Canada Council Grant Jaunt

A detail from a Larry Hunter mural in Summerland, showing the men along the Brigade Trail, from nancymargueriteanderson.com

This is a detail from the Larry Hunter mural in downtown Summerland, showing the Brigades high in the bench-lands above the modern city of Summerland, with Lake Okanagan in the background.

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

A Canada Council Grant can be a very important tool in an artist’s toolkit, and so let me tell you what it is and what I did with my first grant. Firstly, the Canada Council is actually the Canada Council for the Arts, through the Federal Government of Canada, and all sorts of artists, both white and Indigenous, can apply for the various grants that the Council offers, depending on what that artist needs to do with the money they are asking for. In my case, I applied for money for “Creating, Knowing, and Sharing: Travel,” and it was money that was reserved for the study of “the Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples.” The Canada Council Grant is mine, and no one can interfere with it. But as you will discover, we had some difficulty on that point. That will come later in the story.

The title for my grant was “Interviewing a Brigade Trail Historian in the Okanagan,” and that was exactly what I was going to do. David Gregory (retired mayor of Summerland), and I have communicated for years, and he regularly invited me up to Summerland to walk over the Brigade Trails there. As my HBC Brigades book is now going to be published, I thought it was time to turn up, and so I applied for this Canada Council Grant — and succeeded in getting it too!

There were other things to do there as well. I had invited my friend Sam to accompany me, and as his ancestor had also ridden over these same brigade trails he accepted. He had a story to uncover, too — a description of a supposed camp where remnants of old guns, kettles, and other implements had been uncovered by a farmer who lived in Westwold, B.C., who Sam had met in about 2003 when he was doing his own excursion up the Brigade Trail all the way to Fort St. James and beyond. I wanted to track that camp down, too, and make sure that it was not the old North West Company camp that was marked by a Cairn, and was apparently very difficult to find. (It would have been, had we not found the man whose property it was on, and had he not been willing to interrupt his work and show us the way to the cairn.) And so we accomplished that chore, too, with the help of another Brigade Trail historian who lived in Kamloops. But first we had to find him, too: neither Sam nor I had his email address, but David Gregory did!

Our last chore was a visit to Monte Lake, and there I had arranged for a guide who was brother-in-law to my friend John, who although he lives in Ucluelet is familiar with Monte Lake, as that is where his wife, Frances, comes from. And as it happens, he is also very interested in the Brigade Trails that run through or around that place. I wanted to see the swimming beach: pretty much the perfect place for the Brigades to camp, right? Water and grass and a place to dip in the lake to clean up: that seems to fit the bill. 

So, we arrived in Penticton, B.C., on June 22, intending to depart for our own homes, once again, on June 26. On the 23rd, David Gregory swung by the motel to pick us up, and he took us to a restaurant where we could watch the slide show he gives regularly in his Museum talks on the Summerland section of the Brigade Trail. Then we hit the road, and he drove us to all the interesting points in the townsite itself. He talked about the many interesting geological points of Summerland, which made it a perfect place for Chief N’Kuala to make it his home. At this place, N’Kuala was surrounded by enemies, but nevertheless perfectly safe, as his camp could be so easily defended. To the north, Goat’s Bluff allowed access to N’Kuala’s Prairie [Summerland] by only two narrow pinch-points, the narrow lower trail along the lakeshore, and another up the hillside and at the top of the Bluff. Both could be easily watched, and action could be easily taken when dangers appeared. Along the lakeshore stood a line of silt bluffs which used to be the bottom of the old glacial lake, and those silt bluffs got very slippery when wet, so the enemy could only attack when the weather was good! And attack they did, of course, as at every point where there was a trail to the top of the bluffs and into the bench-lands behind, there were also signs of battles, where ancient defenders had protected their lands from invaders.

To the south was another pinch-point, where McIntyre’s Bluff nudged the Okanagan River: and again, it was easily guarded and men could be dispatched quickly to the new offensive. And Lac Vaseaux, being so muddy, would not have helped the invaders much, especially with the poison Oak that was known to have been there. (By the way, later on the same day I almost touched a poison oak plant thinking it was Oregon Grape. I wonder how much it stings, but I am perfectly happy to have not suffered the fate of finding that out the hard way!) And of course, behind the bench-lands above N’Kuala’s Camp, is the line of volcanoes that protects Summerland from any invasion from the West. It was a perfect place: a safe encampment at all times, and N’Kuala had eighty or so protectors on hand at all times. 

