First Nations

The Canim Lake Band is one of about 18 bands of the Shuswap or Secwepemc people, occupying different parts of the South Cariboo, in an area bordered by Quesnel in the north, Clinton in the south, and the Fraser and Thompson rivers to the west and east.The various bands each had their own dialect of the Shuswap language.

The earliest known documentation of the band was by the Scottish ethnographer, James Teit in 1898-1909, and his observations are still regarded as accurate and correct by the band today. (For more information about Teit and his work see the links below)). Teit often advocated to the government on behalf of First Nations people.

From their main base near the west end of Canim Lake, which is still their present headquarters, the Canim or Ts’qescen people (the name means ‘broken rock’ or ‘when one stone strikes another’), ranged over a wide area. Their territory ranged from around 100 Mile House, to Green Lake, south to Clinton, east to Chu Chua and the Clearwater/Wells Gray area. The people migrated from place to place for different purposes at different times of year, following a network of trails from Green Lake to Bridge Lake, and from Horse Lake to Sheridan Lake and through to Chu Chua.

The Canim people were reputed to excel at fishing, hunting and trapping. As distinct from most other Shuswap bands, the Canim band specialised in fishing lakes and creeks rather than just the major rivers. A fishing camp was established at Bridge Lake which was used during spring, summer and fall, but not in winter. Fishing was often done at night and was called ‘moonlighting’. Fishermen used canoes and coal oil cans were set alight to attract fish to the light. The fish was dried on location.

The Canim people were badly affected by disease: in 1907, 350 people were recorded as living around the Bridge Creek area. By 1911, this had decreased to only 27 people and the settlements at Green Lake and Lac La Hache were completely wiped out.

The band are currently compiling through interviews with band Elders and Shuswap speakers, a detailed documentation of place names, including their present–day transliteration, and their cultural significance to the band. To date, some 7000 interviews have been conducted, with about 70% in digital format. This has a two-fold purpose: for cultural preservation and to record specific details for a dialogue with government agencies over land-use.

Check out the following sites for further reading:

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Settlers and Homesteaders     

Apart from the First Nations people, the settlement of this area was non-existent until the arrival of the fur traders. The expansion of the fur trade into western Canada by the North West Company and  Hudson’s Bay Company started a trickle of exploration by Mackenzie, Thompson and Fraser and the establishment of fur trading posts. Since travel was limited by necessity to rivers and waterways, any settlement was confined to areas close to them. The Fur Brigade trail passed through this area to move furs down to the coast and bring supplies to the trading posts.

In 1858, the Gold Rush began, and over the next  ten years, thousands of people moved north to the Cariboo. The building of the Cariboo Wagon Road in 1863 gave rise to numerous small settlements as staging posts and supply centres, with road houses at mileage points, catering to the gold seekers. The growth of the gold rush settlements boosted agricultural settlement as farms and ranches were established to supply fresh meat to the goldfields. As the gold ran out, some decided to settle at various places along the route of the Wagon Road and in surrounding areas. Gradually, the population grew, with a mixture of European settlers and Americans moving north to find land. Many took advantage of the Dominion Lands Act, where settlers could get title to 160 acres of land, (for a fee of $10) subject to land improvements and a commitment to settlement.

The coming of the railway and building of a station and stock yards at Lone Butte in 1919 gave a further boost to the area, as cattle could be shipped  from there and supplies brought in without tedious journeys of several days. Road and rail expansion also provided employment to supplement farm income.

The population of the area remained steady, but lack of other sources of employment hindered further growth. The harsh winter climate and isolation of the area, together with fluctuation of cattle prices meant that only those prepared to accept these challenges settled here. The area was affected less than most by the years of the depression, as most households were fairly self-sufficient for food supplies and were used to a marginal lifestyle.

There was no rapid growth of population until the logging industry became commercially developed and provided a further impetus to settlement.

The list below concentrates on books which relate the history of the Cariboo area and especially this community, as seen through the eyes of some long-term residents.

  • “The Rainbow Chasers” by Ervin Austin MacDonald (1982)
    MacDonald Barn
    MacDonald Barn on Boultbee Rd
    (Photo: Art Lance)
     
    A first-hand account of the pioneering MacDonald family who settled at Lac des Roches from 1907 to 1929. One of the original barns for their ranch can still be seen on Boultbee Road. The father of the author, Archie MacDonald, was instrumental in starting a school at Bridge Lake and also helped to establish the Bridge Lake Provincial Park. He also worked hard to get a road built from Little Fort, although this was not completed until 1949. The rest area on Highway 24 above Lac des Roches is named after the MacDonalds, as is the highest point - MacDonald summit.
  • “The Ranch on the Cariboo” by Alan Fry (2002)
    An account of the pains and pleasures of growing up on a Cariboo ranch near Lac la Hache in the 1940s.
  • “Tall in the Saddle” and “From California to North 52” by Todd and Eldon Lee (1992)
    More first-hand accounts of growing up on a ranch in the Cariboo in the 1930s/40s in the 130/140 mile area.
  • “The Homesteader’s Daughter” by Marianne Van Osch (2006)
    The story of the Higgins family, who moved to the Interlakes area in 1914, and which is interwoven with tales of many of the other early settlers in the area. The original Higgins homestead can still be seen along Highway 24, before the turn-off to Bell Road.
  • “Bridge Lake Pioneer” by Charlie Faessler (2010)
    This tells the story of another prominent Bridge Lake family, the Faesslers, who settled here in 1926. Many of the same characters who figured in the Higgins book also appear here, giving insight into the growth of this community, and the challenges and rewards of the pioneer lifestyle.
  • “Dog Creek: A place in the Cariboo” by Hilary Place (1999)
    Although not about this area in particular, this book recalls life in a very isolated community between 1920 and 1960. He relates the difficulties of getting an education, building up a ranch and business in an era of rapid change, and the impact on the lives of his family and their neighbours.

The Bridge Lake branch of the Cariboo Regional District Library, (located in the Bridge Lake School), has an excellent selection of books about the Cariboo-Chilcotin, from the early pioneer days to the present. There are also some back copies of the “Interlaker” which have articles about local families and their contribution to the community.