Our summer road trip through our region, looking at the stories behind the names of different places, continues south from Spences Bridge. Road signs in that community encourage people to keep an eye open for the bighorn sheep which live in the area, and the long-closed store/trading post at Bighorn, to the left of Hwy 1 as you drive south, derives its name from these sheep. The Bighorn site once boasted a large auto court, with cabins, gas station, store, and pool, and was a stopping-off point for motorists traveling the Fraser Canyon.
The riverside location of the provincial park and campsite at Goldpan makes it a popular location. It was opened in 1956, and named by B.C. Parks employee Chess Lyons in honour of the early goldpanners who had come to the area a century earlier in search of their fortunes.
Very little remains at Shaw Springs, which once housed a resort, and prior to that was a resting place for the mule and bull teams which transported goods up and down the canyon. It was named for a Mr. W. H. Shaw who, around 1930, applied for water rights from a spring in the area, which he named after himself.
The Nicoamen River enters the Thompson from the left side of the highway. The river and falls contain an “a” in their names, while the site itself – which was once a First Nations settlement called Nequamin – does not. Nequamin could be interpreted as “wolf”, since the river came from a lake that bore the name “wolf lake” or “wolf’s den”. However, another theory is that the word meant “[a] means of carving out a valley”, which the Nicoamen River has done over the centuries.
A location near the confluence of the Nicoamen and Thompson rivers may have sparked off the Fraser Canyon gold rush. In 1856 a local First Nations man stopped to get a drink of water from the Nicoamen and noticed a large yellow pebble in the gravel. The inhabitants soon realized that there was money to be made by digging up the gold and selling it to local Hudson’s Bay Company traders. The gold was sent to the nearest mint, located in San Francisco, and the story goes that when the mint Superintendent saw the size of the first shipment of gold sent from B.C. he informed friends in California that “the next excitement will be on the Fraser River”. A small group of miners left San Francisco and headed north, finding gold near Fort Yale, and the news soon spread. Within months some 30,000 would-be miners flooded into the area, and the history of the Interior of B.C. was changed forever.
Skihist Provincial Park – with sites on both sides of the Trans-Canada – gets its name from the Nlaka’pamux word meaning “great crack between rock” or “split rock”. The name was initially given to a distinctive nearby mountain, which was an important place to local First Nations. Both park sites have a view of the mountain, while the campground on the east side of the highway contains a well-preserved portion of the original Cariboo Wagon Road, completed in 1862.
The park could have had a very different name, however. Chess Lyons, the man who named several of the region’s parks, was initially going to name it after a different nearby mountain that was more clearly visible, only to find that the mountain in question was called Mount Roach. As this did not seem a very good choice for the name of a provincial park, Skihist Mountain was chosen as inspiration instead.
And now we find ourselves approaching Lytton. I’ve already recounted how the town was named after Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in 1858; yes, the same Bulwer-Lytton who, in his career as a novelist, gave us the immortal opening line “It was a dark and stormy night.” However, this was not the site’s first name. The local First Nations had called it Cumchin (from whence comes the present-day Kumsheen), which has had several meanings ascribed to it. The word could mean “cross mouth” (the Fraser crossing the mouth of the Thompson River), or “shelf that crosses over” (the flat shelves on either side of the Fraser River), or “great forks” (the intersection of the Fraser and Thompson rivers). Pre-1858 the site had been known by white settlers as “The Forks”; Simon Fraser refers to it as such in 1808, when he wrote of the place “These Forks, [that] the Indians call Cumchin . . .” Colonel Richard Clement Moody of the Royal Engineers, in a letter dated Feb. 1, 1859, wrote of the new name that “The Govt. has given the name [Lytton] to a town which will become very important at the junction of the Thompson & the Frazer [sic]. . . . Lytton would be appropriate to a River, the Lytton – I shall do all I can to persuade the Govt. to consent to the Thompson River being called the Lytton & give Mr. Thompson something else. It is not too late.”
Well, we know how that ended; there is no Lytton River.
There is, however, the Fraser, named after the explorer Simon Fraser. It had been discovered in 1793 by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and had a bewildering array of names before being officially labelled the Fraser in 1813 (fittingly, by David Thompson, after whom Fraser had named the Thompson River). Prior to that it was called the Tacoutche Tesse (by Mackenzie); the Cowichans (by coastal First Nations); the Rio Floridablanca (by Spanish explorers); the New Caledonia; and the Jackanet. Poet T.S. Eliot wrote that “The naming of cats is a serious matter.” It’s a piece of cake, when compared with the naming of rivers.
Next time: we travel back to Cache Creek and head north.