Brigade Journey North, from the Similkameen Forks

Canoe on a lake in the Okanagan

This is the Okanagan’s Lac Vaseux (Muddy Lake) with canoe. The photograph is taken from the lake’s eastern shoreline. In the early days the brigade trail ran close to the lake on its muddy western shore, across the lake from the place the photo is taken. Only a few years later it mounted the hills and ran behind the first set of hills you see in this photograph, from south [left] to north [right]. 

With a little luck and a ton of hard work, my book, The HBC Brigades: Culture, Conflict, and the Perkous Journeys of the Fur Trade, will be published by Ronsdale Press in May, 2024. You can order or pre-order the book here:

The junction of the Similkameen River with the Okanogan was, from the early days of the HBC in the Canadian Okanagan, known as the Similkameen Forks. In later years, Anderson wrote a little about the brigade trail that journeyed from Fort Okanogan, and up the river to the Similkameen Forks. There is information in here that no one else mentions:

At the HBC post at Okinagan, all the wood for building purposes as well as for fires used to be obtained by securing the drift trees during the spring and summer. A few Indians were supplied with ropes and with their canoes effected the desired object…

Either side of the Okinagan [River] could be followed. The traveled road [brigade trail] is on the left [east] bank. It is shorter owing to one or two cut-offs. The whole of the Okinagan valley is very practicable, the chief portion consisting of sandy levels. Wood is scarce save along the stream where there is in most parts a fringe of poplars. About the [peaks] of the Similkameen there is a growth of stunted pines in the summits. A supply of these could be obtained with some labourers.

In this letter Anderson writes about wood and trees that would make telegraph poles for the Collins Telegraph Trail. This was years after he had left the fur trade, and even years after he had ridden up and down the valley. Though out of date, it still provides some interesting descriptions of life at Fort Okanogan and the appearance of the Okanogan valley that he saw in 1835 and 1840.

But let us continue the story of the brigades returning to their home posts at Fort St. James, New Caledonia, in the years 1826 and 1831, as they begin the journey north from the Similkameen Forks.

William Connolly’s Journal of the Brigade from New Caledonia to Fort Vancouver and Return, in 1826:

17th Thursday [August]. The Horses having strayed to a considerable distance, it was rather later than usual when we left our Encampment. After advancing about 15 miles we Stopped for a few Hours at Riviere Aux The [Tea River, now Testalinden Creek, B.C.] In the afternoon proceeded 11 miles farther to the Bute de Sable, where we put up for the night. Weather continues fine.

Bute de Sable is probably McIntyre Bluff, just south of Lac Vaseux [Muddy Lake], or Vaseux Lake. In these early years they followed the banks of the Okanogan River north to Lake Okanagan. The area around Vaseux Lake was muddy — hence its name — and so in later years they used a trail in the hills to the west that avoided this section of the old route. The image at the top of the page shows Lac Vaseux as it appears today. The hills in the background are the hills that the later brigades mounted and followed north.

18th Friday. At four we were on the march, and proceeded on without Halting (having met with no place in our route where the Horses could feed) to Riviere aux Serpent [today’s Shingle Creek], when we encamped. The Horses are much fatigued, & many of them have swellings on the sides occasioned by the Kegs, and other hard pieces they carry. The country we are now in is completely parched up, & in many places has been lately overrun by fire, consequently affords but scanty subsistence for the Horses, which added to the miryads [sic] of insects by which they are tormented night and day, reduces the poor beasts very much. [This part of the microfilm is very scratched].

The fire mentioned here may have been natural, but it might also have been set by the Natives who burned the grasslands to kill off nuisance weeds [such as sage], and to encourage the growth of useful plants. This is a long-practiced tradition with Natives in British Columbia, and probably elsewhere. This practice is what kept the grasslands grasslands. To continue:

19th Saturday. The Country through which we now pass being inhabited by Horse Thieves, we commenced last night to mount guards. At an early Hour pursued our route in the course of which we passed Riviere du Poulin, Riviere de la Fruite, & rested the Horses for four Hours at the little River that runs through the Prairie de Nicholas. At three o’clock PM our march was resumed, and at half an hour after four reached the Banks of the Okanagan Lake, which we followed about nine Miles, & then encamped. Feeding for the Horses now better than usual. Distance to day about 28 miles. Weather continues fine, & very warm.

