Haphazard History: The first Cariboo tourists

We all know the importance of tourism, but we tend to think of this industry as a recent phenomenon.

Barry Sale

Smart 55

We all know the importance of tourism to our region, but we tend to think of this industry as a fairly recent phenomenon.

The fact is that people have been coming to the area just to look at what it has to offer ever since the days of the gold rush.

The earliest recorded tourism visit to the Cariboo was by two English gentlemen, Lord Viscount Milton and Doetor Walter B. Cheadle.

Lord Milton was a young, willful aristocrat who had decided that he wanted to see Canada for himself, and Dr. Cheadle was retained by the Milton family to escort the impetuous young man to see to his health, and to ensure that no harm came to him.

By their own admission, the pair were “a party pleasure,” and their adventures in tourism began when they arrived by steamship in Quebec on July 2, 1863.

They began their journey across the continent and made it to Fort Edmonton where they spent the winter. In the spring of 1863 they set out to cross the Rockies, following the route of the Overlanders to Tete Jaune Cache and then south to Fort Kamloops.

They reached the North Thompson River at the beginning of August. While attempting to ford the river, they lost all their provisions — tea, tobacco, flour, sugar, axe, frying pan, bedding and tent — all gone.

Fortunately, a First Nations family came along and helped them out, but the young Lord became more peevish and ill-tempered every day. Dr. Cheadle tried to remain cheerful and positive, but it took all the diplomacy he could muster.

After a very difficult fortnight’s travel, the party made it to Fort Kamloops, and from there the journey got considerably easier.

From Kamloops, they took a stage to Yale, and they then travelled by steamer to Fort Victoria, where they disembarked on Sept. 19. In Victoria, Lord Milton was in his milieu.

He was invited to the opera, ballet, teas, dinner parties and was entertained in grand style.

This went on for a week or so, but then the intrepid travellers felt that they should leave.

They wanted to visit the Cariboo gold fields, and winter was coming.

So, they set out for Barkerville, going by the Harrison Lake route up to Lillooet, then by stage era the new Cariboo Wagon Road to Soda Creek. There, they boarded the sternwheeler Enterprise for Quesnel.

Dr. Cheadle wrote: “Steamer came in at 2 O’clock bringing a lot of miners, two of whom were very drunk and continued to imbibe every five minutes. After being aboard a short time the captain found out who we were, gave us the use of his cabin, and supplied us with cigars and a decanter of cocktails, also books and paper. Every few minutes we were fetched out to have a drink with someone.”

He further wrote: “The ‘Cap’ told us the boat was built on the river, all the timbers sawn by hand, her shaft in five pieces packed up on mules, cylinders in two pieces, boiler plates brought in the same manner. Boat cost: 75,000.”

From Quesnel, the party walked to Barkerville. There, Lord Milton’s presence aroused a plethora of social events. There were dinners and parties everywhere, and the two were given demonstrations of panning, sluicing and water wheeler. They saw as many displays of specimen nuggets that Dr. Cheadle began to wonder whether the specimens were being used over and over again.

When the snow began to fly in mid October, they left Barkerville and returned to Quesnel, where they called on Captain Doanne aboard the Enterprise. About this visit, Dr. Cheadle wrote: “Cocktail every few minutes, and champagne lunch afterward. Happiest man I ever saw. Steward tells me he takes a cocktail every 10 minutes while on board. Very jolly fellow. Had to give a keg of brandy to his men before they would haul the steamer on to the shore. Gave them a champagne dinner on being paid off today, and we heard them singing away below deck.”

Milton and Cheadle had arrived back in Quesnel on the very day the Enterprise was taken out of the water for the winer. They had to make the journey to Soda Creek in an open boat with 40 passengers (no lifejackets) crowded into it.

From Soda Creek, they walked to the Deep Creek (164 Mile) House, where they spent the night, and then they travelled on to Davidson’s 150 Mile House.

Here, they spent nearly a week, waiting for the BX Stage. While they were there, Frank Way, the proprietor of Deep Creek House, arrived seeking surgical assistance. He had been “in a drunken row with an Irishman and he had his lower lip almost bitten off, and a finger to the bone,” wrote Cheadle. “I stitched it up for him, making a very neat job, but foolishly refused any fee.”

By mid November, the travellers had arrived in Ashcroft, where they found another stage to take them to Yale. Their adventures were not quite over, since the coach began to disintegrate spring by spring on the journey, and finally the hitching pole broke off while they were on an 800-foot precipice above the Fraser River near Lytton. Our two tourists were thankful to get out and walk the rest of the way to Yale.

They finally arrived at Victoria at the end of November and, after another round of social events and gatherings, they left by steamship to return to England via the tip of South America.

Upon their return, they wrote a best-selling book: “The Northwest Passage by Land,” which generated a rush of settlers and goldseekers to the new world.

Two jagged peaks in the Rockies, Mount Milton and Mount Cheadle honour the memories of these first tourists to our province.

I relied heavily on a little book entitled Fur and Gold by John Pearson for this article.

Williams Lake Tribune