SHERWOOD, Jay




Author Tags: Literary Landmarks, Outdoors, Photography, Transportation

Literary Location: Ootsa Lake memorial signpost, where the road going south from Francois Lake reaches Ootsa, within 1 km of the Ootsa Lake Bible Camp. Lat 53 degrees 49’, long 126 degrees 05’

From 1905 to 1952, there was an agrarian settlement on the north shore of Ootsa Lake in central B.C. about sixty kilometers south of Burns Lake. During the ‘20s and ‘30s, George and Else Seel raised their children towards the western end of the lake near the largest village of Wistaria. Elsie and her son Rupert remained there until 1952 when Kenney Dam construction, as part of the Alcan project, raised the level of Ootsa Lake, flooding their property, also forcing the evacuation of the Cheslatta First Nation. Jay Sherwood’s seventh book, Ootsa Lake Odyssey: George and Else Seel – A Pioneer Life on the Headwaters of the Nechako Watershed (Caitlin $24.95), retrieves the history of that vanished, mixed community through the lives of an immigrant German couple who worked in the Nechako Watershed for decades until they flooded out by the massive 90,000-hectare Nechako Reservoir.

[See review below]

*

A former Vanderhoof teacher and president of the Nechako Valley Historical Society, Jay Sherwood first culled some of the best of surveyor Frank Swannell’s portraits and images for Surveying the North (Caitlin Press $29.95), nominated for a 2005 B.C. Book Prize. The book covers the period from 1908 to 1914. “His photos appear in most books that cover the BC Interior in the early 20th century,” says Sherwood, now a teacher-librarian in Vancouver, “yet he is seldom given more than passing credit.”

Born in Ontario in 1880, Frank Swannell tried to reach the Klondike during the gold rush but signed on as a surveyor's assistant when he ran out of money. Wherever he went as a professional surveyor in the summers that followed, he recorded the details of his life in journals and amassed a collection of more than 5,000 photographs that have been obtained by the B.C. Archives.

While maintaining his primary residence in Victoria, Swannell worked throughout most of British Columbia for at least 40 years, taking time to fight in World War One and join an anti-Bolshevik force in Siberia in 1919. He was wounded in the shoulder during the latter campaign. "To be an explorer was my great aim in life," he told the Daily Colonist in 1963. He died in Victoria in 1969.

Jay Sherwood's second book is Surveying Central British Columbia, A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1920-1928 (Royal BC Museum, $39.95).

Having spent three summers visiting the locales that Swannell surveyed, Sherwood has compiled a superb record of Swannell’s vast contribution to the province during the 1920s when he was camping with his crew in an area stretching from Prince Rupert to the west, Smithers to the north, Prince George to the east, and Bella Coola and Williams Lake to the south.

Swannell followed Alexander Mackenzie’s route to the Pacific, mapping the explorer's path in accordance with Mackenzie’s journal, and photographing many of the landmarks that Mackenzie described. More importantly, his camera and journals have provided a lasting record of the cultures and people that he met, including some characters described in Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher’s classic wilderness memoir Driftwood Valley.

Swannell’s photograph of a nine-metre-high G’psgolox mortuary totem pole, carved in 1872, is one example of his unpaid sociological fieldwork. This historic G’psgolox pole, first erected on the banks of the Kitlope River near the foot of Gardner Canal, was commissioned by Chief G’psgolox of the eagle clan to give thanks for the fact that relatively few of his Haisla people died during the smallpox epidemics of the 1860s.

This pole remained in place as a geographic marker and cultural symbol for decades until the Swedish consul in Prince Rupert, with the aid of a local Indian agent, decided the Misk’usa village on the Kitlope River was abandoned.

At the time, Sweden was one of the few countries in Europe that did not already have at least one major totem from the Pacific Northwest, so they had the pole cut down in 1929 and sent to the Etnografiska Museet in Stockholm.

The Haisla instigated negotiations to have the pole repatriated in the 1990s. They carved two replicas of the pole. One was sent to the museum in Stockholm. The other replica was erected at the original site in Misk'usa.

Frank Swannell’s three photographs of the pole were essential to the process of reclamation. In 2006, Sweden returned the original totem pole to the Haisla in Kitimat from the Etnografiska Museet in Stockholm. It is, according to Sherwood, “the first totem pole repatriated from Europe to a First Nations community.”

Frank Swannell conducted surveys and made photos in northern B.C., the Kootenays, the Chilcotin, the Cariboo, Vancouver Island and along the coast. His many summers in north-central B.C. are commemorated by the Swannell Ranges, Swannell River and Mount Swannell.