This may be as far as we go with this particular journal. Connolly passed the HBC’s Dog Lake [Skaha Lake] without mentioning it. At Serpent Creek they were near modern day Penticton, though on the west side of the Okanogan River, and north of Skaha Lake. I don’t know which river Connolly called Riviere du Poulin [Colt River], but Riviere de la Fruite is modern-day Trout River. The river that passes through Prairie de Nicholas, where the town of Summerland now stands, was in those days called “Prairie River.” Prairie River is now Eaneas Creek, that flows eastward from Garnet Lake. My ancient British Columbia Gazeteer [1953] calls Garnet Lake a “widening” of Eaneas Creek.

So in 1826 William Connolly led his brigades north from the Similkameen Forks through the modern city of Summerland, and camped a little to the north of it. Let us see what experiences the later brigade, led by Peter Warren Dease, had to say of this section of the road. His journal is very brief.

Peter Warren Dease’s Journal of the Brigade from New Caledonia to Fort Vancouver and Return, 1 May to 13 September 1831:

 29 [July]. Baited the horses at the [Similkameen] Forks where Exchanged a worn out Mare for a horse with one of the Natives from the camp we found at this place. Traded some salmon & berries and proceeded to Tea River [Testalinden Creek] where we put up for the night.

30. Stopped at our usual hour at Fourche de Chemin from whence we proceeded to Serpent River & put up having past a River called Riviere la Cendri previously.

Dease’s brigade is not traveling the same route that Connolly’s brigade traveled four years earlier. The HBC men must have asked the Natives to find them a new trail past the mud-hole that existed around Lac Vaseux [Vaseux Lake]. By 1831 the Natives had told the HBC men of another possible route, that led them through the hills and valleys west of Vaseux and Skaha Lakes. My great-grandfather, Alexander Caulfield Anderson, never traveled over the lower route (as far as I am aware), and so it is not shown on his maps. It is, however, shown on Sam Black’s 1839 [or so] map, a copy of which can be found in the British Columbia Archives, but more locally in the Vernon Archives [I believe]. It is a fabulous map, but I do not have permission to use it in my blog.

South of McIntyre Bluff, the new trail that Peter Warren Dease traveled over, branched off the old lower trail and mounted the hills. South of White Lake it branched again — and this split in the trails was called “Fourche de Chemin” or “Fork of the Trail.”  The junction was almost directly west of McIntyre Bluff, in the hills. From the “Fourche,” the westward branch of the trail followed the north bank of the HBC’s “Park Rill” [Meyer’s Creek] to Twin Lakes, where the HBC had a horse park. The route that Dease’s brigades probably used headed straight north from the Fourche de Chemin, crossing over Vaseux Creek, Marron River, and through a back valley to Riviere aux Serpents or Shingle Creek. “Riviere la Cendri” translates as Cinder, more or less. Many of the HBC horses obtained from the Walla Walla and Cayuse Indians were ash or cinder coloured and the HBC men actually called them “cendre,” and so this jibes with Connolly’s “Riviere du Poulin,” or Colt River.

So we now have both brigades at modern-day Summerland, or a little to the north. They are on the western shores of the south end of Okanagan Lake, and will travel north in the hills on the west side of the lake. Some parts of this trail are rugged, and hard on the horses. There is a gravel road along the west shore, starting from the lake’s north end and going as far as the bridge that leads over Lake Okanagan to Kelowna. By driving this road, you can get a really good feel for that part of the brigade trail — plus the views are spectacular!

This section of the brigade trail is published here:

If you want to go back to the beginning of the journey from Fort St. James to Fort Vancouver and back, click on this link. So far there are thirteen posts in this series.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2017. All rights reserved.