Hudson's Hope - the Early Days of Guiding
Hudson's Hope, located at the foot of the Peace River canyon, and at the head of navigation on the lower Peace, was ideally suited to be a jumping off spot to the land beyond the Peace. Here, the 14 mile Peace River Portage route connected to the upper Peace River, providing a natural portal through the Rocky Mountains of Northeastern British Columbia. Established in 1805 by John Stuart and James MacDougall, Rocky Mountain Portage House served as a fur trading post under the direction of Simon Fraser.1 Over the past two hundred years Hudson's Hope has witnessed a parade of traders, explorers, adventurers, prospectors, surveyors, fortune seekers, and settlers. Local residents were frequently called on to assist those passing through, and there are many references in the historical literature that highlight their crucial role in the success of these expeditions.
Alexander MacKenzie could have used some local knowledge when he travelled up the Peace River in 1793, as he missed the Portage trail near present day Hudson's Hope. He was forced to abandon the river in the midst of the canyon, and his crew spent three arduous days dragging canoe and gear up the steep banks over a makeshift trail to the upper river.2 The fur trade, first by the Northwest Company, and then the Hudson's Bay Company dominated the Peace system through the first half of the 1800s, but by the 1860s the search for gold and other minerals brought additional interests to the area. John Giscome and Henry McDame prospected on the Peace in the 1860s. It was their native guide who directed them to the overland portage route from the Fraser River to Summit Lake, and the Giscome Portage became the entrance to the key southern water route into the Peace River country for the next 90 years.3 Free traders, such as Bill Cust, Ed Carey, and Twelve foot Davis brought supplies into the country from the Cariboo over this route, and employed experienced local guides like William Calder.
Confederation brought the promise to join British Columbia with the rest of Canada by rail, and in 1872, Charles Horetzky and John Macoun were in the Peace River country surveying potential routes for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Local trappers and traders such as William Calder, Robert Armstrong, and George Kennedy, a Hudson's Bay Company clerk from Fort St. John, were engaged as guides.4 Horetzky's attempt to investigate the Pine pass failed, as he could find "... no Indian to guide him". Chief Mastie, and two others, guided Macoun and Horetzky up to Hudson's Hope, and then Charette (Charles Dumas) who was in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) post, accompanied the party over the Portage, and with the assistance of Calder and two capable native boatman they made their way up the Peace and on through to McLeod Lake.5
Captain William F. Butler, was commissioned to survey across the northwest of Canada, and by the spring of 1873 was in the Peace River country.6 William Calder accompanied him as a guide, along with Jean Baptise Lafleur, a third generation HBC employee who had helped build the post at Hudson's Hope. Baptise, "... knew every creek and coulee, hilltop and hollow in all that area".7 After nearly being drowned in a mishap involving a small canoe near Hudson's Hope piloted by Robert Armstrong, Butler engaged a French miner/trapper by the name of Jacques Pardonet, whose river expertise proved invaluable on the upper river. In 1875, John Macoun was again back in the Peace River country, accompanying ARC Selwyn, Director of the Geological Survey of Canada. Guides mentioned were McLennan, Hiller, Ahquon and Maurice Deschamps. The latter two were dismissed after tipping the canoe into the Peace River near Hudson's Hope, which may have lead to the creek there being named Maurice Creek.8 Selywn's attempts to explore through the Pine pass south of the Peace failed when his Indian guides turned back before the headwaters.9
The Pine pass was finally broached in 1877 by another railway surveyor Joseph Hunter, and although George Dawson also made his way through the Pine pass in 1879, the main party with Henry Cambie followed the Peace River route.10 Warburton Pike, returning from a hunt in Barren Lands late in the fall of 1890 via the Peace River, found out that inexperience and pushing the elements would get you in serious trouble. Inquiring about the Pine Pass, he found "... none of the Beavers would volunteer to guide us through". Twelve foot Davis, had just brought a load of goods in from Quesnel, and Pike procured the services of two of his packers, Charlie a half-breed from Quesnelle, and Pat a full blooded Siccanne from Fraser Lake, to assist him in getting through to MacLeod Lake. Lured on to the upper Peace River by a late November Chinook, they were forced to abandon the canoe due to ice, got lost and turned around on their overland route, and some 32 days later came stumbling back into Barrows' post at the head of the Peace Portage.11
