CHAPTER ONE

PACIFIC, BRITISH COLUMBIA

THE BEGINNINGS

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        Many explorers of the north coast of what is now British Columbia had unwittingly sailed past the mouth of the Skeena.  The Queen Charlotte Islands and the Nass River were explored and some settlements established.

        In 1834 the town of Port Simpson was founded and the Hudson’s Bay Company established a post there.  It became the headquarters of the fur trade, and ships came and went from Fort Vancouver and Victoria.

        In 1859, Governor James Douglas commissioned an Englishman, Major Downie, to visit and search the Queen Charlotte Islands for gold.  He was unsuccessful and decided to investigate the Skeena River to find a suitable route for a proposed transcontinental railroad.  He followed the river up to Babine Lake and to Fort St. James and it was his report to the governor that contributed greatly to the opening up of the Skeena country.

SS Port Simpson on Skeena River near Hazelton, BC        Early in 1871 Robert Cunningham of Port Simpson chose a site on the south bank of the Skeena on which to build a trading post.  On this site which became known as Port Essington, the Hudson’s Bay Company built a store.  Soon there was a permanent population of several hundred and a large cannery was built.  This became the fishing centre and also the port of call for all riverboats (sternwheelers) on the Skeena.  These riverboats were the only means of transportation from Port Simpson to the various Indian villages up the Skeena as far as Hazelton until the river froze each winter.

        In 1907, a start was made on the clearing of the west side of Kaien Island at the mouth of the Skeena.  One hundred and fifty people, mostly laborers put up a tent city which would be the start of Prince Rupert.  In 1909 the new town mushroomed to a population of three thousand.  This was to be the Pacific terminus of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.  There was a real land boom, lots going for fantastic prices and soon permanent roads and buildings were built and one of the best deep sea ports on the Pacific coast became operational.

        Kitselas was an Indian village just before the Skeena Canyon and it became a port of call for riverboats.  Soon there was an influx of whiteSS Distributor on Skeena River in 1910 settlers and it became a thriving town.  It consisted of three hotels, three general stores, two poolrooms, a tent church, a jail, a newspaper, Big Canyon News, with Enoc Jones, editor.

        About 1912 when the railway came through from Prince Rupert to Hazelton, riverboats became a thing of the past and the railway delivered passengers and supplies in all weathers.  At this time Kitselas folded up as the riverboats were its reason for being.  Today there is no sign of the old Kitselas and the Indians have moved across the river.

        As the railway progressed eastward from Prince Rupert, locations were chosen for divisional points about every one hundred and twenty-five miles.  The first one from Prince Rupert was about twenty miles east of Kitselas at a small settlement called “Nicholl” which the railway changed to “Pacific”.  Large brick roundhouses were built in the railway yards, also a station house, and restaurant.  Several small homes for employees were also built.

        This town was homesteaded in 1909 by Jens Anderson, born June 26, 1877 in Asase, Denmark.  He sold part of his property along the bank of the Skeena to the railway.  He built a cabin near the river bank which was destroyed by fire when the railway workers were clearing the area for the railway yards.  The railway replaced it in a different location.  He went to Minnesota, USA in 1909 where his marriage to Mary took place on August 5 and they arrived back in Pacific on August 20th.  In the summer of 1910 she gave birth to a son in Hazelton Hospital who died at birth.

        In 1911 expecting again she returned to Minnesota where her son Edward was born on September 30, 1911.  They returned to Nicholl (Pacific).  Mr. Anderson formed a partnership with Mr. C.W.D. Clifford and Mr. John Walker Patterson and built the Nicholl Hotel around 1912.  After the railway station and yards were completed the hotel business fell off and the partnership disbanded, Mr. Anderson keeping the hotel.

        Mrs. Anderson’s brother, Nels Thompson, left Denmark shortly after his sister did; also going to Minnesota, USA, where he stayed for awhile then went west to Portland, Oregon where he worked as a carpenter.  He then moved to Canada and worked for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway as a carpenter and helped build some of the railway buildings at Pacific.  After the hotel partnership disbanded he quit the railway and worked at the hotel.  He also bought a few lots and built houses on them, one of which became the school.  Edward started school at five years of age in 1916 in order to provide the required number of children to open the school.  The first teacher was Mr. Wheeler.Ferry at Pacific

        Mr. Anderson enlisted in the army February 18, 1916 and was discharged in March 1919 returning to Pacific.  As the hotel business was very slow he took the job of ferryman and was drowned in the Skeena River in September, 1920.

Grand Trunk Pacific Railway        Nels stayed on at the hotel for some time but later moved to one of his houses.  Before Nels moved from the hotel, he had acquired a pool table in a rather unusual way.  He had gone to Terrace (approximately 100 miles to the west) and while there a Mr. Sparks was selling poolroom equipment to provide more space for his drugstore.  He tried to talk Nels into buying one of the tables but Nels said he had no place for it and did not want it.  However a week or so later the station agent informed Nels that there was a pool table at the station for him and would he please come and get it and pay the freight.  Nels was all for sending it back but some of the local prospectors and railway men twisted his arm and he set it up in the lobby of the hotel.  After having it for a few weeks, he got a bill for fifty dollars from Mr. Sparks which he paid.  This table was well used and is probably still in Pacific.