After his three books about Frank Swannell, Jay Sherwood had dug deeper into surveying annals for In the Shadow of the Great War (RBCM 2013) retrieving the records of two overlooked, separate expeditions into northeastern B.C. in 1913, filed away in the shadow of World War I. Whereas the young G.B. Milligan was a consummate professional; the much older E.B. Hart had never surveyed or even used a sextant. Sherwood recalls the disparate adventures of these two very different men amid the muskeg and raging rivers of the westerly Peace region.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Furrows in the Sky: The Adventures of Gerry Andrews
In the Shadow of the Great War: The Milligan and Hart Explorations of Northeastern British Columbia, 1913-14
Surveying Central British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1920-28
Surveying Northern British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell
Return to Northern British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1929-39
Surveying Southern British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell

BOOKS:

Sherwood, Jay. Surveying the North (Caitlin Press, 2004 $29.95). 1-894759-05-2

Surveying Central British Columbia, A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1920-1928 (Royal BC Museum, 2007 $39.95 ). 978-0-7726-5742-8

Furrows in the Sky: The Adventures of Gerry Andrews (Royal BC Museum 2012) $19.95 978-0-7726-6522-5

In the Shadow of the Great War (Royal BC Museum 2013). 978-0-7726-6637-6
6 x 9, paperback, 224 pages
$19.95

Surveying Southern British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1901-07 (Caitlin Press 2014) $36.95 978-1-927575-51-2

Ootsa Lake Odyssey: George and Else Seel – A Pioneer Life on the Headwaters of the Nechako Watershed (Caitlin 2016) 978--1987915211

Edited Books:

Bannock and Beans: A Cowboy's Account of the Bedaux Expedition (Royal BC Museum, 2009), by Bob White

[BCBW 2016] "Photography"

Surveying Central British Columbia, A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1920-1928
Article



There are more than 5,000 Frank Swannell photos in the Provincial Archives, and researcher Jay Sherwood has sifted through more than half of them for Surveying Central British Columbia, A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1920-1928 (Royal BC Museum/UBC Press $39.95), his second book about the remarkable surveyor.

Having spent three summers visiting the locales that Swannell surveyed, Sherwood has compiled a superb record of Swannell’s vast contribution to the province during the 1920s when he was camping with his crew in an area stretching from Prince Rupert to the west, Smithers to the north, Prince George to the east, and Bella Coola and Williams Lake to the south.

Swannell followed Alexander Mackenzie’s route to the Pacific, mapping the explorer’s path in accordance with Mackenzie’s journal, and photographing many of the landmarks that Mackenzie described. More importantly, his camera and journals have provided a lasting record of the cultures and people that he met, including some characters described in Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher’s classic wilderness memoir Driftwood Valley.

Swannell’s photograph of a nine-metre-high G’psgolox mortuary totem pole, carved in 1872, is one example of his unpaid sociological fieldwork. This historic G’psgolox pole, first erected on the banks of the Kitlope River near the foot of Gardner Canal, was commissioned by Chief G’psgolox of the eagle clan to give thanks for the fact that relatively few of his Haisla people died during the smallpox epidemics of the 1860s.

This pole remained in place as a geographic marker and cultural symbol for decades until the Swedish consul in Prince Rupert, with the aid of a local Indian agent, decided the Misk’usa village on the Kitlope River was abandoned.
At the time, Sweden was one of the few countries in Europe that did not already have at least one major totem from the Pacific Northwest, so they had the pole cut down in 1929 and sent it to the Folken Museum Etnografiske in Stockholm.
The Haisla instigated negotiations to have the pole repatriated in the 1990s. They carved two replicas of the pole. One was sent to the museum in Stockholm. The other replica was erected at the original site in Misk’usa.

Frank Swannell’s three photographs of the pole were essential to the process of reclamation. In 2006, Sweden returned the original totem pole to the Haisla in Kitimat. It is, according to Sherwood, “the first totem pole repatriated from Europe to a First Nations community.”

Swannell’s surveying work and photos prior to World War One are also featured in Sherwood’s first book, Surveying Northern British Columbia (Caitlin 2004). “His photos appear in most books that cover the BC Interior in the early 20th century,” says Sherwood, now a teacher-librarian in Vancouver, “yet he is seldom given more than passing credit.”

While maintaining his primary residence in Victoria, Swannell worked throughout most of British Columbia for at least 40 years, taking time to fight in World War One and join an anti-Bolshevik force in Siberia in 1919 where he was wounded in the shoulder. “To be an explorer was my great aim in life,” he told the Daily Colonist in 1963. He died in Victoria in 1969.

Swannell’s many summers in north-central B.C. are commemorated by the Swannell Ranges, Swannell River and Mount Swannell.

