LEE, Norman (1862-1939)




Author Tags: Cariboo, Essentials 2010, Mitchell Press

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Born in 1862 in England, Norman Lee received a classical education and trained to be an architect, but sailed from Liverpool in 1882, lured by tales of the Cariboo gold rush. After learning the rudiments of ranching at Redstone, near the confluence of the Chilanko and Chilcotin rivers, he survived by operating the only store between the Fraser River and Bella Coola, trading in furs and raising cattle. He had purchased a “chicken coop” cabin and store from a Finlander, Dan “Ole” Nordberg, 40 miles east of Redstone at Hanceville, in 1894.

Hoping to raise enough money to finance a return to England, Lee decided to take 200 cattle on a 1500-mile journey north to the new Klondike gold fields in 1898. The obstacles were immense. After five months, winter forced him to butcher the herd. He loaded the meat onto scows but the entire shipment was lost on Teslin Lake, 500 miles short of his destination of Dawson Creek.

Only one companion, Lee’s driver and scow captain William “Bill” Copeland, remained with him. They barely made it to Wrangel, Alaska, from which they took steamers south, to Nanaimo and Victoria respectively.

“As funds were getting short again; and as my clothes were in rags,” Lee wrote, “I did not care to look up any of my aristocratic friends in Victoria.”

Lee made it to Vancouver with a roll of blankets, a dog and one dollar. Undaunted, he returned to his “Chicken Ranch” in the Chilcotin and became a successful cattle rancher.

In 1902, Lee returned to England, witnessed the coronation of Edward VII, and married his second cousin Agnes “Nessie” Lee. The newlyweds arrived in Halifax in 1903 and returned to the Chilcotin where Lee devised an ambitious irrigation scheme to bring water from Big Creek, across the Chilcotin River by flume. The flume ultimately collapsed and the project was discontinued.

At age 52, indomitable Norman Lee joined the Gordon Highlanders but he was not allowed to go overseas to fight in WWI due to his age.

Norman Lee remained a fixture in the Cariboo, living at Hanceville on the Chilcotin Plateau, until his death at age 77 in 1939. Lee left behind a self-illustrated manuscript, completed around the turn of the century, about his doomed cattle drive.

Eileen Laurie of CBC Radio interviewed Lee’s widow, in 1954, in conjunction with a province-wide program that broadcast authentic stories by B.C. pioneers. The following summer Laurie and her husband visited the Lees’ log house and store where she read Norman Lee’s journal. Laurie received permission from Lee’s widow to read excerpts on her CBC program Party Line and agreed to serve as her agent.

The wife of Vancouver book designer Robert R. Reid heard Eileen Laurie read excerpts of Lee’s journal on the CBC, whereupon Reid approached Howard Mitchell of Mitchell Press with a proposal to co-publish Klondike Cattle Drive with an introduction by SFU English professor Gordon R. Elliott, who grew up in Williams Lake and had visited the Lees’ ranch in the summers. And so a B.C. literary classic appeared in 1960; since republished in 1991 and 2005.


FULL ENTRY:

Born on October, 18, 1862 in Morland, Westmorland, England, Norman Lee was the son of an Oxford-educated vicar and a Scottish mother. He received a classical education from his uncle's school and his brother Robert Warden Lee became Dean of Law at McGill University. Trained to become an architect but keen for adventure, Norman Lee left Liverpool with Reverend Henry Horlock in April of 1882 on the S.S. Servia, lured by tales of the Cariboo gold rush. From New York City they travelled by train to San Francisco, then headed north, working their way to Yale. Lee briefly found work as a foreman for a crew of Chinese labourers clearing rocks from a CPR right-of-way and was employed as a clerk by the Hudson's Bay Company in Kamloops, where Reverend Horlock accepted his posting as an Anglican minister. From there, Lee and fellow adventurer named H.P. Bayliff pooled their resources and took the Barnard's Express over the Cariboo Trail looking for ranching prospects. Bayliff settled at Redstone in the Chilcotin. He married in 1891. After learning ranching from Bayliff, Lee sold his share of their joint enterprise to Bayliff and purchased a "chicken coop" cabin and a store from a Finlander named Dan 'Ole' Nordberg, approximately 40 miles east of Redstone at Hanceville, in 1894. Lee called the place Beaver Ranch and initially survived by operating the only store between the Fraser River and Bella Coola, trading in furs and raising cattle, relying on Aboriginal labourers to transport goods for him from Ashcroft.

Hoping to raise enough money to return to England, Lee decided to take 200 cattle on a 1500-mile journey north to the new Klondike gold fields in 1898. The obstacles were immense, and apparently unthinkable. Lee wrote to his sister in England, "It seems to be the chance of a lifetime to make a few dollars. I do not see much chance to lose anything, and one may make a good deal.... In the meantime keep your spirits up, I will promise faithfully to come ever when I get back if I have to steal money to buy a ticket." After five months, winter forced him to butcher the herd. He loaded the meat onto scows but the entire shipment was lost on Teslin Lake, 500 miles short of Dawson Creek, his destination. Only one companion, his driver and scow captain William 'Bill' Copeland, remained with Lee for the duration of his doomed expedition. Copeland said his boss was "more like a brother" and always "honest about what he wanted and what he said." Copeland and Lee barely made it to Wrangel, Alaska, from which they took steamers south, to Victoria and Nanaimo respectively. "As funds were getting short again; and as my clothes were in rags," Lee wrote, "I did not care to look up any of my aristocratic friends in Victoria." Lee made it to Vancouver with a roll of blankets, a dog and one dollar.

