LITERARY LOCATION: Mohamed Tahar Library, lower south east quadrant of old Timbuktu proper, Mali

Part of the royalties from Rick Antonson's travel memoir To Timbuktu for a Haircut have been provided to biblioteques such as the Mohamed Tahar Library for use in construction and in preservation of endangered ancient manuscripts from the 14th Century.

Rick Antonson's To Timbuktu for a Haircut (Dundurn 2008) is an amusing and enlightening memoir about his intrepid journey to Mali, via Senegal, to visit the fabled city, and his resulting determination to help preserve Timbuktu's approximately 700,000 endangered ancient manuscripts.

"I left Africa personally changed by the gentle harshness I found and a disquieting splendour that found me," he writes. "Mali was the journey I needed, if not the one I envisioned. And I learned that there's a little of Timbuktu in every traveller: the over-anticipated experience, the clash of dreams with reality."

The title is derived from a favoured expression of his father whenever his two young sons pestered him as to where he was going. Antonson's father would reply, "I'm going to Timbuktu to get my haircut." Some fifty years later, Antonson's long-imagined journey was undertaken in the wake of his participation in the successful bid to procure the 2010 Winter Olympics for Vancouver/Whistler.

"We were stuck. Everyone in the Land Cruiser jumped to the ground to lighten the load. Two weeks earlier I had used my hands to scuff snow from under the wheels of a friend's Jeep that had got stuck in Canadian mountains. Now, I carved armfuls of sand from behind the Land Cruiser's wheels to achieve the same effect. We pushed and the vehicle lurched forward. We continued toward Essakane. Our vehicle's shocks abdicated. It was an atrocious experience, and I loved it. These hours, as we bore north, were among my most memorable experiences of the land -- vast, faraway, uncertain. It was what I'd long envisioned Timbuktu to be."

One of the most enduring tales of murder and gold in B.C. was the basis for Rick Antonson's first book, In Search of a Legend: The Search for the Slumach-Lost Creek Gold Mine (Nunaga, 1972), co-written with Mary Trainer and his brother, Brian Antonson. The threesome started their own publishing company to release the book. The original title reputedly sold more than 10,000 copies in various editions, making it a B.C. classic.

In 2007, they repackaged this story in a significantly expanded edition as Slumach's Gold: In Search of a Legend (Heritage House). It's a compilation of both fact and local hearsay about an elderly Indian named Slumach and the legend of his lost gold mine in the Fraser Valley, near Pitt Lake, about 35 miles from Vancouver.

Often said in legend to have been seen in New Westminster with huge gold nuggets, over the decades Slumach gained a reputation as an evil and violent womanizer. In actual fact, Slumach shot and killed a Metis man, Louis Boulier, also known as Louis Bee, at Lillooet Slough near the Pitt River, in 1890, and disappeared into the bush before being captured. He was eventually convicted for murder in 1891. Newspapers brazenly described Slumach as a murderer long before he was caught and brought to trial. If the First Nation suspect (probably Salish) had a lawyer, a plea of self-defence might have been sufficient to save his life.

The Antonsons and Trainer note that stories of Slumach spreading his gold nuggets in local "sporting houses" and taking women into the bush with him - never to be seen again - only emerged after his death. In hindsight, it's possible Slumach's unsavoury reputation for consorting with non-Aboriginal and Metis women could be rationalized by white society if he was believed to have had access to wealth.

Prior to being hanged in New Westminster, Slumach supposedly placed a curse on his hidden motherlode, also known as the Lost Creek Mine, and the reputed fortune remained lost for more than a century. In the early 1900s an American miner named Jackson reportedly found Slumach's Mine, but he died soon afterwards, leaving behind an intriguing letter that provided hints as to the site of the mine in a remote part of what is now Garibaldi Provincial Park-and becoming the first victim of the mine's curse.