978-0-7726-5742-8; Distribution by UBC Press.

[BCBW 2008] "History"



Return to Northern British Columbia (Royal BC Museum $39.95)
Article



Charles Bedaux was once famous in B.C. as a wealthy French businessman who proposed driving five Citroens (equipped with caterpillar tracks) from Edmonton to Fort St. John, across the wilderness, to Telegraph Creek and the Stikine River, supposedly to benefit science, in 1934.

Bedaux was based out of the Chrysler Building in New York, but he had visited northern B.C. on hunting trips in 1926 and 1932. When Bedaux wanted to hire a surveyor to map his progress along the mostly roadless route of discovery, B.C.’s surveyor-general wasted no time in recommending Frank Swannell.

As described in Jay Sherwood’s Return to Northern British Columbia (Royal BC Museum $39.95), that’s how veteran photographer and topographer Swannell joined the Bedaux-Canadian 1934 Explorations of Sub-Arctic Regions described in a press release as “one of the most elaborately equipped private scientific ventures ever undertaken in North America.”

The press soon dubbed it “the champagne safari.” The 30-person cavalcade included Bedaux’s wife, Fern, and his mistress, Madame Chiesa, a Spanish maid, a Scottish gamekeeper who doubled as a valet, 60 horses and Floyd Crosby, a well-known Hollywood filmmaker who was hired to record the heroics.

After Swannell and his assistant Al Phipps left Victoria on July 1 and met the Bedaux Expedition in Edmonton, it soon struck Swannell that Bedaux was not primarily motivated by science so much as his need to do something unprecedented. Departing from Edmonton on July 6, the caravan made a promising start, reaching Fort St. John only eleven day later, after 550 miles.

Movie-making took precedence. By August 9, forced to abandon the Citroens (they were only getting two miles to a gallon, and they required rafts to be built each time they crossed a river), Bedaux admitted defeat and decided to destroy the vehicles in order to make dramatic footage for his movie.

Bedaux found “a darling place for destruction.” His car No. 4 was to go down the Halfway River on a raft. “A beautiful descent down the rapids. The car looks like a toy.” But the planned dynamite explosions fizzled. Al Phipps noted, “the car sailed gaily on to land undamaged on a sand bar.”

Two remaining Citroens were simply abandoned. Reaching Fort Ware in early September, Frank Swannell noted the expedition had taken 54 days to travel 356 miles, averaging only 6 ½ miles per day. Remarkably, Bedaux persisted, reaching the Finlay River on October 16—and reaching Hudson’s Hope soon afterwards, returning to Edmonton on October 24. The five Citroens had
only covered about one-fifth of the planned route.

Charles Bedaux’s quixotic escapades are just one of the adventures outlined in Return to Northern British Columbia, subtitled A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1929-39, marking the close of Swannell’s career. It’s Jay Sherwood’s third book derived from Swannell’s archive of over 4,000 images, taken between 1900 and 1940.

Some of Swannell’s images connect with classic books written about the northern BC wilderness and are doorways to fascinating people who appear in these works, such as the famous packer Skook Davidson, bush-pilot Grant McConachie and the shady mining speculator One-Armed Brown.

Shown in a 1931 photo with his partner, Loveseth, and Skook Davidson, One-Armed Brown met Swannell in the gold mining area of McConnell Creek on September 18. Swannell describes One-Armed Brown as a “typical American blowhard… Says they have 10-12 lb. gold, but only produces two nuggets which certainly never came from here.”

Swannell could be a shrewd judge of character, as well as landscape. In the back of his 1931 diary Swannell pasted a newspaper article from the spring of 1932 with the headline: Rich Gold Field Likely to Draw Rush of Miners: M.J. Brown predicts discoveries in northern British Columbia that will rival Klondike finds.

One-Armed Brown also appears in the classic memoir of life in the northern B.C. wilderness, Driftwood Valley, by Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher.
Swannell, a World War I veteran,
also met and photographed Karl Hanawald, a veteran of the German Air Force, in 1931. Hanawald’s trading post at Bear Lake was about a day’s journey from the Stanwell-Fletchers’ cabin in Driftwood Valley and their closest source for supplies.

As in his previous two books, Jay Sherwood peppers his narrative with excerpts from Swannell’s journals. The result is another treasure trove of life in the remote areas of the central and northern part of the province. Return to Northern British Columbia also includes Swannell’s surveys of the Columbia River and Vancouver Island.
978-0-7726-6283-5

[BCBW 2011]



Furrows in the Sky
Publisher's Promo (2012)




Gerry Andrews had many adventures in his 102 years. He was born in Winnipeg in 1903 and one of his most profound memories was to see Halley’s Comet on his seventh birthday. The Andrews family moved to Calgary in 1918. From there his could see the Rocky Mountains and he became fascinated by the lands that lay beyond. In a later diary, he wrote, “I did not know then that my professional life in British Columbia would be largely devoted to mapping and revealing the mysteries behind that panorama.”

