A history worth learning

Being a history buff, last week's unveiling of a marker in Riverside Park noting the legacy of the War of 1812 here and the fact the museum also has an exhibit on the War of 1812 compelled me to write. I hope people will go see the exhibit and learn about this.

Last year marked the 200th anniversary (the bicentennial) of the opening of the first fort anywhere in southern B.C., right here in Kamloops. Fort St. James had been established in the north in 1806 by Simon Fraser. Also in 1806, Lewis and Clark, the famous American explorers, had crossed American to the Pacific mount of the Columbia River.

Fast in their wake in 1811, John Jacob Astor started the Pacific Fur Company at Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. David Thompson of the Montreal-based North West Company made his famous exploration of the entire Columbia River from its source to its mouth.

Thus the Columbia Connection was verified as an important trade route from central and eastern B.C. and Washington to its mouth at Fort Astoria.

The Astorians quickly pushed up the Columbia and its tributaries and Fort Spokane and Fort Kamloops.

The Okanagan First Nations had led the Astorians to the head of their valley and, by portages through what is now Westwold, they followed Monte Creek to the Thompson Valley.

The Shuswap First Nations were friendly and co-operative and they led the Astorians to Cumcloups where David Stuart wintered with the First Nations people in 1811-1812 and where Alexander Ross arrived in the spring of 1812 for the purpose of trading.

On May 16, 1812, Ross wrote: "We encamped at a place called by the local natives Cumcloups. Assembled to trade were not less than 2,000 natives."

In the fall of 1812, Ross built a small fort near the junction of the North and South Thompson rivers, later to be known as Fort Kamloops.

Within weeks, hard on the heels of the Astorians, the North West Company under Joseph La Rocque established a fur post in the same area.

The men from the two forts were friendly rivals since they were the only Europeans for thousands of miles. In a short time, however, in the aftermath of the War of 1812, the North West Company bought out the Astorians.

In 1813, Ross took over as the chief trader of the Nor'westers and along with several others ran the Cumcloups post until it was swallowed by its arch rival, the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821.

The trading post at Cumcloups from 1821 onward was run by the Hudson's Bay Company and took the name Thompson's River Post.

The first man put in charge of the post was chief trader James McMillan, and a succession of Scots ran the post for many years afterwards.

The routes taken by the fur brigade are most interesting. At first, the furs were moved by trains of horses, as many as 300, through Grand Prairie (Westwold) to the Okanagan Valley, down the west side of the lake and river to Fort Okanagan at the meeting of the Okanagan and Columbia rivers.

From there, the furs were loaded into the small bateaux, somewhat like York boats, and sailed downriver to Fort Vancouver at the mouth of the Columbia River. Furs from as far north as Fort St. James were transported through Fort Kamloops in this manner.

Kamloops was an important stop for the fur brigade even though it didn't produce many furs. It was valued as a strategic location and excellent north-south and east-west trade routes.

The parallels of the fur brigade routes to our present road and transportation systems are significant. From the north, the furs from Fort St. James and other northern forts crossed from 100 Mile House to Little Fort on essentially the same route as today's present highway.

When the British-American border was closed in 1846, a new route had to be found to the Pacific coast. The new fort built at Victoria by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1843 would now be the destination for the fur brigade.

The exhibit at the Kamloops Museum and Archives continues until Jan. 4 - don't miss it.



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