Undaunted, Norman Lee returned to his "Chicken Ranch" in the Chilcotin and became a successful cattle rancher known to the Chilcotin Indians as "Old Lee" because he was the first member of his family to arrive. In 1902 he returned to England, witnessed the coronation of Edward VII, and married his second cousin Agnes 'Nessie' Lee, who had reluctantly ended a holiday in Ireland after receiving a telegram from her brother: "Please come and help entertain our cousin Norman Lee, from Canada." The newlyweds arrived in Halifax on January 19, 1903. "Having come straight from an English drawing room," she later recalled, "I was soon very homesick. Especially when Norman talked pidgin English to the Chinese cook and various dialects with the Indians. But I never let him know I was unhappy in the home he had provided for me.... Norman Lee was a wonderful husband whose knowledge of the country and never-failing sense of humour soon changed me from a hothouse flower into a sturdy pioneer wife." Born in Shropshire, England in 1872, Agnes Lee became one of five white women residing in the Chilcotin upon her arrival. Affectionately known as "Gan-Gan" by the Chilcotins, she became fluent in Chilcotin and managed the store for decades.

The couple brought an adopted son, Dan, the son of a doctor friend (who had seven children and was planning to marry a widow with three more), to the Chilcotin in 1905. While expanding his cattle operation, Lee devised an ambitious irrigation scheme to bring water from Big Creek, across the Chilcotin River by flume, but the flume ultimately collapsed and the project was discontinued. At age 52, Norman Lee joined the Gordon Highlanders but he was not allowed to go overseas to fight in World War One due to his age. The Lees had sold Beaver Ranch to an Englishman named Jack Temple in 1913, with mother and son relocating to Victoria, but they repossessed it in 1919. Norman Lee remained as a fixture in the Cariboo, living at Hanceville on the Chilcotin Plateau, until his death at age 77 on March 16, 1939.

Norman Lee left behind a self-illustrated manuscript, completed around the turn of the century, based on journal notes he had made while undertaking his cattle drive in 1898. Nine years after Lee's death, Eileen Laurie of CBC Radio in Vancouver arrived in Quesnel in June of 1948 to attend an art show--and began to hear stories about Lee's legendary cattle drive. She later interviewed Mrs. Agnes Lee of Hanceville, Norman Lee's widow, in 1954 in conjunction with a province-wide program from Vancouver that broadcast authentic stories by B.C. pioneers. The following summer Laurie and her husband visited the Lee's log house and store in the Chilcotin and read Norman Lee's journal. She also came to know Penrose Lee, Norman Lee's brother, who had been a rancher in the Chilcotin for more than 50 years, arriving two years after his brother. Laurie received permission from Lee's widow to read excerpts on her CBC program Party Line and agreed to serve as her agent. Months after being presented to Princess Margaret in Williams Lake during the town's Centennial festivities, Agnes Lee died at age 87 in December of 1958, having never realized her ambition to have her husband's journal published.

Soon afterwards the wife of Vancouver book designer and publisher Robert R. Reid heard Eileen Laurie read excerpts of Lee's journal on the CBC, whereupon Robert R. Reid approached Howard Mitchell of Mitchell Press with a proposal to co-publish Klondike Cattle Drive with an introduction by SFU English professor Gordon R. Elliott, who grew up in Williams Lake and had visited the Lee's ranch in the summers with other boys. "I was also one of those kids," Elliott recalled in 2005, "who happily read the books Mr. Lee pressed us to read and one of those kids to whom he talked so easily and grammatically that none of us have ever forgotten him." Elliott described Lee as a small, athletic man with a kind heart and a wry sense of humour, a thinker ahead of his times, unusual for his "racial tolerance."

Klondike Cattle Drive: The Journal of Norman Lee (Mitchell Press, 1960), republished in 1991, and again in 2005, is the fourth title in TouchWood Editions' Classics West Collection.

[For other independent authors printed by Mitchell Press, see abcbookworld entries for Audain, James; Baity, Earl S.; Barr, James; Bissley, Paul; Broadfoot, Anne; Burris, H.L.; Carroll, Campbell; Cherrington, John; Cramond, Mike; Cronin, Kay; Dawson, Will; Fennelly, John F.; Hamilton, Bea; Hamilton, W.R.; Huculak, M.; Johnson, F. Henry; Kennedy, Warnett; Kopas, Cliff; Ladner, Leon Johnson; Large, Richard Geddes; Lee, Norman; Logan, Harry T.; Ludditt, Fred; Lyons, Cicely; MacPherson, Ian; Marshall, J. Stirrat; Matches, Alex; McGregor, D.A.; McPhee, Harry; Mitchell, Dorothea; Mitchell, Howard; Morley, Alan; Owen, Margaret; Patterson, Helen; Peake, Frank A.; Peterson, Lester; Pethick, Derek; Ramsey, Bruce; Read, Stanley E.; Reekie, Isabel; Rothenburger, Mel; Scott, David; Sinclair, James; Stavrakov, Marion; Thornton, Mildred Valley; Tolmie, William Fraser; Turnbull, Elsie Grant; Walker, Russell Robert; Wild, Roland.]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Klondike Cattle Drive

BOOKS:

Klondike Cattle Drive: The Journal of Norman Lee (Mitchell Press, 1960; Heritage House, 1991; Touchwood Editions, 2005)

[BCBW 2010] "Ranching"