While usually the folks in Vancouver tend to hit the Coquihalla or Hope Princeton Highways when they want to leave the city and seek refuge in the Interior of B.C. there is another road, Highway 1, which follows the Fraser Canyon, that offers up an alternate portal to an equally spectacular experience. While most of the road has been repaired after last year's flood damage, there is still plenty of evidence to show how prone to avalanche the slopes are on either side. At Jackass Mountain for example there is only a single lane bridge in operation that, in itself, is a piece of engineering wonder.
First stop for us was a former hunting & fishing lodge located outside of Lac la Hache on Spout Lake in the heart of Cariboo country. Its name Ten-ee-ah in Shuswap means large animal and referred to the guaranteed moose hunting the original hosts were able to offer guests in 1942, but it has now changed to a vacation destination with all the amenities one would expect of a very modern wilderness resort. You could still chop your own firewood but most of the time was spent relaxing with a glass of wine, enjoying the scenery and letting someone else do the cooking.
Ten-ee-ah lodge was a nice half way point to Bella Coola, our final destination, and we headed off on a bright sunny morning to see what the Chilcotin had to offer. To get there you drive to Williams Lake and then turn left onto Highway 20 which runs all the way. As soon as you cross the Fraser River on Sheepcreek Bridge, you are in traditional Tsilhqot'in (Chilcotin) territory. As is the case with so many First Nations people, the Tsilhqot'in had a bad run-in with the Europeans and this one became known as the Chilcotin War.
The dispute started in 1864 when a road crew entered Tsilhqot'in territory without permission to construct a road up from Bute Inlet, and it escalated into grievances over unpaid wages, working conditions, and lack of food. More importantly, the Tsilhqot'in believed they were being deliberately infected with smallpox in order to take over their land (a suspicion that was validated following the 1862 epidemic that killed thousands and was later admitted to by agents of the company that they were using infected blankets to spread the disease). The Tsilhqot'in declared themselves at war and vowed to expel all settlers until satisfactory arrangements could be made with the Crown. Britain had only recently, in 1858, created the colony of British Columbia, because of the Fraser Canyon gold rush, and no officials had met with the Tsilhqot'in who still considered themselves a sovereign people.
Initially 14 men working for the company on the road crew were killed but another four settlers were later killed as well. The Governor of the Colony of B.C. then raised three militias to invade the territory and capture the leaders. These forces threatened the Tsilhqot'in with extermination and burned their homes and fishing camps in an attempt to get them to give up their leaders. Another settler leader was also killed before a peace conference was arranged with the promise of immunity for all who attended. A party of 8 Tsilhqot'in leaders arrived at the conference and were promptly ambushed and taken into custody. At a trial held in Quesnel, five were found guilty of murder, even though they argued they were waging war between sovereign nations, and were hanged on October 26, 1864. A 6th leader was later tried and hanged as well.
In 2014 the B.C. government exonerated the 6 leaders for any crime or wrong doing and in 2018 the Federal government also exonerated them and made a formal apology. October 26th is a now a national holiday of remembrance amongst the Tsilhqot'in.Highway 20 passes over the Chilcotin Plateau, a vast area filled with undulating grasslands, forests of pine and fir, lakes and rivers feeding the Chilcotin River (itself a tributary of the Fraser River) and a magnificent backdrop of snow covered mountain peaks. There were also miles of forest fire devastation that were almost too hard to look at. The 2017 forest fire on the Chilcotin Plateau destroyed more than 500,000 hectares, the largest wildfire ever recorded in B.C. but already new seedlings have taken root and it has forced a new way of looking at forest fire management that now includes traditional First Nations fire management.
Our section of the hike wasn't as epic a journey but it did provide for some beautiful scenery and more views of the Bella Coola valley and Stupendous Mountain.
When it was time to leave, going up "The Hill" wasn't as bad as coming down but it still made for some edgy photo taking and we were glad to reach the summit and admire the view. I should mention "The Hill" or "Freedom Road" as the locals call it has quite a history. With the government refusing to build a connecting road from Anahim Lake to Bella Coola, because the engineers thought it couldn't be done, a band of volunteers took it upon themselves to build the road. With bulldozers starting from both the top and the bottom, they managed to connect with each other in less than a year and in 1953 the road opened.
Once again we were captivated by the stunning scenery of the Chilcotin Plateau as we made our way back to camp Ten-ee-ah. The ranching culture was on full display everywhere we looked with massive fenced fields of hay stretching to the horizon and cattle happily grazing in the pastures or walking down the road.
This is also the area where the famous wild horses of the Britanny Triangle (the area between the Chilko and Taseko Rivers and Nemaiah Valley) live and are the last truly wild mustang horses in Canada. The existence of these horses was a key component of a recent land claim the Tsilhqot'in won for partial title of their traditional territory. Because of the horses the Tsilhqot'in were able to prove they were accomplished horsemen long before Europeans arrived in Western Canada.
Anxious to do some horseback riding of our own we set off the next day to do a little trail riding courtesy of the slow but steady horses at Ten-ee-ah which have a free rein around the property when they aren't entertaining guests. Up into the birch and pine forest we went on our mounts Flash and Buddy for a ride that provided a lookout view of Spout Lake on a beautiful, sunny day.