From Riske Creek to Quesnel

Tom Rafferty's story is one of successful teacher and Rotarian

Tom Rafferty at Chilcotin Lodge, Riske Creek.

Tom Rafferty at Chilcotin Lodge, Riske Creek.

Some people stand out as being involved in history often without knowing it as they lived their daily simple lives.

An example of that would be the life of Tom Rafferty, who, raised in the gateway of the Chilcotin, was a successful teacher and Rotarian in Quesnel where I first met him in about 1965.

Tom’s dad and mum, like so many of the early settlers, came from elsewhere to our area, the dad from England and the mum from Eastern Canada. They independently worked their way west. They met in Vancouver where Marian was a teacher and Anglican Church member. Marriage for Arthur and Marian was in 1935. In 1941 they moved to Riske Creek and into Chilcotin Lodge.

The lodge was built in the 1930s by a wealthy chain store owner, George Christianson and was to be the base for guided hunting expeditions in the area around Riske Creek, outstanding for upland and migrating game birds. Outpost cabins were to be built at several more westerly locations such as Kleena Kleene.

That project was never fully completed and in 1941 the Raffertys came to prepare the lodge for a home for delinquent boys. The Second World War instead, recruited the boys. Arthur Rafferty finished the interior and bought the place.

In late 1944 the army commandeered the lodge for a wireless station, but that use was short-lived as the war ended in 1945 and the Raffertys reclaimed the lodge. They operated it in the 1940s to 1950s as a store, post office and hunting lodge. Son Tom learned a detailed knowledge of every pot hole lake, ridge and grassy flat through first hand experience.

I met Tom when we were both school principals and he immediately gave me a guided tour of his backyard – Riske Creek. I was astounded how he would creep up near a pot hole, point out where the ducks would rush to escape Tom’s wife, who crept to the far shore and scared the flock up. True to his instructions, the ducks crowded through overhead and I, in my inexperience, managed to bring down a feather or two, while guide Tom filled our daily quota.

Becher Prairie (pronounced Beecher), was named after pioneer Fred Becher who ran his stopping house, ranch, saloon and post office. The area is in the centre of a huge expanse of natural grasslands and a big horn sheep protected area, where the Chilcotin River joins the Fraser.

One fall hunt, we shot a goose on Drummond Lake, in Becher Prairie, and it flew out over the water for quite a distance before dying.

We had a golden-haired retriever with us but it was not trained to retrieve, so we could not fetch the bird. It had froze hard the previous evening and ice rimmed the lake.

My former wife Betty, volunteered to swim out and in only her long johns, retrieved the only bird we got that day.

Tom jokingly called her (she was blonde) his golden-haired retriever from then on.Tom was principal of Alexandria elementary school at Diamond View, then at Carson school in town.

Tom was accidentally killed when an old revolver was assumed to be empty and the bullet ended the life of a great teacher, Rotarian and guide.

More details and excellent photos can be found in Chilcotin Ramblings by Tom’s sister Felicity Rafferty Klassen. To purchase, contact directly.

Andy Motherwell is an amateur historian and regular Observer contributor.


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