News of gold in the Klondike sent reverberations throughout the world in the late 1890s and the Peace was shaken as well. A cowboy by the name of "Cayuse" Graham with the assistance of Harry Garbitt, had brought a couple of herds of horses into the Peace River country via Edmonton, and then stayed on to guide gold seekers towards the Klondike. In an attempt to provide a viable overland route to the Klondike, Inspector Moodie of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was charged to investigate the possibility of a trail for "... packhorses, cattle and where possible for wagons". Commissioner Herchmer also suggested that "... any Indian or Indians you may from time to time find it expedient to engage with local knowledge"12 Moodie was told that Napoleon Thomas was one of the best hunters in the area, and after an intensive bargaining session retained his services at a princely sum of $90 a month.A Beaver Indian13 by the name of Dick Egg was also retained in Fort St. John, and was successful in leading the expedition that established the NWMP trail route up the Halfway River, to the headwaters of Cypress Creek, on through Laurier Pass, and down to Fort Grahame on the Finlay River.14
In the early years of the 20th century, Hudson's Hope saw its first settlers, and these residents often found themselves assisting others to get into and through the country. After his first taste of guiding Klondike gold seekers in the late 1890s, Harry Garbitt found himself as an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company at Sturgeon Lake and other Alberta posts. Better wages drew him to the rival Revillion Freres Company and by 1910 he was in charge of their post in Fort St. John. In 1912, the US Biological Survey commissioned a Geographer, Dr. Fredrick Vreeland to conduct an expedition to collect mountain sheep in the area of Laurier Pass. The new Grand Trunk Pacific brought Vreeland and his partner, W.F. Patterson from New York, on to the Fraser River system, and then they followed the canoe route over Giscome portage, through the Crooked and Parsnip River system and down the Peace into Hudson's Hope. As the local Beaver Indians were out on the summer hunts, Garbitt was engaged as guide and horse packer for the trip north. Their route took them north to the Halfway River, then up to Cypress Creek where they followed the historic NWMP trail to its headwaters. Stone's sheep and mountain caribou specimens were procured, and Garbitt's experience as a trader and translator was invaluable when they ran into the Beaver hunting party who weren't that happy about these outsiders taking animals within their territory.15
Tom Jamieson, former BC Police constable and Government Agent in Fort St. John led a group of settlers up the Peace in the spring of 1912 in anticipation of a railroad coming through the Peace Pass from Prince George. Harry Garbitt and Charlie Paquette both took up land in Hudson's Hope that summer. Paquette had packed and guided throughout the north since the 1880s, and came down the river that summer from the Omineca country. Garbitt and Paquette started a packhorse freighting service over the Peace River Portage, and then they took a run at cattle ranching in the Moberly Lake area in partnership with the Calliheson brothers.16
Prescott Fay, on his epic overland journey from Jasper in 1914 with Fred Brewster as his guide, left a number of their pack horses with Garbitt and Paquette at Moberly Lake as they continued on to Hudson's Hope.17 J.C. Gwillim conducted the first oil survey in the area in 1919, and hired "... Peace River men who knew the country ...H.C. Garbitt, packer and his outfit, and E. Ouelette, cook were engaged at Hudson's Hope.18 In 1923, John Holzwoth of the US Biological Survey, met Harry Garbitt and "Louie" at the head of the Peace River Portage, and with eight head of pack and saddle horses, they journeyed south of the Peace River collecting caribou and big horn sheep on the headwaters of the Pine and Wapiti Rivers.19 Garbitt went on to establish a trading post at Moberly Lake, became the Indian Agent, and carried the mail by packhorse between Hudson's Hope and Moberly Lake for many years.8 He lived to the age of 86, and both he and his wife Martha (Desjarlais), are well remembered as respected pioneers of the region.20
The construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific railway though to Prince George, provided a new transportation link to the Peace River country from the south. One of the construction workers, Jack Thomas, thought he would come north for a look. With a partner by the name of MacDonald, they tried to bring horses through the Pine Pass, with drastic consequences. There was no obvious trail, the partnership dissolved, and lost and separated; they both ended up eating horse meat to survive. A weakened Thomas eventually made it down to the mouth of the Pine River late in the fall of 1912, and was nursed back to health by HBC factor Frank Beatton's wife.21 Thomas headed up the Peace River that spring of 1913, and settled in Hudson's Hope. His house and barn became the headquarters of one the earliest and more successful freighting and packing businesses in the area. Thomas' pack outfit served a varied clientele, and he hauled everything from oil derricks to dudes, as well as providing freight teams to move gear and supplies over the Peace Portage. One of his more challenging jobs was packing the first oil drilling equipment into the Kobes/Farrell Creek area in 1921, but with the assistance of Ernie Ouelette they got the job done.
