The park that never was – for long

Sanson Park was a pretty greenspace one minute, and a bridge the next.

by Esther Darlington MacDonald

Well, to be more specific. It was a park, but for so brief a time most people have probably forgotten it.

Ashcroft’s first public swimming pool was situated at the head of Tingley Street. It was a small park, grassed and dominated by a tall tree. The only thing left of the park today is the tree. Because when the new bridge was built, the park had to be destroyed. The new roads connecting Tingley Street to access to the bridge now cover most of what was what everyone called, “The Pool Park”.  While I was on council, I suggested that the park be given a name, and because I had been researching the life of Ashcroft and district’s first permanent medical doctor, Dr. George Sanson, I recommended that our dear little park that had served the community for so many years, be named, Sanson Park.

Outlining Dr. Sanson’s long residence in Ashcroft and in Clinton, with his clinics there and at Lillooet,  Council agreed that giving the park a name at last, Sanson’s name could not be more appropriate. A ceremony was arranged to be held in the park. Dr. Sanson’s elderly son, Campbell Sanson, together with several relatives of the good doctor from various areas of the province, attended the ceremony. A sign was erected. A luncheon was held in the park. Campbell was pleased and proud to have his father’s 30 year long service to the community recognized.

Unfortunately, the building of the new bridge not very long after, required that the park be partially covered over by the bridge. The pool had been a chronic problem. The proximity of the railroad was the chief cause of fractures inside the pool. It had become increasingly expensive to operate the pool given the constant need of repairs. And Sanson Park was no more.

In the Fall of 1997, the journal of the B.C. Historical Federation, B.C. Historical News, featured a lengthy article by the writer, simply titled, Dr. George Sanson. With a picture of Sanson with Central Hotel owner, George Ward, after a good day’s hunt with some friends: Three rows of ducks were hung between the hunters. Sanson’s lengthy dedicated service to the three South Cariboo communities of Ashcroft, Clinton and Lillooet, was on record at last. His life and times are in the local Museum archives and in the Provincial Museum in Victoria, manuscript division.

But we are still calling a new public swimming pool facility and parkland in Ashcroft, “The pool park”.  It’s as if Dr. George Sanson never existed.

Today, given the desperate need of medical doctors in these communities, and given the attempts to find some who will remain in the area for longer than a week or two or even a few years, Dr. George Sanson’s lengthy residence here, given that similar circumstances prevailed in 1886, seems particularly ironic.

Here was a doctor who could be called out in the middle of the night to see a sick man living in a cottage between Lilllooet and Cache Creek, who would harness up his Hamiltonian horses and buggy and go off into the darkness to serve the oath he had taken when he received his degree. His wife Jenny, protesting as he left the house, “He probably won’t be able to pay you anyway”.

Dr. Sanson’s cottage, situated at the corner of 5th Ave. and Brink St., was not only a residence, it was a clinic. A spacious garden surrounded, and a screened veranda stood against the south wall. Between the years 1886 and 1915, Sanson lived here. His family had left their residence in Clinton to live in Victoria. The education of Campbell and his sister Margaret was the reason for the break. Sanson commuted to Victoria frequently and every time he did, he never failed to visit the offices of the Times Colonist newspaper to give them the latest news of the area. The orchard enterprise at Walhachin, the mining ventures in Highland Valley (yes, they were people investing in mining ventures there, 60 years before Spud Heustis and Bethlehem Copper, happened.)

Those two Hamiltonian horses, given to Dr. Sanson and Jenny as a wedding gift when they married, served him for many years. By 1900, his Clinton medical practice had begun to dwindle. The horse drawn transportation era was breathing its last breath. In 1912, the Pacific Great Eastern railroad would bring the half century era to a close altogether.

Sanson decided to close the Clinton clinic. Shortly afterwards, Jenny departed to Victoria with the children. Her sister Beatrice, nicknamed “Trix”, had married a Victoria pharmacist and the family connections there were firmly in place. Sanson bought the cottage in Ashcroft and he rented a building in Lillooet to be used as a clinic. At that time, Lillooet was a hotbed of mining ventures, and there was plenty of work for him in the thriving town.

In 1914, Campbell Sanson enlisted. He lied about his age. Much to his parents’ consternation, they saw their tall, red haired, blue eyed lad still in his teens, go to war. The long list of deaths and casualties that came back were a constant source of worry. Campbell Sanson returned safely, but before that happened, his father complained of chest pains. He went to Victoria and Dr Jones found incurable cancer. Some time before, Sanson had suffered a serious blow to his heart when one of his horses shied on the Ashcroft bluffs. Folks in Ashcroft saw Sanson many an evening seated on the lawn in the shade of one of the trees, simply sitting, alone.

George Sanson loved the Cariboo. He maintained his practice there for over 30 years, though he could have gone down to Victoria and practiced there. But a town or city practice had not suited the young doctor when he came to B.C. His first practice after leaving the employment of the C.P.R. was in Vernon. A doctor there who had just returned from practicing for a time in the Cariboo, extolled the virtues of the country and its hardy people. Sanson and he traded places, after a fashion, one taking over Sanson’s in Vernon, and Sanson heading to the Cariboo. He remained there until his death in 1916 at the age of 54.

There are many stories in the Cariboo associated with Dr. Sanson’s character and life. His dry wit and easy manner made him many friends. And his wide interests included a love for the outdoors, for hunting and fishing. His favorite fishing spot was Pear Lake, near Clinton. He never ate fish himself, but would give his catch away. He was also vitally interested in the history of the area and became a member of the newly formed Historical Society. And his interest in the economic developments and potential of the area never left him.

I knew Campbell Sanson well, and I interviewed his sister Margaret in Victoria in the early 90’s. Her self published booklet, Looking Backward, was a little gem and played a goodly part in the biographical paper I wrote for the B.C. Historical Federation.

Dr. Sanson was buried in Victoria. Their infant son was buried in the pioneer cemetery in Clinton.

And that is the story of the park that never was. At least, never was for long.

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