THE HUB OF SIMILKAMEEN
Princeton lies in the “V” shaped area formed by the coming together of two rivers: the Similkameen, formerly called the South Similkameen; and the Tulameen, formerly known as the Vermilion. This latter name for the Tulameen was given by the Dominion geologist, Dr. George M. Dawson, to whose reports we shall have occasion to refer. The name was suggested by the reflection of the sun on the red bluffs of the north, or railway side of the river, a little more than a mile west of Princeton on the way to Coalmont. Hence the name “Vermilion Forks” adopted by the company that first developed the Princeton townsite.
As one scans the horizon from Princeton, mountains are seen to rise in all directions. The altitude of the town itself is given as 2111 feet above sea level. Mining centres within a large circumference are tributary to Princeton. In Charles Camsell’s “Preliminary Report” (1907) we read that Similkameen covers “about 3,500 square miles, and will embrace the mining camps of Bear Creek, Granite Creek, Copper Mountain, Roche River, Hedley, Olalla and Fairview, including the country from Okanagan Valley to Hope Mountains, and from the International Boundary northward for a distance of about forty-five miles.” (p.7)
In making his survey of our district Camsell selected Princeton as his headquarters, being the most central point. At that time (1907) bi-weekly stage operated between Penticton and Princeton. A second way in which Princeton could be reached, was from Spences Bridge on the main line of the CPR. This journey of about 120 miles was shortened by the construction of a branch of railway to Nicola Lake. This branch was 45 miles long. And, of course, there was the Dewdney Trail across the mountains from Hope, a distance of 66 miles. The highway, which was opened on 2 November 1949, follows a more southerly route, and is 83 miles long, with summits little over 4000 feet, compared with the trail summit of 5960 feet.
It must not be expected that the following pages will tell the whole story of the whole Similkameen. Our main concern will be with Princeton. But extended references will be made to many points in the valley, for the simple reason that the story of Princeton would be unintelligible without some knowledge of the larger background of the whole valley. Hedley, Keremeos, Copper Mountain, Allenby, Granite Creek, Coalmont, Tulameen and Blakeburn have all contributed to the history of Princeton.
The best way to see the country as a whole is from an aeroplane. Planes had landed on a temporary strip near Martin’s Lake as early as 1929, but it was not till Sunday, 28 May, 1933, that the first plane landed on the present field, which was made to include part of the old race track. The following night a banquet was held in the Princeton Café to mark the occasion. But this is anticipating our story.
From the Copper Mountain Road, and from the Hope Road, splendid views may be had of Smelter Lake, and the upper reaches of Similkameen. From the One Mile (or Merritt) Road one sees to the north Elephant Mountain, the name suggested by the contour of the height. One of the best views is from Miner Mountain, which is reached by a break-off to the right from the Five Mile Road, just past where the Kettle Valley railway bridge was until 1942. Miner Mountain was formerly known as Bald Mountain, or Baldy. At the suggestion of the Princeton Board of Trade in 1953 it was changed to Miner Mountain, the name commemorating a famous gentleman bandit of the Robin Hood type, at least so far as local legend goes. Beyond the bare brow of the mountain lived Jack Budd, who died on 5 April, 1948, at the age of 100. Budd’s ranch was known as the Hide-out, and it was known that Jack was a friend of George W. Edwards, better known as Bill Miner. Miner lived on the Budd ranch for some time before he took part in the famous train robbery at Ducks, B.C. in May, 1906. After an exciting chase, Miner and his accomplices were captured, and brought to trial. The ranch known as the Hide-out was Jack Budd’s home for 45 years.
The Skyline Trail, and the snow covered Manning Peaks (formerly the Three Brothers – a road is now being constructed to this area of Alpine grandeur), will repay any amount of inconvenience in achieving a bird’s eye-view of the surrounding country. The distorted strata at Hedley can be seen without leaving one’s car. Crater Mountain, south and west of Keremeos (altitude 7522’) is a majestic height. Nearer Keremeos are the Cathedral Lakes with a setting of jagged mountain peaks. The lakes lie between the forks of the Ashnola River and are four miles from the International Boundary.