Thomas had also packed a couple of feuding prospectors and their gear into Trimble Lake in the early 1920s. Apparently the feud escalated into a shoot out, as both were found with bullets in them, hence the local name of Deadman Lake. By the mid 1920s, a few big game hunters were starting to show up in Hudson's Hope, and Jack Thomas was the early guide of choice. In 1929/30, the CPR had at least three railway survey parties investigating possible access routes for Hudson's Hope coal, and Thomas was there with his packhorses to move them.22 After the loss of his first wife and settling of the six children in a convent school in Peace River, Alberta, Thomas remarried Ann Johnson, and relocated to a homestead ranch six miles above the Portage. He continued to maintain a pack outfit, which along with trapping supplemented the farm income. Thomas succumbed to a bout of pneumonia in 1938, and was buried on the farm which now lies beneath the waters of Williston Lake.23
Another trapper who had a go at this guiding/packing business was William Simon "Bill" Keily. Keily held his first guide licence in 1928, worked on survey parties in 1929/30, and was established on a homestead at Lynx Creek, just east of Hudson's Hope. In 1931, two young fellows by the name of Bill Sheldon and Dick Borden with connections to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, showed up in Hudson's Hope, and found themselves on the trail with a bunch of Jack Thomas' horses, and Keily along as guide, packer, and cook. Their route took them west into the Ottertail (Nabesche) river country, on through the head of the Halfway and Sikanni rivers, and as far north as the Prophet River, and by trips end they had collected eight different stone sheep and caribou, as well as small mammals and birds.26 Keily was well known for his photographic skill, and documented many early trail scenes.
One of the more infamous adventurers to hit Northern BC in the 1930s was Charles E. Bedaux. After a successful hunting trip north and west of Hudson's Hope in 1932, with geologist Jack Bocock as chief guide, he returned in 1934 in a much publicized attempt to cross unroaded northern BC with Citroen halftrack vehicles. The call went out for guides, wranglers, and trail cutters and the Hudson's Hope area supplied its share. Robert Beattie (Jim's brother), who had been on the 1932 hunting trip, was designated head Packer, and Lynx Creek's Jack McDougall's expertise on crossing rivers was tested many a time. Trapping partners Bob Godberson and Bob White, along with Willard Freer rafted down the Peace from Hudson's Hope to join the outfit at Fort St. John in mid July.14 Along with Ernie Peterson from North Pine, and Art MacLean from Fort St. John, they were responsible for the 51 pack horse advance freight outfit, headed up by Edward (Nick) Geake, an ex British army major who trapped and ranched up the Halfway valley. It was a long and challenging trail up the east slope of the Rockies through to the head of the Muskwa River, down the Kwadacha River, up to Sifton Pass and then back down the Finlay and Peace Rivers by boat. When the boys pulled back into Hudson's Hope on October 18, they had more than earned their $4.00 per day and the big party that Bedaux hosted that night in the Ferguson hotel.27
17 S. Prescott Fay, Journal of S. Prescott Fay of 1914 Expedition Hunting Sheep and Other Big Game Between the Yellowhead Pass and the Peace River along the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and British Columbia, Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives, and BC Archives
19 John W. Holzworth, Report on Trip Taken in August, September and October, 1923 by John W. Holworth in Northeastern British Columbia in the Interests of the United States Biological Survey on the Subject of Mountain Sheep and Caribou Distribution, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 1923
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