BONNER, Veera




Author Tags: Essentials 2010

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Never mind Arthur Erickson’s SFU campus, the Marine Building or the BowMac sign. The top engineering feat of B.C. is either Mungo Martin’s 39-metre totem in Beacon Hill Park or Rudy Johnson’s bridge that was erected without government support in 1968. With typical Cariboo-Chilcotin grit and ingenuity, Rudy Johnson purchased a 200-ton, 300-foot long steel bridge in Alaska and reassembled it across the Fraser River, with the help of engineer Howard Elder, in six months for only $200,000. It allowed him to cut 30 miles off his trips between his Buckskin Ranch and Williams Lake.

Rudy Johnson is just one of the countless hardy souls featured in Chilcotin: Preserving Pioneer Memories (1995), a 432-page who-was-who assembled, as much as written, by the three Chilcotin-born Witte sisters—Irene, Veera and Hazel—all raised at Big Creek. As the granddaughters of pioneers Tom Hance and Nellie Verdier Hance—reputedly the Chilcotin’s first white female resident, who rode side-saddle for 400 miles to get there in 1887—Irene E. Bliss, Veera Bonner and Hazel Henry Litterick were raised by their mother Hattie Witte, who drove a six-horse freight wagon through Bull Canyon in the 1920s. The three sisters continued to live in the Cariboo-Chilcotin and co-wrote their book under the name of the Witte Sisters. It arose from an out-of-print 1958 Centennial project published as History and Legends of the Chilcotin. Veera Bonner did most of the actual writing for their jointly authored book but she credits her sisters as instrumental in gathering the stories.

In 1941, Veera Witte married John Bonner, and they had two children. When the marriage ended, she took her children to live on Fletcher Lake near Big Creek where she started a resort business called Bin-Goh-Sha, renting log cabins, boats and camping facilities. There she became the “rural correspondent” for the Williams Lake Tribune at the behest of its publisher Clive Stangoe. Veera Bonner’s text is communal, charming and often fascinating—and captures the spirit of the Cariboo-Chilcotin with unpretentious pride. The story of Veera’s birth, one month premature, on August 25, 1918, has been recorded by Linda-Lou Howarth in an equally remarkable collection Gumption & Grit: Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin (2009).


FULL ENTRY:

As the granddaughters of pioneers Tom Hance and Nellie Verdier Hance--reputedly the Chilcotin's first white woman--Irene E. Bliss, Veera Bonner and Hazel Henry Litterick were raised by their mother Hattie Witte who drove a six-horse freight wagon through Bull Canyon in the 1920s. The three sisters continued to live in the Cariboo-Chilcotin and co-wrote Chilcotin: Preserving Pioneer Memories (Heritage House, 1995; 2005) under the name of The Witte Sisters. This book arose from an out-of-print 1958 Centennial project published as History and Legends of the Chilcotin. Veera Bonner did most of the actual writing for their jointly-authored book but she credited her sisters as being instrumental in gathering the stories from other people.

The story of Veera's remarkable birth, one month premature, on August 25, 1918, has been recorded by Linda-Lou Howarth in the collection Gumption & Grit: Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin (Caitlin 2009), edited by Sage Birchwater. In June of 1941, Veera Witte married John Bonner and they had two children. When this marriage had ended, she took her children to live on Fletcher Lake near Big Creek where she started a resort business called Bin-Goh-Sha, renting log cabin, boats and camping facilities. She became the "rural correspondent" for the Williams Lake Tribune at the behest of its publisher Clive Stangoe.

[There have been countless books from and about the Cariboo-Chilcotin since Margaret McNaughton published Overland to Cariboo (1896). For other Cariboo-Chilcotin non-fiction authors, see abcbookworld entries for Baity, Earl S.; Barlee, N.L.; Beeson, Edith; Brown, Darlene; Brown, James N.J.; Champness, W.; Cochran, Lutie Ulrich; Cridland, June L.; Currie, Vera Baker; Decker, Karla; Downie, William; Elliott, Gordon; Elliott, Marie Anne; Futcher, Winnifred; Galloway, C.F.J.; Harris, Lorraine; Holley, D.A.; Hong, W.M.; Innes, Roy; Jenkins, Chuck; Kind, Chris; Klan, Yvonne; Laut, Agnes; Lee, Eldon; Lee, Norman; Lee, Todd; Leiren-Young, Mark; Lindsay, Frederick William; Logan, Don; Loggins, Olive Spencer; Ludditt, Fred; Patenaude, Branwen; Place, Marian T.; Price, Lily Hoy; Ramsey, Bruce; Rhenisch, Harold; Riley, Bill; Roberts, J.A.; Schreiber, John; Skelton, Robin; Speare, Jean; Stangoe, Irene; Sullivan, Alan; Townsend, Arthur H.; Turkel, William J.; Wade, Mark Sweeten; Waite, Donald Ender; Williams, David Ricardo; Wilson, Diana; Wood, June; Wright, Richard.] @2010.

PHOTO: The Witte sisters: Irene E. Bliss, Hazel Henry Litterick, and Veera Bonner

[BCBW 2010]

Chilcotin: Preserving Pioneer Memories by The Witte Sisters (Heritage $39.95)
Review



Never mind Arthur Erickson’s SFU, the Marine Building or the BowMac sign. The top engineering feat of B.C. is either Mungo Martin’s 39-metre totem in Beacon Hill Park or Rudy Johnson’s bridge, erected without government support in 1968.
Rudy Johnson purchased the 200-ton, 300-ft.-long steel bridge in Alaska and re-assembled it across the Fraser River, with the help of engineer Howard Elder, in six months for only $200,000. It allowed him to cut 30 miles off his trips between his Buckskin Ranch and Williams Lake. Johnson is one of countless do-it-yourselfers featured in Chilcotin: Preserving Pioneer Memories, a 432-page Who Was Who that was assembled, as much as written, by the three Chilcotin-born Witte sisters—Veera, Irene and Hazel—all raised at Big Creek. Eric Collier, author of the backwoods classic, Three Against the Wilderness, is one of the few characters in Preserving Pioneer Memories who might be recognizable to urbanites, but unfortunately his entry remains slight. The Witte sisters’ research for their original 1995 collection of profiles has yet to be updated or revised. The Witte sisters recall the first white woman in the Chilcotin, Nellie Hance, who rode side-saddle for 400 miles to get there in 1887, and the more remarkable loner Chiwid, a Chilcotin Aboriginal woman who lived outdoors for much of her adult life. Rumoured to have spiritual powers, Chiwid (also Chee-Wit, or “Chickadee,”) was a crack shot who moved her solitary camp according to the seasons, protected only by a tarp. Born as Lily Skinner, she was the daughter of Luzep, a Chilcotin deaf mute from Redstone, and Charley Skinner, a white settler in the Tatlayoko-Eagle Lake area. Chiwid married Alex Jack and they had three daughters, but her life changed irrevocably when he beat her mercilessly with a heavy chain. Remorseful, Chiwid’s husband drove several head of cattle to Chezacut and sold them to Charlie Mulvahill to raise money to send his beautiful wife to Vancouver for treatment, but thereafter Chiwid left her husband in order to roam the Chilcotin, from Anahim Lake to Riske Creek, sometimes with an old horse and a dog. Many people in the Chilcotin tried to assist her, offering firewood, food or clothes, but Chiwid maintained her independence, fearing she would become sick if she remained too long indoors.
Ill, aged and blind, Chiwid spent her final years in the Stone Creek Reserve home of Katie Quilt, where she died in 1986, and became the subject for a book published by Sage Birchwater in 1995. 1-895811-34-1

[BCBW 2006]