The Pitt River literally sparked my career as a writer of provincial history…
Apropros to my unofficially nominating shipwreck heroine Minnie Paterson in Wednesday’s Chronicle as a most worthy candidate for having her image on a Canadian banknote, it’s reported that Victoria’s Merna Forster has been awarded the Pierre Berton Award for popularizing Canadian history.
The historian and writer successfully led a lengthy campaign to convince the Bank of Canada to feature prominent Canadian women on banknotes and, at last report, a board of judges, including Forster, has shortlisted 29 candidates. Meaning that, at some point in the not too distant future, some Canadian currency will bear a ‘woman’s touch’ (other than that of the Queen) as will some federal buildings across Canada. Bravo!
An August obituary outlined the life’s journey of Valley-born Elden William Kier. Born in 1918 in the King’s Daughters Hospital to Bill and Hattie Kier, nee Evans, he attended school in Duncan, Kamloops, New Westminster and Vancouver and graduated from UBC in 1940. Just in time, of course, to join the RCAF in which he served 1941-45. For 30 years he taught at Cowichan High School.
An ardent genealogist, he certainly had a wealth of family history with which to work. I’m quoting: “Elden was descended from pioneers on both sides of his family. His maternal grandfather was James Evans. Evans Street in Duncan was the boundary between the Evans farm and that of W.C. Duncan after whom Duncan is named. James Street is named after his grandfather. His paternal grandfather, Archibald R. Kier, came here in 1862 and settled at Somenos. In the early 1870s, A.R. Kier donated part of his farm to the Methodist Church at Somenos where a church and small adjoining cemetery were located at the NE corner of Somenos and Drinkwater Roads. Today it is the site of Mountain View Cemetery…”
As I said, Eldon Kier had a rich treasure of family lore to draw from in his studies.
In September it was reported that the Old Koksilah School Museum has renewed its lease for 30 years with School District 79 to carry on their decades-long work of maintaining and preserving the Valley’s oldest schoolhouse. The historic school is one of Cowichan’s few officially designated heritage buildings thanks to these dedicated volunteers, most of them former students. Making their success even more significant is the sad fact that not just in the Cowichan Valley but throughout the province our heritage in all its forms, not just structures, is on the endangered species list. I know, I know, progress…
Another news report that caught my eye, this one in the Times-Colonist at the height of our summer drought in August, told of a Pitt River fishing lodge owner who was protesting the government’s imposition of a blanket sports-fishing salmon ban on the lower Fraser River. It’s not the salmon angle that twigged my interest, as important as it is, but the reference to a fishing lodge for wealthy Americans and Europeans on the Pitt River.
This is the river that literally sparked my career as a writer of provincial history. Ironically, thanks to an American television program about a lost mine, the famous — infamous — Lost Creek Mine of the murdering, bluebeard Slumach. It’s without doubt B.C.’s best-known legend of a lost mine with its attendant tales of a jinx and scores of prospectors gone missing in the snow and icebound reaches of the upper Pitt River.
But I, and a host of others, have told this colourful story before. My debt, more than half a lifetime later, is to American television producer Bill Burrud whose program, Treasure, I, then in my teens, watched weekly with religious zeal.
My life’s course was set when, one evening, he mentioned “New Westminster.”
Not the deserts of Arizona, not the bayous of Louisiana, not the beaches of Florida but New Westminster. British Columbia.
After school, I was off to the provincial archives and what ultimately proved to be the beginning of a personal crusade to popularize our pioneers, their exploits and their failures. To date this has amounted to millions of words in print in Canadian and American magazines, newspapers and in two-score books. May — I dearly hope — there be no end in sight. At least not yet. I have miles to go and books to write before I sleep.