Many others ventured into the difficult and dangerous terrain to seek the mine over the years also met with misfortune. The Vancouver Province once estimated the number of deaths to be around 30 people. Rick Antonson was later contacted by a former newspaper publisher who confided that gold seekers had found what he believed to be the legendary mine. That helped spark a 35th anniversary edition--triple the size of the original version--which introduces new material (three television documentaries have been made) as well as expanded research and more photos.

There are more than 2,000 references for Slumach on the internet. Fred Braches of Whonnock maintains an excellent reference site for skeptics at with encouragement from Rick and Brian Antonson, Mike Collier, Ann Lunghamer, Rob Nicholson, David Mattison, Joanne Peterson, Don Waite and the staff of the New Westminster Public Library, Vancouver Public Library, and BC Archives. There are only imaginary images of Slumach and verification that he ever had access to gold nuggets from a hidden mine does not exist, but Slumach's reputation is nonetheless global.

[One of the earliest books about gold in B.C. was Handbook to the New Gold Fields: A Full Account of the Richness and Extent of the Fraser River and Thompson River Gold Mines (1858) by Robert Michael Ballantyne, a Scot who was dubbed "Ballantyne the Brave" by Robert Louis Stevenson. For other authors pertaining to gold, see abcbookworld entries for Anderson, Doris; Baird, Andrew; Banon, Edward Magowly; Barlee, N.L.; Basque, Garnet; Beeson, Edith; Boissery, Beverley; Brown, Robert; Caldwell, Francis E.; Claudet, F.G.; Dickinson, Christine Frances; Domer, John; Douglas, David; Dower, John; Elliott, Marie Anne; Fetherling, George; Ficken, Robert E.; Fitzgeorge-Parker, Ann; Forsythe, Mark; Futcher, Winnifred; Gates, Michael; Green, Lewis; Hall, Ralph; Harris, Lorraine; Hauka, Donald J.; Hawkins, Elizabeth; Hayman, John; Hazlitt, William Carew; Ingersoll, Ernest; Johnson, F. Henry; Johnson, Peter; Krumm, Stan; Langston, Laura; Laut, Agnes; Lazeo, Laurence; Lindley, Jo; Ludditt, Fred; McNaughton, Margaret; Miller, Naomi; Minter, Roy; Morrell, W.P.; Murphy, Claire Rudolph; Patenaude, Branwen; Paterson, T.W.; Phillipps-Wolley, Clive; Porsild, Charlene; Ramsey, Bruce; Reinhart, Herman Francis; Service, Robert; Sheepshanks, John; Sinclair, James; Smedley-L'Heureux, Audrey; Smith, Robin Percival; Sterne, Netta; Swindle, Lewis J.; Trueman, Allan Stanley; Verne, Jules; Villiers, Edward; Waddington, Alfred; Wade, Mark Sweeten; Wright, Richard; Wright, Rochelle.]

Murdoch's Bookshoppe in Mission neatly encapsulated the scope or Rick Antonson's American travel memoir about traveling in a Mustang with his son to find the remains of the highway that once linked the central U.S. to California, Route 66 Still Kicks: Driving America's Main Street (Dundurn 2012): "From Woody Guthrie to Will Rogers, from the TV show of the same name to John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath, the connections with this highway are wide-ranging and intriguing."

Antonson spent several years developing his Route 66 book into the basis for a musical theatre piece, workshopped with the Arts Club. Part of the royalties from Route 66 Still Kicks were donated to the National Route 66 Historic Federation to further their work in restoration and land marking sections of the old road.


Born in Vancouver in 1949, Rick Antonson attended Simon Fraser University and started Antonson Publishing and Nunaga Publishing in the early 1970s.

Titles released by Antonson include Dr. Guy Richmond's Prison Doctor (1997), Brian Antonson and Gordon Stewart's Canadian Frontier (1977), Richard Thomas Wright's collection of outdoors articles, Westering (1978), and Peter Moogk's Vancouver Defended: A History of the Men and Guns of the Lower Mainland Defences, 1859-1949 (1978).

