipper of the raft, decided to pole it into shore.
The raft was tied up for the night, and the “wretched establishment” calling itself a hotel, was entered. As soon as the proprietor learned that Dr. Wade was one of the rafting party, he was advised that there was a very sick man upstairs in one of the rooms.
“He is a stupid man. We can’t wake him up. He’s been taking opium,” Dr. Wade was told.
But when the doctor visited the man, whose name was Carey and found him comatose with only a few hours to live, Dr. Wade determined that the man wasn’t suffering from opium – he had been given a severe blow to the head with a shovel. The man’s skull had been fractured.
Dr. Wade learned that there had been a fight between Carey and another man named W. Abieshire, and the latter had struck Carey with the shovel. The fracture occurred at the base of the skull. An inquest was held soon after where the inn keeper maintained several times that Carey had been taking opium, even after Dr. Wade had made the post mortum.
Dr. Wade concluded that the story was a lie, made to protect the said Abieshire. ‘That rascal had taken to the hills’, as soon as Carey had lost consciousness. The authorities were notified and got hot on Abieshire’s trail. But the killer had made it to the Coeur d’Alene country. There, he got himself into another fight. This time, however, he was shot and killed. Justice was seen to have been served, one way or the other.
Once the CP tracks were laid in Ashcroft, the hamlet began to grow by leaps and bounds. First a store opened, then a competitor came along and opened another store. But it wasn’t until the bridge was built across the Thompson that business really began to literally roll.
Ashcroft was seen as the Gateway to the Cariboo and the headquarters of the B.C. Express Company. Large warehouses were built, teamsters came and went with their freight wagons, ox teams, stage coaches. The little hamlet became a thriving village.
Twenty years later, Dr. Wade once again found himself in Ashcroft bound for points north. This time, in mid winter, in a “stage on runners”, which pulled out with much mail and several passengers.
It was dark when the vehicle stopped for the night at the 83 Mile House. The stars were shining brightly. The party resumed their journey at daybreak the following morning. The temperature was 50 below. About 8 pm that night, they arrived at an inn. Dr. Wade doffed his fur coat on one of the hooks in the bar room, washed his hands and face in refreshing warm water in tin basins, and proceeded to share some drinks with the cowboys and the stage driver.
He went to supper in the dining room, and those in the bar room who had asked about his identity, learned who he was, and they realized Dr. Wade had lived in Clinton in 1884-6, after doing his stint as the railroad medic. Dr. Wade attended the dance at the 150 Mile hotel, but at 2 am, he and other passengers were told to have some breakfast as they were proceeding on to Quesnel at 3:30 am. The doctor reported that he slept all the way along a ‘smoothly beaten road’ to Quesnel.
Dr. Wade went on to become the owner of the Kamloops Daily Sentinel, spent a productive, creative life there. His reminiscences are recorded in The Cariboo Road, a book published many years after his death.
Dr. Wade saw and lived through the growth of the road when it was the busiest artery in the interior. In fact, for 50 years, the only means of transportation in the Cariboo country. He looked upon its demise with a degree of sadness, but the legacy he has left about that road, much of it demolished when the railroads came though, provides this writer, anyway, with much of the material for my articles.