And so this is a big part of what my Canada Council Grant allowed me to learn. Many years ago I had taken the old, simple Forest Service maps and had tried to figure out where the Brigade Trail ran. My major mistake was in thinking that this land was flat: but no, the Brigade trails ran through the bench-lands above the city of Summerland. I was pretty cautious, as I knew I didn’t really know what I was talking about. But David Gregory told me that I was pretty close: that the trails were for the most part a short distance to the west, or the east, of where the Forest Service roads ran.

It wasn’t until we got into the bench-lands, and on those particular Forest Service roads, that I fully understood what he was saying. David waved his hand out the window and showed us where the modern-day stream ran, and then explained that the Forest Service road, which was generally cut into the valley of the stream, was also flooded in the modern-day freshets of spring time. If the valleys were flooded today than they were flooded in the past, and David is perfectly right in saying that the trail ran on the beautiful rolling bench-lands that were visible to us, only ten or so feet above the base of the Forest Service road. It made a lot of sense, and it clarified things for me to a great degree. 

So this is another important piece of knowledge that the Canada Council Grant allowed me to collect: and collecting knowledge is an important part of my job as a writer. Now, you may ask: where did these particular Forest Service roads lead us? Well, they literally brought us to the Brigade Trail and its Linear Park. Summerland’s Parks & Trails page reads:

In the years 1812-1846 the Okanagan Valley was used by the Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders. The fur traders journeyed along the western edge of Okanagan Lake with a pack train of up to 300 horses, carrying supplies. This formation was called a “brigade.” Progress was slow, and camps were set up approximately every 14 miles. 

The North West Company men were the first who used this trail. The Kamloops men took out their furs to Fort Okanogan and Fort George [Astoria], and in some years the Fort St. James men went out to Fort George light (sometimes by dog sled), to pick up extra provisions — those were provisioning brigades only, and they didn’t happen every year. The Hudson’s Bay Company began their first organized brigade in 1826, carrying out furs and castoreum to their new headquarters of Fort Vancouver, and carrying in their trade goods and, perhaps, some provisions such as cheese, etc. They were a business, and it was absolutely essential that all those furs got to the London markets as soon as possible, so they could make a profit. Once you think of the Hudson’s Bay Company as a business, and a large important business at that, things become very, very clear.

The Brigade Trail linear park is a section of the original Okanagan Brigade Trail linking to one of the frequently mentioned encampment sites, Priest Camp. 

As you drive along Garnett Valley Road you are actually following the original Brigade Trail. Restroom facilities are located at the Garnett Valley Dam (Priest Camp Historic Park) where the trailhead is located.

The trail is 4.1 km long (or two and a half miles, for those of us who still think in miles as I do), and at the end of the trail you are offered one of the most sensational viewpoints of Okanagan Lake. The Brigade Trail served as a part of the Cariboo Gold Rush Trail and later as the original automobile route to Peachland before the lakeshore road and Highway 97 were built.

The Brigade Trail is open from May through October.

And so, if you have a copy of the booklet, The Okanagan Brigade Trail in the South Okanagan, 1811 to 1849, Oroville, Washington to Westside, British Columbia, by Bob Harris, Harley Hatfield, and Peter Tassie, 1989 (ISBN 0-9694207-0-6), that is sold in the Summerland Museum, you can see that the section of the trail we explored appears on Map no. 8.

The authors of the booklet also write: “From Nicola Prairie [where Summerland stands today], the main or upper trail resumed its northerly course, going up Eneas Creek/Garnet Valley behind the first tier of mountains along the Great Lake, then from the summit of this back valley, angling down to the mouth of Trépanier’s River (now called Peachland or Deep Creek) [and not to be confused with present Trépanier Creek, about 4 miles north of Peachland Creek]. The trail kept well up the east side of the Garnet Valley to avoid the brushy bottoms, much as the gas pipeline does today. There was another traditional camping place near the Summit: the Campement du Pretre or Priest’s Camp on a side trail to the flat at mid Garnet Lake. (We visited the Brigade Lookout first, and then went on to Priest’s Camp, so I will eventually speak of this visit in the next post in this series.)