A logging road now gives easy access to the basaltic columns a few miles beyond Keremeos on the way to Penticton. The Keremeos columns are among the most spectacular of their kind. Basaltic columns are found also on the Dornberg road, a few miles beyond Tulameen; on the Hope Road 16 miles west of Princeton, and at Agate Mountain beyond Wolfe Creek, where Alvin Towriss has done a lot of searching.
More convenient for the tourist are Whipsaw Falls near Nine Mile, Manning Park, and Castle Rock which is just over two miles east of Princeton on the old Hedley Road. Mention of Castle Rock revives a legend that is common in these parts. The valley of Similkameen is a land of light and shade. There is seldom fog in the valley, but winters are long, and sometimes severe. Life is full of compensations. Where winters are severe, hearts are warm. When the struggle for existence is hard the finer qualities of life often thrive. Friendship and courage take firmest root in stony ground.
Oldtimers had an interesting way of marking distance. The first white settler was John Fall Allison. Now he sleeps, with others of his clan, at the base of the little mountain called Castle Rock by Mrs. Allison, because it reminded her of Castle Rock in Edinburgh. In the early days, Allison often sat on the summit. Looking west he would see the Similkameen and Tulameen come together. In the forks of these two rivers stands the Princeton of today. Looking east, the united streams, under the name of Similkameen, wend their way through narrowing heights to join the Okanagan and the Columbia on their way to the Pacific. A glorious panorama is this valley of Similkameen. It is commonly said that it was Allison’s wish to be buried at the summit of Castle Rock after he had crossed the Great Divide. From there his spirit would continue to watch the ever-changing life of the valley below. When the end came, Similkameen was in the grip of an early winter, and the pioneer was laid to rest at the base of the great rock.
How truly the Allison home had become the centre of the whole valley is seen in the fact that even today distances are still determined as from the first centre of civilization in Similkameen. The creeks east of Princeton are still called One Mile, Five Mile, Twenty Mile, because the points where they join the Similkameen represent that mileage from the original Allison home.
For the geology of the district one must refer to the various reports issued by the Geological Survey – Dawson, Camsell etc. An excellent paper on “The Geology of Princeton” was read before the Similkameen Historical Association by Miss Jessie Ewart, B.A. (now Mrs. P. Bird), on 28 April, 1933. She quoted the opinion of many geologists that Wolfe Creek was the original channel of the Similkameen. This was blocked by a volcanic flow of recent age, hence the Similkameen joins the Tulameen at Princeton instead of farther down the valley. The oldest rocks of the valley are comparatively young as far as geological time is concerned. The tumultuous age in which minerals were formed was followed by a period of quiet, during which the whole of Princeton area was a vast, shallow sea, in which were laid down sandstones, clay, shale and coal beds. This period was followed by one of tremendous volcanic activity, then by the glacial age which preceded our present age. The glacier modified the topography of the district, rounding off the hills, and gouging out the valleys. From Princeton to Hedley the valley is a perfect example of an old glacial bed. The whole district is rich in mineral deposits, and these have determined the trend of human activity since the red man reigned supreme.
Mrs. S.L. Allison had an interesting story about the Roman Catholic church in the native village of Chuchuawa, just beyond Hedley. (The story has not been verified but has become part of local legend.) When the priests first came into the valley, their greatest opponent was the medicine man, who was bitterly opposed to the Christian faith. After much discussion with the priest, the Indians “down the valley” were “almost persuaded.” But the medicine man was adamant. In such an impasse the priest could do no more than give them time. Then came an earthquake, and the natives attributed this to the power of the priest. The result was that they decided to accept the Christian faith, and the church they built was evidence of their decision.
To the native peoples the Great Spirit was the Great Transformer, responsible for all the changes in nature, and for the course of human history. Well might we echo the words of Tennyson:
"There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
O earth what changes thou hast seen!"
