Author Tags: Cariboo, Disaster

Vanderhoof-raised Diana Wilson. a graduate of the University of Victoria Writing Department, is credited as the editor for a revised version of Art Downs' Tragedies of Crowsnest Pass (Heritage House, 1988), republished as Triumph and Tragedy in the Crowsnest Pass (Heritage House, 2005). It includes Frank Anderson's accounts of the Frank Slide and the Hillcrest Mine Disaster, plus Elsie Turnbull's chapter on Fernie. Wilson also edited Heart of the Cariboo-Chilcotin: Stories Worth Keeping (Heritage 2006), with a foreword by Alan Twigg, followed by Heart of the Cariboo-Chilcotin: More Stories Worth Keeping (Heritage 2007). The contributions to the second volume are by Alan Fry, Ann Walsh, Bill and Joyce Graham, Bill Gallaher, Bill Riley, Chilco Choate, D.A. Holley, Duane Witte, Earl S. Baity, Eldon Lee, Eric Collier, Fred W. Ludditt, Harry Marriott, Heidi Redl, Hilary Place, Irene Stangoe, Jean E. Speare, Karen Piffko, Laura Leake, Mark S. Wade, Olive Spencer Loggins, Paul St. Pierre, Rich Hobson, Robin Skelton, Sage Birchwater, Todd Lee. Veera Bonner.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Heart of the Cariboo-Chilcotin: Stories Worth Keeping


Triumph and Tragedy in the Crowsnest Pass (Heritage House, 2005). Editor.
Heart of the Cariboo-Chilcotin: Stories Worth Keeping (Heritage 2006). Editor.
Heart of the Cariboo-Chilcotin: More Stories Worth Keeping (Heritage 2007). Editor.

[BCBW 2007] "Disaster" "Cariboo"

Heart of the Cariboo-Chilcotin (2006)


Chilcotin-Cariboosters are not the sort to be swayed by fancy words and cheerleading, or politicians—or literary critics. People who care about the Cariboo-Chilcotin are sufficiently maverick-minded to make up their own minds about things.

So I’ll refrain from superlatives about the worldwide success of Eric Collier’s Three Against the Wilderness, or the importance of Alan Fry’s 1970 novel How A People Die (published one year after Harold Cardinal’s The Unjust Society: The Tragedy of Canada’s Indians) or the cleverness of Paul St. Pierre’s stories that generated the first worthwhile CBC drama series from British Columbia, Cariboo Country…

And I’ll leave it instead to Hilary Place of Dog Creek to define what the heck this book is about.

“The Cariboo-Chilcotin is not just a geographic designation: it’s also a state of mind. It seems that it requires a certain type of person to feel at home and be suited to the Cariboo-Chilcotin. This doesn’t mean that all the Cariboo-Chilcotin’s residents are the same, by any means, but rather the opposite. They are strong-willed and have different outlooks than their neighbour, certainly, but should that neighbour need help, it is always forthcoming. The early years of the Cariboo-Chilcotin produced some of the most unique pioneers this country has ever seen.”

That’s the literary terrain you’re about to enter. Much of the writing is uplifting, bemused and bordering on folksy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also sophisticated. Whether it’s a monologue by Augusta Tappage or reportage by Terry Glavin, everyone is trying to speak the truth, and that’s as sophisticated as one can get.


I once owned land for a spell near the Marguerite cable ferry, just south of the Indian reserve, on the west side of the Fraser, but I’ve never roped a calf, I’ve never fought a forest fire or even fired a gun. What I have done over the past few decades is look at the literature of British Columbia. And the more I’ve read, the more I can say without equivocation that it’s high time we had a Cariboo-Chilcotin equivalent to Raincoast Chronicles, Howard White’s lively and down-to-earth series of intermittent volumes that has documented everyday coastal life since the early Seventies.

That’s mostly why I welcome the appearance of Heart of the Cariboo-Chilcotin. If Heart of the Cariboo-Chilcotin serves as the initial volume for a series that will reflect the lives and times of a unique place, that sounds like progress to me.

It’s always easy-pickings to complain about omissions from any anthology. I started to do so when I first flipped through this collection: The Gustafsen Lake stand-off. Jeannette Armstrong. The Kamloops Residential School. Brian Fawcett. Alkali Lake & alcohol reduction. Mary John. Memoirs of fur traders. James Teit. Missionaries. Joan Weir. Anthropologists. Ann Walsh. To say nothing of Cariboo fiction such as Stan Krumm’s Zachary’s Gold, Ethel Wilson’s Hetty Dorval, Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook or Bruce Hutchison’s The Hollow Men.

But when someone has the nerve to go ahead and get a job done, to get the ball rolling—whether it’s Eric Collier re-introducing beavers at Meldrum Creek, or Rudy Johnson building his famous bridge, or folks banding together to make an extraordinary road all the way to Bella Coola without government support—you gotta stand back and respect the get-up-and-go gumption it takes to make progress.

During those years when I was living between Williams Lake and Quesnel, on our impractical 25-acres, we were poor enough and dumb enough and crazy enough to dig a 40-foot well by hand. Our Cariboo neighbours must have thought we were nuts. But we got water.

This anthology gets the job done, too. If Heart of the Cariboo was a deluxe, one-thousand-page doorstopper, maybe it could be all things to all people, but you gotta figure not many people would fork out to buy it. So I’m not going to bellyache about omissions, not when I think so much of the writing is excellent. You will find your own favourites; I won’t try to prejudice you by naming mine.


It’s probably true to suggest that very few British Columbians, or Canadians at large, recognize the Cariboo-Chilcotin has a rich literary history. Precious few people know the province’s first published poet, James Anderson (“the Robert Service of the Cariboo gold rush”), lived, wrote and acted in theatricals in Barkerville.

Even more original, Father Jean-Marie Le Jeune of Kamloops, as a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, published a mimeographed Chinook newsletter, the Kamloops Wawa, that described itself as “the queerest newspaper in the world.” First published on May 2, 1891, the Wawa was “Indian news” printed in both the English alphabet and a bizarre form of shorthand developed in 1867 by two French clerics, the Duploye brothers. Thanks to the Wawa’s wide circulation, many Native and non-Natives in the B.C. Interior became literate as Duployan readers.

Skipping ahead, a fellow named Art Downs published his first published story called “The Saga of the Upper Fraser Sternwheelers” in 1950 in the Cariboo Digest, a regional magazine published in Quesnel since 1945. With Wes Logan, Art Downs bought the Cariboo Digest from Alex Sahonovich in 1955 and became its editor. It evolved into BC Outdoors, a successful blend of history, wildlife and conservation that served a broad readership.

Art Downs didn’t believe in fishing derbies or trophies but he recognized the importance of tourism. He deplored clear-cut logging and was a tireless conservationist and grassroots organizer. Downs eschewed the city and affected a down-to-earth bluntness that disguised his intelligence if you weren’t paying much attention. Along the way he served as president of the B.C. Wildlife Federation, director of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and a member of the Pacific Salmon Commission.

Selling BC Outdoors in 1979, he and his wife Doris turned to publishing books “by B.C. writers for B.C. readers” under their Heritage House imprint in Surrey. Art Downs died at his home in Surrey on August 13, 1996, but not before he passed along his Heritage House operation to Rodger Touchie—publisher of this book.

So Heart of the Cariboo-Chilcotin is emanating from a publishing operation that dates back to Quesnel in Forties and Fifties.

My guess is, that’s all that needs to be said.

-- Historian Alan Twigg is the publisher of BC BookWorld and the author of a eleven books.