And so it did. In 1922, he became a rural school teacher in Upper Big Bar, a small community in the Cariboo, then at Kelly Lake, an even more remote settlement in Peace River country. In the late 1920s, he took up a new career as a forester, which he continued through the next decade. As a forester, he developed an interest and a skill in aerial photography to survey forests for resource planning – developments in aerial photography dramatically changed forestry in BC. But like so many others, Andrews’ life changed when the World War II began. He enlisted as a soldier and helped take high-altitude photographs to help the Allies in the D-Day landings.

When Andrews returned to BC in 1946, his skills in surveying from the air helped land him a job as a surveyor. In just five years, he became BC’s surveyor general, a position he held until he retired in 1968, making him the longest serving surveyor general in BC’s history. During his tenure the province went through an industrial boom, especially in forestry and power generation, and Andrews supervised the mapping of many large construction projects. He said that the routine of taking pictures of the terrain from an airplane was like “ploughing photographic furrows up and down the sky at 16,000 feet”.

Andrews’ multifaceted career took him throughout most of British Columbia. He made many friends on his travels. Surveyors in the field looked forward to his visits because he always had a kind word, a genuine interest in their work, and a red flannel sock containing a bottle of hooch.

In Furrows in the Sky, historian Jay Sherwood tells the story of Gerry Andrews’ remarkable life, based on his personal correspondence, unpublished manuscripts and diaries, interviews with people who knew him, and published articles by and about him. The book includes a selection of the many photographs that Andrews took during his adventures.

$19.95
May 2012
paperback, 240 pages, 6 x 9
90 b/w photographs
ISBN 978-0-7726-6522-5

In the Shadow of the Great War
Publisher's Promo (2013)



In 1913, the BC government hired G.B. Milligan and E.B. Hart to lead two separate, small expeditions exploring the extreme northeastern part of British Columbia for 18 months. These explorations helped provide the first detailed information of this region. Unfortunately, World War I began just as these men completed their work, and the information they gathered got filed away and forgotten in the shadow of the great war.

Now, on the centennial of these expeditions, historian Jay Sherwood’s new book documents the Milligan and Hart expeditions. He reveals what their northern explorations accomplished and he shows readers what this remote part of the province was like 100 years ago.

Sherwood also delves into the characters of Milligan and Hart. At just 25 years old, Milligan had already been a land surveyor for four years and had worked in parts of Peace River country. The consummate professional, he conducted his surveys efficiently and accurately. Hart was 16 years his senior, but had never before done any surveying or even used a sextant. Through political friendships, he managed to secure a contract to explore and survey an area adjacent to Milligan’s. His inexperience posed many problems for him and for the surveyor general, who had to contend with compounding expenses and demands from Hart’s debtors.

This is a story of how two very different men complete difficult tasks in a harsh environment dominated by cold winds, raging rivers and waterlogged muskeg.


Ootsa Lake Odyssey
Review (2017)



Ootsa Lake Odyssey: George and Else Seel -- A Pioneer Life on the Headwaters of the Nechako Watershed
by Jay Sherwood
Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2016. $24.95 / 978-1-987915-21-1
Reviewed by Sage Birchwater

*

Jay Sherwood’s Ootsa Lake Odyssey tells the human story of one couple displaced by the construction of the Kenney Dam in central British Columbia in 1952.
Reviewer Sage Birchwater leads us through the lives of George and Else Seel, an immigrant German couple who worked in the Nechako Watershed for decades until flooded out by the massive 90,000-hectare Nechako Reservoir.

*

Jay Sherwood brings alive a forgotten region of British Columbia with his latest book Ootsa Lake Odyssey: George and Else Seel -- A Pioneer Life on the Headwaters of the Nechako Watershed.
He describes life in this isolated region largely through the eyes of mail-order bride Else Seel who arrived in the tiny community of Wistaria from Berlin in September 1927. Else was thirty-three years old when she responded to a magazine advertisement by George Seel, a German-Canadian trapper, prospector, and stonemason who had moved into the Upper Nechako country in 1914.

