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
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.
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.
Early in 1871
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
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 white
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.
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.
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.
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
“Construction contractors for clearing railway right-of-way were Foley, Welsh
Stewart – two camps were located near Pacific, one was east
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
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
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
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
John Walker “Jack” Patterson
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
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
on the Skeena River: British Columbia. Smithers,
British Columbia, 1960. He died in Smithers July 13, 1964.
Nicholl Hotel, Pacific, BC