From the Upper Fountain to Seton Lake

Seton Lake, British Columbia

Seton Lake, from the top of the mountain ridge north of the lake. Anderson’s party walked along the north or left shore, toward the camera from the place where Seton River flowed east into the Fraser.

In my last post in this series we left Alexander Caulfield Anderson with his party at the Upper Fountain, on his way to Fort Langley to open a new trail between Kamloops and Fort Langley. The path of his exploration would later become part of the Harrrison-Lillooet trail, which in 1858 led thousands of gold-miners into the gold fields of the Upper Fraser River. This is the second post in this series, and I am beginning with the final words of the last post. 

Many Indians are assembled around us at this place (the Upper Fountain) where we are encamped, but they behave very peaceably, and seem overjoyed at our arrival.

Tuesday 19th [May 1846] — Fine weather. This being the spot when [sic] I had determined upon sending back the horses, we made up our saddles &c early in the morning, and delivered them, with the horses, to the Pied Mange, and a lad who had accompanied us hither for the purpose of taking them back. At 6 1/2 a.m. we set out on foot, having with us several Indian lads to assist in carrying our provisions, &c The spot which had been described to me as likely to afford a passage for horses is at the Riviere de Pont [Bridge River], opposite to the Lower Fountain; but to my disappointment I find it quite unsuitable for the purpose — at least at this season, if indeed at any time practicable with a large band of horses. The proposed track passes over a mountain 1,500 to 2,000 [feet] in height, the summit of which, even at this advanced season, is still thickly covered with snow, and obviously impassable save with snow shoes.

The “mountain,” Fountain Ridge, is 3,600 feet above sea level and 2,500 feet above Anderson’s present location on the banks of the Fraser River. Anderson’s report to the Board of Management of Fort Vancouver, written on his arrival at Fort Langley, records what his thoughts were as he stared at the ridge that seemed to block his way.

It was my object to discover, if possible, a horse communication, whereby the 1st lake [Seton Lake] conducting towards Harrison’s River, whose immediate shores I had understood to be impracticable, might be avoided. I regret to state that I failed in doing so. A mountain upwards of 2,000 feet in height intervenes; at this season still thickly covered with snow, and impassable save with snow-shoes. Indeed at later period, after the snow should have disappeared, the passage of the tract in question, even if practicable for a single light horse or more, is quite unadapted for the passage of loaded horses.

Anderson paid some Indigenous fishermen to transport his party across the Fraser River in their canoes. From the landing place on the river’s west bank, they walked down the rocky banks to the mouth of present-day Seton Creek, five miles distant. Anderson and Tod had discussed the possibility of exploring Seton and Anderson Lakes, as his 1845 sketch map [N4748, HBCA] makes clear. A similar line is shown on Sam Black’s 1839 Map of the Thompson’s River District [CM/B2079, BCA], the working map at the Kamloops post at that time. In 1827, Francis Ermatinger explored the same series of lakes and rivers all the way to Fort Langley. (In 1828, Archibald MDonald read Ermatinger’s report and said, as he [McDonald] passed the mouth of Harrison’s River, that “Mr. F. Ermatinger arrived on its banks, a day’s journey west of second Peselive Lake in August, 1827.”) see

So Anderson chose to cross Fraser’s River rather than clamber over Pavilion Ridge. However, unknown to him, the Sto:lo chief Pahallak [Pelek], who Fort Langley’s James Murray Yale had sent upriver to guide Anderson past the canyons, waited at Thlikum-cheen [Kum-sheen], at the mouth of Thompson’s River. By choosing the walkable west bank of the Fraser, over the unfriendly terrain of the east bank, Anderson missed meeting Pahallak. His journal, written that evening at his camp on the north shore of Seton Lake, continues:

Finding my views disappointed in the direction at first proposed, I determined on proceeding by the lakes, to ascertain whether upon a close examination of their shores, means of avoiding the difficulties which I had understood to exist might be discovered. In this, as first implied, my endeavours have, I regret to say, proved equally unsuccessful. Precipitous rocks rising 1,000 to 1,500 feet in height, rise on both sides, and preclude the possibility of all progress by land, save, perhaps, by scaling the craggy sides at some rare points less precipitous than the rest. 

The river [Seton Creek] that issues from the lake, and which falls into the main stream about 6 miles below the Lower Fountain, is of some magnitude, and adequate at this season of high water to the passage of boats. There is a rapid, however, where a portage would probably be necessary. At low water it must be shallow, and in spots not navigable with boats without some difficulty. The natives navigate it with canoes, transporting their stores of salmon to & from the neighbouring lake & the river. Its length about 3 miles only.

“The Indian name applied to the outlet of Seton Lake, as far as my recollection serves,” Anderson later wrote of the tumbling Seton River, “has a name so cacophonous that I scarcely dare write it. ‘Pap-shil-qua-ka-meen’ — ie. the River of the Lakes.” [Alexander Caulfield Anderson, “British Columbia,” back of page 14, Mss. 559, volume 2, folder 8, BCA.]

Anderson and his party had approached Seton River from the north and did not cross it. They continued their journey along the north bank of today’s Seton Lake, where Anderson observed that, “The scenery of the shores…is extremely grand.”

Upon reaching the lake it is found to stretch in a direction W & N 8 miles. It then bends to the right and afterwards resumes its original direction. Its breadth varies from 1/2 to 1 1/2 miles; the banks precipitous as I have stated. In some spots are encampments. That in which I now am, about 12 miles up the lake, upon the Northern shore, is a very good one. The hills are topped with snow; but the vegetation is far advanced on the low grounds, wherever a patch is discoverable. A ripe strawberry was picked here the evening. But the background is the most rugged and dreary-looking tract I ever met with; nor had I any previous conception that so mountainous a region could exist so near the banks of a large stream like Fraser’s River.

We are encamped near an Indian village, containing at least 100 men, with a proportionate number of women & children. These one and all express their delight at our presence by every possible demonstration. So much so, indeed, that what with hand-shaking and laudations of every conceivable description, I am heartily wearied out. They behave in the most orderly manner, and if at all troublesome it is unintentionally so, from a desire to conciliate and please; killing one with kindness in short. They are now all returned to their lodges to smoke, upon receiving intimation that it was our hour for bed.

Wednesday 20th — Fine. Set out early — in an hour & a half reached end of Lake. A portage of a little more than a mile, over a point wooded with plane [maple] & small sycamore trees, took us to the second lake.

Today’s Seton’s Portage [once called Birkenhead Portage], was the result of a series of landslides that tumbled down the steep slopes and divided one long narrow lake into two. Anderson’s journal continues as he crosses that portage on foot: 

The connecting stream resembled that described yesterday. Found a large camp of Indians at the upper end, who, like the rest, received us with every demonstration of welcome.

The Indigenous people who live along Seton and Anderson Lakes are the Upper St’at’imc. I believe they pronounce their name “Stat lee um.” (Please correct me if I am wrong.) In his journal, Anderson reported on his experience of walking down the north shore of the next lake — today’s Anderson Lake. When this part of his adventure is posted, it will appear here:

To go back to the first post of this so-far-short series, click here: 

And if you want to know how Seton Lake, and Birkenhead Portage, got their names, see here:

Copyright Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.