For five years Antonson worked as Vice-President and general manager of Douglas & McIntyre in the mid-1980s, during which time he served as president of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia. In 1985 Antonson also became chairman of the Leader's Committee to oversee the provincial election campaign for the B.C. Liberal Party. He left publishing to become Vice President of the Great Canadian Railtour Company Ltd., operating a train service between Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies. This led to his job as President & CEO of Tourism Vancouver, the Greater Vancouver Convention & Visitors Bureau, which represents more than 1,000 member businesses.

As an adjunct activity, Antonson has served as Chairman of the Oceans Blue Foundation to encourage a more environmentally responsible approach to tourism in the Pacific Northwest. Antonson has also been managing director of Southwestern B.C. Tourist Association, founding Executive Director of the Tourism Industry Association and a member of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Tourism Commission and Douglas & McIntyre. He was a member of the Board of Directors for Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Olympic Winter Games Bid Corporation and he has served as co-chairman for B.C. Special Olympics for the mentally challenged. With Bob Herger, Antonson also co-authored The Fraser Valley (Whitecap, 1981).

Rick Antonson resigned from his Tourism Vancouver post in 2014 to concentrate more on his writing.

Whistle Posts West (2015) by Mary Trainer, Brian Antonson and Rick Antonson is a collection of train stories from B.C., Alberta and the Yukon spanning 150 years. Topics covered include classic episodes like the nailing of the "last spike" at Craigellachie, BC, in 1885 and the devastating train collision at Hinton, AB, in 1986, along with tales of train robberies, bridge disasters, humour and high jinx on the rails, and Robert Service's 1904 journey to the Klondike aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. The book includes a foreword by Don Evans, president emeritus of the West Coast Railway Association, a list of heritage train sites in Western Canada, Yukon, and Alaska, and fabulous archival photos throughout.

For his next book, Full Moon Over Noah's Ark (Skyhorse 2016), Rick Antonson joined an expedition to the 5,137-metre (16,854-foot) summit of Mount Ararat, looking down on the countries of Turkey, Armenia and Iran, a journey on the massif often said to be the resting place of Noah's Ark after the Great Flood. Trekking alongside a contingent of Armenians, for whom Mount Ararat is the stolen symbol of their country. Antonson weaves vivid historical anecdotes with unexpected travel vignettes.

When travel writer and historian, Rick Antonson planned a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer, he initially thought to go solo “as that makes it easier to get into those awkward situations where stories live,” he writes in Train Beyond the Mountains: Journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer (Greystone, 2023). But then he thought that being “on one of the world’s great trains was too special not to share.” Having travelled on a previous train journey with his grandson Riley, Antonson asked the boy, now ten years old, to accompany him again. Riley didn’t hesitate and his fresh way of seeing things is as much a part of this book as Antonson’s historical and geographical insights.


The Fraser Valley (Whitecap, 1981) 9780920620250. Photography by Bob Herger.

In Search of a Legend: Slumach's Gold: The Search for the Slumach-Lost Creek Gold Mine (ISOAL, 1972). 35th Anniversary Edition, revised and expanded, published as Slumach's Gold: In Search of a Legend (Heritage House, 2007) 9781894974356. Co-authored with Mary Trainer and Brian Antonson.

To Timbuktu for a Haircut; A Journey Through West Africa (Dundurn, 2008) 9781459710498. Second Edition (Skyhorse, 2013) 9781620875674

Route 66 Still Kicks: Driving America's Main Street (Dundurn 2012) 9781459704367. Second Edition (Skyhorse, 2012) 9781620873007

Whistle Posts West: Railway Tales from British Columbia, Alberta, and Yukon (Heritage House 2015) $18.95 9781772030433. Co-authored with Mary Trainer and Brian Antonson.

Full Moon Over Noah's Ark: An Odyssey to Mount Ararat and Beyond (Skyhorse, 2016) $24.99 97815107005654

Walking with Ghosts in Papua New Guinea: Crossing the Kokoda Trail in the Last Wild Place on Earth (Skyhorse, 2019) $35.99 9781510705661

Train Beyond the Mountains: Journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer (Greystone, 2023) $34.95 9781771644860

[BCBW 2023]