Local history began long before the 1800s

Writer comments on a recent historical piece by Esther Darlington MacDonald about strong ranching women.

Dear Editor

History is quite a fluid idea and every writer takes their own approach, particularly when freed of the academic requirements of research and support documents.

I too have tried my hand at writing some local history and have found sourcing support documentation to be difficult at times, especially when trying to find out about life in BC before the twentieth century and the advent of newspapers like the Ashcroft Journal.

Now I am driven to respond to the article in the Oct. 9 issue by Esther Darlington MacDonald “Strong Ranching Women set our Foundations”.  Darlington MacDonald’s thesis that the history of this area began in the early 19th century when the fur traders arrived, bringing with them civilization to a wild and empty territory is an approach I strongly disagree with.

This land has a fantastic history – look at the rocks, look at the river canyons carved out of the hills and read the story of glaciations, volcanoes, earthquakes, and the movement of tectonic plates written on the landscape. I have been to the MacAbee fossil site and held the fossils of roses that are over 50 millions years old. Recently a member of the local fossil club showed me an ammonite found near Ashcroft that is thought to be 200 millions years old.

Human settlement in the area is considered to date back 10 thousand years or so to the time when the big glaciers retreated and living here was again reasonably possible. That the First Nations people did not build in stone or write books doesn’t mean that no noteworthy people lived here and no heroic and tragic events happened to the people before 1812 and exploration by the first European fur traders. The absence of traditional European-type historic documents and artefacts does not mean the people were uncivilized and wild. The suggestion that the land in the Hat Creek Valley was “empty” at the time of Dorothy’s youth in the early 1900’s is a mistaken idea but in the interests of brevity I will not expound on that particular outdated bias in this letter.

I like stories about people and appreciate that Darlington MacDonald often brings us the stories of the lives of women in the last century. Their value is in helping people today understand just how much things have changed. I find that some landmark dates also help to keep an order on what happened when.

In this story, for example, for me it was important to know that the CPR began regular passenger train service through the Fraser Canyon and Ashcroft in 1887 – it was an important event in the development of Ashcroft, in fact. So I wondered when I read that Dorothy and Sybil Parke were sent to be educated at All Hallows School in Yale “travelling by stagecoach”. Dorothy was born 10 years later, in 1897, and would likely have started school in 1904 or about then. By that time train travel was well established through the Fraser Canyon to Ashcroft and Ashcroft was Mile 0 for stage coaches north, (soon to be replaced on that route by automobiles and the PGE railway). Surely Isabella and Henry Parke would have taken their daughters to school in Yale in the years 1904 and forward by train in much greater comfort than a stage coach.

Finally I must comment on the mention of the school located on the Cariboo Road near the Loon Lake road turnoff. I have heard this school referred to as the Maiden Creek School and as the Bonaparte Valley School. It primarily served the ranching community of the Bonaparte Valley from about the 17 Mile up along the Bonaparte River to about two miles above the site where Loon Creek enters the Bonaparte. In addition children from the Maiden Creek ranch area also attended and I believe the Dougherty family was instrumental in getting the school started.

I do not know of any reference to the school operating until after the First World War (1918) so this school was not an option for Dorothy or other children from the Hat Creek area to attend in the first two decades of the 1900’s. No children living along Loon Lake ever attended this school to my knowledge. In the early 1900’s the road forked off the Cariboo road directly across from the school site and followed along the Bonaparte River, ending with the last homestead along the river. Access in the early 1900’s in to Loon Lake was from Clinton over the Mound or from 70 Mile across the upper Bonaparte to arrive at the east end of Loon Lake where the Alan and Mary Baker family had established a ranch. There was also a number of other homesteader families trying to make a living out in the bush north east of the lake. The problem was that the Loon Creek Canyon was impassable until 1932 when the Wohlleben family, working with horses and a bit of dynamite, managed to make a passable road, including many bridges, through the canyon. This road opened the Loon Creek valley to automobiles, portable sawmills and tourist traffic; replacing the horses and pack trains of the century before.

Sources consulted: Sagebrush, Steers and Saddlesores – The Parke Family – Five Generations at Upper Hat Creek. A Bittersweet Oasis: A History of Ashcroft and District 1885-2002. Royal BC Museum, BC  archives, genealogy.

Barbara Hendricks

Loon Lake