“The start of the descent to Peachland Creek is now ‘Antlers Saddle.’ This is above the big bend of Okanagan Lake, so there are good views up and down the big lake, and across to Okanagan Mountain… The advantages of the route over Antlers Saddle are still apparent; an electric power line and a natural gas pipeline now go this way rather than follow the lakeshore.”

New trails follow old: We saw the pipeline but I did not notice the power line. Both these trails followed the Brigade Trail at a respectable distance. But others do not respect the trail: the City of Summerland actually allowed a group of people to hold a mud-rally on the site of an ancient Indigenous encampment close to Antler’s Saddle, and David pointed this place out to us. (He says it is badly damaged, but not absolutely ruined). You would think that an ancient trail, whose history was known and whose exact location was also known, would be protected by the City — but it isn’t, and it wasn’t. If you want to Brigade Trail protected, write a letter to Summerland City Council! Let them now how we feel about our oh-so-important Brigade Trail!

But it was beautiful, up in the hills behind Summerland. It felt golden — like there was a golden light everywhere. It was a very good day, and I was so happy to be there, and to be accompanied by the two perfect companions that I had with me. We walked the short distance down to the Brigade Lookout (Antler’s Saddle) and viewed the lake as it lay quietly below us, and there was no noise at all except our own footsteps in the leaf litter of the trail. We took pictures: we admired the view, and as we walked back to where David had parked his car. We commented on the pile of excited chipmunks (or other ground squirrels) that we had disturbed and that were excitedly whirling around the bottom of the tree where they happened to have their burrow. Our ancestors would have seen these critters, too. 

And as we walked away from the ridge, we heard the rustle of the soft footprints of our ancestors’ horses as they passed behind our left shoulders, trotting gently toward Antler’s Saddle and the downward-leading trail to Peachland Creek.

Well, I heard them, anyway.

David found and admired a big black beetle with its shiny carapace. It looked dangerous, indeed! But Sam had the best animal sighting of all — as we drove away he spotted a bobcat sitting in the bushes, watching us.

When I write the next post in this series, which will include our visit to Priest’s Encampment, I will post it here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/priests-camp/ 

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2023. All rights reserved. 

4 thoughts on “Canada Council Grant Jaunt

  1. Tom Holloway

    Excellent use of your Canada Council Grant! Just on a chance, I searched in the Internet Archive for The Okanagan Brigade Trail in the South Okanagan, 1811 to 1849, Oroville, Washington to Westside, British Columbia, by Bob Harris, Harley Hatfield, and Peter Tassie, 1989. It can be found here:
    https://archive.org/details/okanaganbrigadet0000unse
    It can be “borrowed,” that is, to read online, but not downloaded. The maps seem to be quite detailed, very good guides to the trail. Also, I wonder if James Gibson’s book, Lifeline of the Oregon Country, has been helpful in retracing the brigade route.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Oh that is excellent that the Brigade book is on Internet Archive!!!! That makes it available to everyone who wants to see it. And yes, James Gibson’s book is excellent, although his maps are far less detailed.

  2. John Hansen

    Well ! Nancy does it again, another “quick read” that grips the reader and won’t let go until every sentence is absorbed and pondered upon.

    I find the subject matter very enjoyable.

    For what it is worth; most recruitment to the Hudson’s Bay organisation seems to have been mainly from Scotland within my North of England area. Clearances in both Scotland, then later in Ireland, drove workers and crofters out, and into any employment they could get, and that resulted in Irish and Scottish workers (migrants) working in shipbuilding on the Rivers Tyne & Wear. Seemingly the poorer Irish workforce often worked in ‘copper smelting’, as the work was similar to the flax cleansing they were used to in Ireland. The differences however, were massive, as wooden clogs had to be supplied regularly due to the sulphuric acids dissolving them, and in the case of shipbuilding the work was as bad as the widespread coal mining work, with dangers at every turn. I know of no local family who took the step to venture to the cold northern reaches of N.America, it was probably seen as a step too far by many ? The infrastructure for the coal, ores, copper and steel manufactured products produced a complex rail network, and many colliers and safe (and not so safe) harbours, in my area, but in Canada it was a case of lugging the produce over rock, rapid and ice. Tough people, and kids who grew up very quickly no doubt !!!

    I wish Nancy a long and successful conquest of her health issues, she is a great source of historic ‘hands on’ real reporting and recording, a rare treasure

    🙂