        Edward writes, “As you may well imagine it was a rather startling experience for my mother used to living in well-populated areas such as Denmark and Minnesota – traveling by riverboat up the Skeena and then being deposited on the river bank in the midst of the wild British Columbia forest with only a log cabin for shelter.  The nearest neighbor was two miles downstream, a riverboat wood-cutter.  She often spoke of how tame the squirrels, rabbits and other animals and birds were as they had not yet learned to fear man.  She was also amazed at the quantity of fish in the river, being before the canneries or commercial fishing started on the coast.”

        “She also said that at first she was very much afraid of the roughly clad, usually unshaven travelers, with their huge packs on their backs, which came walking up or down the river.  Of course all stopped for a rest and a cup of coffee or a meal and an exchange of news.  Mother said at first she was so afraid of them she would hide in the attic of the cabin until they went, leaving Dad to entertain them.  However as the railway construction crews moved in she became more accustomed to these frontiersmen and her fears vanished.”

        “Construction contractors for clearing railway right-of-way were Foley, Welsh and Stewart – two camps were located near Pacific, one was Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Station in Pacific 1914east of the station just east of Corley’s farm, the other at the sand bar west of the station.  Some of the log cabins were still standing when we were kids.”

        “Mother told me of an occurrence which shows how people's views change.  During the late fall of 1909 or 1910, one of the last paddle wheelers belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company either because of unusually low water, an early freeze-up or mechanical problems, caused the skipper to deem it unwise to continue upstream to Hazelton.  He made a deal with my parents to store his cargo over winter to be picked up by their first boat upstream the following spring.  Now, it was either a very long winter, or my parents had miscalculated their food requirements of flour, beans, rice, etc.  Anyhow towards spring their supplies ran low and some time before the first boat arrived they were completely out of many items and living on very short rations.  Although there were ample quantities in storage and bought supplies, the boat’s captain was astounded and instead of being thanked for being honest custodians he berated them for being foolish.  They hadn’t lost their old country ways.”

 Map of GTP Railway Northwest Route

It is through the kindness of Edward Anderson that I was able to obtain this detailed history of his parents and the very beginnings of Pacific.  Edward and his wife, Gladys, and two children have lived in Calgary for many years.  His mother, Mary, left Pacific in the late sixties and lived in a rest home in Calgary until her death in the seventies.

        Nels Thompson was the last remaining resident of Pacific.  He bought up most of the land as people moved away.  In the early seventies he took ill and was taken from Pacific to a Terrace Hospital where he died on August 18, 1972 at the age of ninety-two.

        Three names keep coming up in the story of the early days on the Skeena – Charles Clifford, Jack Patterson, and Wiggs O’Neill.  I will give a brief account of each of them with material obtained from the British Columbia Archives and Dr. R.G. Large’s book, The Skeena, River Of Destiny.

        Charles William Digby Clifford was born in Ireland on October 14, 1842.  He came to British Columbia for the Gold Rush in the Cariboo district.  In 1885, he started working for the Hudson’s Bay Company at Hazelton until 1891.  Then he moved to Port Simpson Hudson’s Bay Company, and left there in 1897 to engage in active development of his claims in the Skeena District.

        In 1910, he was a Justice of the Peace and town site owner at Kitselas; he built a hotel and store there in 1907.  When the railway was being built through the canyon, this hotel was the only licensed liquor outlet available to the construction gang.  After completion of the railway, the Kitselas town site was abandoned.  He still had mining interests around Kitselas.

        He thought Kitimat would be the terminal of the railway, and he invested heavily in land there, built a store, a wharf and a warehouse there, and started on a hotel.  He lost it all in 1907 when Kaien Island was chosen for the terminal.

        He was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1898, 1900, and 1903 for the Skeena District, but did not run in 1907.

        He married Margaret O’Neill, daughter of a riverboat captain, on May 24, 1888.  He retired to Vancouver where he later died on May 10, 1916 at the age of seventy-three.

 John Walker “Jack” Patterson (1864-1936) appears to have been closely associated with Mr. Clifford Dr. Large, in The Skeena, River Of Destiny, writes of him running Mr. Clifford’s store in Kitselas.  Edward Anderson tells of him being in partnership with Mr. Anderson and Mr. Clifford in the Nicholl Hotel.  He also owned the general store in Nicholl which Tom McCubbin bought. 

William John 'Wiggs' O’Neill was born in 1882 in Barkerville, BC and moved to Port Simpson where he attended school.  He started a bakery in Port Essington, and later was connected with the Dominion Telegraph line.  In 1907, he built a riverboat with which he ferried passengers and freight from Port Essington to the construction camps, and up as far as Hazelton.  He wrote several entertaining books about his days on the Skeena River including Steamboat Days on the Skeena River:  British Columbia.  Smithers, British Columbia, 1960.  He died in Smithers July 13, 1964.

Nicholl Hotel, Pacific, BC

Nicholl Hotel, Pacific, BC

     

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