In summer time the district is made glorious by a profusion of wild flowers. Buttercups and mayflowers give colour to the landscape almost as soon as the snows of winter have disappeared. Later on, sunflowers carpet the hills and, seen from a distance give the appearance of unbroken yellow. Lupin, paint brush, pentstemon, purple and white heather reveal Nature in her warmest colours. The rhododendrons east and west of the Skagit Bluffs, and along the old Hope Trail, are a picture not soon forgotten. Magnificent stands of timber add commercial value to natural beauty.
The whole area abounds in wild-life. In 1888 Similkameen earned the title “A Sportman’s Eden”, when a book of that title was published, describing the hunting experiences of Clive Phillips-Wooley. The efforts of the Board of Trade to have a large area between Princeton and Hope set aside as a game reserve was a far-sighted move which resulted in the creation of Manning Park. There is an ever present danger that we forget too readily the heritage that is ours. “No future is safe where the past is forgotten.” T.O. Lessard, through his weekly column in “The Spotlight” has done much to keep the tourist informed about our heritage of fish and game. A check-list of wild-life might make tedious reading, but a few records should prove interesting.
In “The Rocks and Rivers of British Columbia” (H. Blacklock & Co. London, 1885), Walter Moberly tells that in the spring of 1860 he “entered into a contract in partnership with Mr. Edgar Dewdney, to build a trail from Fort Hope on the Fraser River to the Shemilkomean River on the east side of the Cascade range of mountains, to reach the gold diggings on the latter river, where gold of a very fine quality had been discovered. Meeting with a very severe accident, I was laid up for some days in a miserable swamp, with only an Indian boy for my companion, and when I felt a little better I rode a mule down to a small log store-house which we had at a little lake. I arrived in the evening, and soon lay down to rest in the lower of two bunks in one corner of the house. As I lay there watching the moon shining through a large square opening in the roof that served the purpose of a chimney, I heard something walking on the mud covered roof, and quietly got up with my revolver. I thought it might be an Indian, intent on stealing some of our supplies, or rum, of which we kept a good quantity in the house. I saw what I took to be a hand come down through the opening evidently feeling what was below. This was repeated several times, when I managed to get into such a position as to leave the moonbeam between myself and the invader, when, instead of an Indian, I made it out to be a large panther – an animal very scarce on the mainland, but more plentiful on Vancouver Island. This made me feel uncomfortable, and as soon as the moonlight came between us I fired, and as I found in the morning by some blood on the roof I must have hit the brute…”
In December 1935, Charlie Shuttleworth shot a cougar measuring 9’2”. With his dog Jack, and Paddy Dickson and H. Hayes, he had tracked the cat relentlessly for a week in the Five Mile Valley. It weighed 240 lbs., and was rolling in fat. Charlie said it would average two deer a week. Allan Ford Gill, Princeton district game warden, has many “cats” to his credit.
The late Alexander F. MacKenzie, the Laird of Tulloch Ard (after whom Laird Lake was named), was widely known as a “mighty hunter.” On one occasion he captured a lynx alive, a feat, that was witnessed by a party of campers from the lake. The lynx had been attracted to the Laird’s “estate” by some choice Hungarian hares. It was spotted by Yarrow, the Laird’s favourite dog, who soon treed the stranger. The Laird quickly decided that the fur was not quite prime, and that the lynx should be kept alive till its pelt would bring the top market price. Carrying a noose at the end of a stick, MacKenzie climbed the tree, faced the snarling brute, pushed the noose over its head, choked it into submission, and kept it till the fur promised the desired price.
On another occasion the Laird shot a bear, wounding it in the snout. The bear charged, and the Laird fell backwards over a log. He managed to swing his rifle and discharge it point blank into the bear’s face. The bear was so close that it ripped the hunter’s coat with its claws.
Frank LeFarge, who lived about 17 miles east of Hope till 1940 was walking to Hope one evening. It was getting dark. The trapper jumped over a log, landing, to his surprise, right on a bear’s back. Losing his gun in the scuffle, LeFarge drew his hunting knife. When the fight was over, LeFarge was badly mauled, but bruin lay dead. Fortunately, George Aldous passed that way not long after the scrap and was able to help the trapper who thereafter spent some weeks in the Chilliwack Hospital.
