Our road trip through the region’s place names is, like summer, winding down as we head back up the Trans-Canada from Lytton to Cache Creek. As we pass Big Horn, south of Spences Bridge, I must note that the trading post and store there – which I said in my last article was closed – is in fact still very much open for business.
At Cache Creek we head north along Hwy 97 – also known as the Cariboo Highway – where we find ourselves following the meandering path of the Bonaparte River. At the junction of highways 97 and 99 we see Hat Creek House (now part of Historic Hat Creek Ranch), the most famous of the surviving gold rush roadhouses. Hat Creek flows into the Bonaparte here, and gives its name to the roadhouse and ranch, as well as the valley from whence it flows. The name comes from a Secwepemc legend which tells of a test of strength between three men, all of them possessed of supernatural powers, who met at a spot near the mouth of Hat Creek. Each of the three pressed his head against a rock at the site, to see who could make the deepest impression, and the winner managed to press his head in up to the shoulders. This impression, which is supposedly still there, gave Hat Creek its name.
Driving north from Hat Creek Ranch we pass through the unincorporated community of 16 Mile. Many of the towns and sites in the region called XX Mile were once the sites of roadhouses along the route to the gold fields (hence the name 100 Mile House), although there does not appear to have been a roadhouse at 16 Mile. There was a stop called 12 Mile House, where a successful roadhouse, store, saloon, and blacksmith shop operated between 1893 and 1914, but the site has since been subsumed into the Hat Creek Ranch property.
The XX Mile place names can be rather confusing, as there were two nearby Mile Zero locations from which distances were derived. The first road to the goldfields – the Cariboo Trail, built in 1859 – went from Lillooet to Clinton via Pavilion, so any XX Mile designations along that original route, and from Clinton north on what is now Hwy 97, reflect the distance to Lillooet via the Cariboo Trail. In 1862 construction began on a more direct route to the goldfields, and when it was completed in 1863 it met up with the Lillooet road in Clinton. The Cariboo Wagon Road began in Yale, but Mile 0 was in Ashcroft, so anything called XX Mile between Ashcroft and just south of Clinton shows the distance from Ashcroft. A cairn in Clinton marks the spot where the two roads met.
Scottie Creek, about three miles north of 16 Mile, was named after William “Scotty” Donaldson. Originally from Scotland’s Orkney Isles, Donaldson settled in the area as early as October 1861, and established a rather rowdy roadhouse on the Bonaparte. He was, by all accounts, a passionately loyal Scot, which gave him his nickname, and was eventually also given to the creek which flowed into the Bonaparte near his establishment.
Maiden Creek, which flows into the Bonaparte near Loon Lake Road, has several stories which purport to account for its name. All involve a Secwepmec maiden, who in one story is betrothed to a Chief who goes off on a hunting trip. She waits for him by the creek, only to die of a broken heart when he returns with a wife from another tribe, and is buried by the creek where she waited so patiently. In a variant of this story her lover is a warrior, who goes off to fight and does not return; the maiden jumps off a cliff in her sorrow. In a third tale the maiden goes along the creek in search of wild strawberries, and does not return. The creek was also known for a time as Grave Creek. The nearby Maiden Creek Ranch, established by Elizabeth and Edward Dougherty in 1869, is recognized as the oldest known operating ranch in the province still run by the same family.
We find ourselves at the junction of Hwy 97 and Loon Lake Rd. The name Loon Lake comes from a corruption of the French words l’eau nez (literally “water of the nose”), which was given to the lake because . . . I’m just joking. It is of course derived from Louis “Loo” Nau, an early fur trader who was . . . All kidding aside, the name comes from the Pacific loon, or Gavia pacifica, which frequents the lake, and whose distinctive eerie cry must have startled many an early European settler upon hearing it for the first time.
With that we rush headlong into Clinton where, as mentioned earlier, the Cariboo Trail from Lillooet and the Cariboo Wagon Road from Yale converged in 1863. The site was originally known as Cut-Off Valley, and then 47 Mile House, before being renamed Clinton in 1863 when the Cariboo Wagon Road was completed. Just as Lytton – far to the south – was named after a Secretary of State for the Colonies (Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton), who filled that post from 1858–9, so too was Clinton, which received its name in honour of Henry Pelham Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle, who was Colonial Secretary from1859–64.
And thus it is that our summer road trip comes to an end. A Taoist proverb states that “the journey is the reward,” while Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” Now that we’ve arrived, I can only hope you found our travels as interesting and enjoyable as I have.