*

Around the beginning of the 1900s, settlers established four agrarian communities along the south-facing north shore of Ootsa Lake. Marilla was at the eastern end of the lake close to the portage trail to Chezlatta Lake; Ootsa Lake was the main community at the south end of the road from Burns Lake; Streatham was a small community twenty kilometres west of Ootsa Lake; and Wistaria was ten kilometres beyond there and about fifteen kilometres from the western end of the lake.
The settlers coexisted with the Chezlatta Dakelh and Wet’suwet’en families who occupied homesteads and remote hunting and trapping areas until the region was flooded in 1952 by the Nechako Reservoir.
George had come to North America from Bavaria in 1911, then disappeared into the backcountry west of Ootsa Lake with two Swedish prospectors to avoid being sent to an internment camp when Canada entered the First World War.
By the fall of 1926, George felt his mining claims might sustain him, so he placed an ad in German newspapers seeking a woman who might want to come to Canada and live at Ootsa Lake and be his wife.
Else Lübcke responded. She was working in the archives of a Berlin bank clipping newspaper articles when she came across George’s advertisement. Part of Berlin’s vibrant cultural life, Else actively was participating in the literary community as a writer with stories and poetry published since 1921. She was hoping to expand her experience beyond the bland humdrum of the nine-to-five routine.
George was thirty-nine years old when he met Else at a hotel near the Vancouver train station. Sherwood eavesdrops on Else’s diary entries to give the reader a front row seat at Else and George’s wedding the next day.
Her intimate writings convey her feelings and first impressions as they sailed up the mainland coast to Prince Rupert, took the train to Burns Lake, and finally arrived in isolated Wistaria.
Else’s articulate diaries allow the reader to empathize with the life of a new immigrant entering Canada and getting established in the rugged British Columbia backcountry.
The reader is immersed in the dreams, aspirations, sentimentalities, and frustrations of the new settler entering a way of life that had been difficult for her to imagine.
Sherwood presents the first years of Else and George’s life together in great detail. After nine months of marriage, Else noted in her diary that she had spent seven of those months alone because George was away trapping and prospecting so much.
“Sometimes I don’t see anybody for days. And still I am very happy and not so alone; always in the best company.”
Sherwood titles the chapter of their life together at the end of the Roaring Twenties as “Prosperity.” Else generated a small income by writing for German magazines about her rustic life in Canada, George’s mining efforts bore fruit, and their son (and future prospector) Rupert Seel was born in December 1928.
As with most people, the decade of the Great Depression was difficult for Else and George. In the chapter “Subsistence,” Sherwood describes the mental and physical hardships experienced by the Seel family as they lived hand-to-mouth and, more often than not, indebted to the local storeowner.
When Canada entered the Second World War, Else was cut off from family members in Germany, now an enemy territory convulsed by the rise of Hitler. She managed to find out news about her family, including her mother’s death, through a friend in New York before the United States entered the war.
Sherwood’s previous and invaluable four volumes documenting the life and photographic accomplishments of Frank Swannell, the noted B.C. Land Surveyor, lay the foundations for Ootsa Lake Odyssey.
In 1920, Swannell began surveying the headwaters of the Nechako watershed and hired George Seel on his trail-building crew for $3.50 per day. Sherwood includes several Swannell images in Ootsa Lake Odyssey.
Sherwood also digs up a July 29, 1930 Winnipeg Tribune article foreshadowing the proposed flooding of the upper Nechako. Two potential hydroelectric projects were identified for British Columbia. One scheme would have seen water diverted from Chilko Lake into the Homathko watershed, with several dams flooding the Tatlayoko and West Branch valleys. The other project involved the damming of the Nechako River to create a giant reservoir, with water being sent westward through a tunnel to Kemano on Gardner Channel.
The Kenny Dam was finally constructed on the Nechako Canyon in 1952, but George Seel never lived to see it. In the two decades before his death in 1950, he had found employment on various aspects of the project.
The rising water of Ootsa Lake flooded out the four communities of Wistaria, Streatham, Marilla, and Ootsa Lake, and settlers were left to negotiate the best compensation package they could with Alcan (Aluminum Company of Canada) for their expropriated property. Eighty households were displaced, but residents who lived on the benchland above the lake received no compensation even though their communities were gutted.
Meanwhile, First Nations citizens living along Chezlatta Lake were only given two weeks to vacate their homes, fields, and traplines flooded by the project and were given minimal compensation by the federal government.
Ootsa Lake Odyssey is a welcome story for readers interested in the history of settlement and working lives in the Nechako watershed, in German immigration to B.C., and in the destruction caused by post-war hydroelectric construction in W.A.C. Bennett era.
Through the lives of Else and George Seel, Jay Sherwood documents half a century of life and work at Ootsa Lake and on the upper Nechako drainage before the flooding that changed everything.

*

by Sage Birchwater

[ORMSBY REVIEW 2017]