S.R. Gibson tells a dramatic story about his brother Luke. He was hunting in the Ashnola country and spied two mountain sheep on a narrow ledge. The ledge was too narrow for the sheep to pass, and neither was willing to retreat. After watching for a long time, Luke fired a shot, and suddenly the whole mountainside seemed alive with sheep.
CUNNING AND CURIOSITY
A picturesque story that might have come from Aesop’s fables: The scene was the wood-yard of Sam Gibson’s sawmill at Jura. A weasel was after a squirrel. As often as the weasel came too close, the squirrel was up the tree. At length the weasel buried itself, leaving just the tip of its tail above the sawdust. The weasel moved its tail from time to time, just enough to attract the attention, and arouse the curiosity, of the squirrel. Curiosity killed the squirrel, for it could not resist the temptation to come down and examine the moving object in the sawdust. In a flash the weasel had its prize.
The skunk, the beaver and the porcupine have all been common enough in Similkameen. Deer and elk are still plentiful. On the Hope Road, when the relief camps were in operation in the 30’s, Klondike Bill had a herd of thirty deer. After the noon meal in camp, Bill would take the leavings, give a holler, and from all directions deer came bounding through the trees to get their fill. They were quite tame, and did not hesitate to eat out of Bill’s hand. On one of his trips to the camps, Dr. J.R. Naden counted 72 deer.
BIRDS AND TREES
For a list of the birds that frequent the valley one should consult P.A. Taverner’s “Birds of Western Canada.” One observation, however, is pertinent. According to the late E.E. Waterman resident here for over fifty years, there are far more species of birds and far more of each species than formerly. The reason he gave was that there are now many more gardens. According to Mr. Waterman, the noble avenue of trees (poplars, cottonwoods) which grew along the Tulameen between the two bridges was never planted, but seeded itself. Like Toby’s cat, “they just grew.” There may be some connection between this and the increasing number of birds seen in summertime.
Various efforts have been made to restock rivers and lakes with fish. Private individuals – Dr. D. McCaffrey, E.E. Burr Snr., Bert Irwin, etc. – as well as the local Game Association have spared no effort to achieve this, and district game wardens and provincial game commissioners have given much help and encouragement.
There are no rattlesnakes in the immediate vicinity of Princeton, and in the eastern part of the valley they are less numerous than they used to be. Grass snakes are as harmless as they are common, and should not be exterminated, as they serve a useful purpose.
Few people have taken the trouble to study the insect life of the valley. Gordon Stace Smith (now resident in Creston, B.C.) specialized in Coleoptera. For a number of years he lived at Copper Mountain, and during his stay collected thousands of specimens. Some of these were new to Science, and some were named for their discoverer. One summer Mr. Smith joined the annual trek over the Hope Trail. He started out laden with empty cigar boxes, black pins, and an ample supply of cyanide. By the time he got to Hope he had over 800 specimens all neatly pinned in boxes. Of course, many of these were duplicates: for example, the longhorns. In the “Vancouver Museum Notes” Mr. Smith published lists of all he collected between Copper Mountain and Hope. These check lists will be found in the 1929 issues of “Museum Notes.”
An entomological station was established between Aspen Grove and Merritt to study the insect borer responsible for the destruction of many pine and fir trees. Studies were continued during the summers of 1932 and 1933.
Weather is an unfailing topic of conversation. It cannot yet be predicted with any degree of certainty. Taken the year round, the climate is delightful. Spring comes in March, and is always welcome. Buttercups and mayflowers deck the landscape. The hills quickly take on a coat of refreshing green. The days lengthen. People seem hopeful, as if they, too had taken on a new lease on life. For many years, beginning 1900, Mrs. Hugh Hunter kept accurate weather records.
Such is a brief description of this goodly land, touching on its location, topography, rocks, trees, flowers, wild-life and climate. This background is necessary if we are to appreciate the history of the valley. In itself it goes a long way to explain the changing scenes that have come about since it was the home of the red man exclusively.
Our next chapter will deal with the people who lived here before the white man came.