I Found the Garden of Eden

This is the Garden of Eden on the HBC brigade trail over the Coquihalla, photo taken by Kelley Cook in November 2015

This is the “Garden of Eden” on the HBC brigade trail over the Coquihalla plateau, photo taken by Kelley Cook of the Hope Mountain Centre [Hope, B.C.], in November 2015

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: 

Quite a long time ago, a friend named Sharon, who is an expert in maps both in the Archives and in various other repositories, took me into Lands and Titles Office to find some of Henry Newsham Peers’s missing maps. Those maps are still missing, but I found something even better.

Sharon showed me a couple of maps drawn by one of the Royal Engineers. [The map numbers I gave previously are not correct]. They were maps of the trails over the Coquihalla, and both were based on Sam Black’s 1839 map of the Thompson River district.

On both these maps I noticed that at the corner of the Tulameen River, where it came down from the Tulameen Plateau to the prairies below, was labelled “Garden of Eden.” Sharon and I wondered about that label, but we had no answers. I remembered the name, however, even though I didn’t know that it had anything to do with the story I would write.

Then I ran across this paragraph written by James Douglas, in a letter to Donald Manson written July 11 1851:

The New Caledonia Brigade in charge of Mr. [Donald] McLean arrived here [Fort Langley] on the 30th June with the Furs in good order. Since then Mr. [Peter] Ogden has come in with the road party having completed the service on which he was detached in a very satisfactory manner. The perilous passages in Manson’s Mountain have been either avoided by altering the direction or so much improved the pack horses may travel in safety. The road through the back country between Fort Hope and the Shemilcomin [Similkameen, or Tulameen River] beyond the high table land known as the garden of Eden had been cleared of roots, and fallen timber, and made wide throughout wherever the breadth was before too contracted for the passage of loaded horses.

Peter Ogden is the son of Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden, now in charge of Fort Vancouver, the HBC’s now-besieged headquarters on the Columbia River [Vancouver, WA]. Peter [the son] was a clerk in the HBC. From Fort Vancouver, he had been sent up to Fort St. James the year before to take charge of the road crew that was to work on the trail. It was his duty in 1851 to bring out the New Caledonia brigade to Fort Alexandria in Donald Manson’s stead [Manson was suffering from lumbago and remained behind at Fort St. James]. From Fort Alexandria, Donald McLean would take over the brigade and lead it out to Fort Hope.

Once he reached Fort Alexandria, Peter Ogden was placed in charge of ten good axe-men who were to clear and widen the entire brigade trail from Fort Alexandria, south past Horse, Green and Loon Lakes to Kamloops, and then continue south on the same duty to the base of the Tulameen Plateau and beyond — all the way to Fort Hope! He set out from Fort Alexandria two days ahead of the brigade, and they worked hard enough to remain ahead for most of the way.

James Douglas letter to the HBC’s London Committee explained the work that Peter Ogden’s crew had accomplished:

The party of ten men employed on the new road from Fort Hope to Thompson’s River under the management of Mr. Peter Ogden, Clerk, have made many substantial improvements.

They cut out the fallen timber and fell such Trees as inconveniently contracted the road, they levelled or relieved the steep hills by series of inclined planes [switchbacks], and bridged about 200 yards of boggy ground, and have performed the work generally in a very creditable manner.

The new road is, I am happy to say, gradually losing its terrors. The passage of the Fraser’s River Mountains [the Coquihalla] was effected this year at a much earlier season, than was supposed practicable. Snow was found in abundance on the summits of the mountains, but it offered no impediment to the horses, and was rather an advantage, as it afforded good footing and was compact enough to support them. The snow was all gone from the vallies [sic], and vegetation far advanced, so that the horses had food at every halting place.

When I sent the information off to the two Kell[e]ys who seem to be most active in the Hope Mountain Centre (Kelley Cook, and Kelly Pearce) I told them what else I had uncovered about the Garden of Eden. I said it was described as the twenty-five mile wide strip of land south of the Tulameen River and immediately across the river from Tulameen itself. It seemed to be a difficult strip of land to pass through, and knowing the voyageurs’ habits of using unflattering (or flattering) nicknames for everything and every place, I thought it might be thick brush with little in the way of paths, with roots to trip the horses and sharp branches to damage the packs.

But I was wrong! Yes, perhaps both roots and sharp branches were there, but for the most part this is a place of forests interspersed with beautiful meadows decorated with wildflowers in the spring and early summer. There is an abundance of water and lots of forage for the horses to eat. Both Kelly and Kelley describe it as a wonderful place, and both were heading up through this lovely stretch of forests and meadowland to work on the most northerly camp along that stretch of the HBC brigade trail that very weekend! They shared their photographs with me, telling me to use them to promote the HBC brigade and hiking trail!

HBC brigade trail, Garden of Eden

This is the Garden of Eden in summertime, photo provided by Kelly Pearce of Hope Mountain Centre, Hope, B.C.

And so I think both of us are right — it is a beautiful stretch of meadowland and forests, but I think, too, that the branches of the trees could damage the packs and so the trails were widened and the road made more accessible for the horses. So, picture if you will the gang of axe-men riding up the north side of the Tulameen plateau and stopping to chop down trees that were blocking the trail, or cutting a passage through broken trees that had fallen across the trail. Listen to their swear-words, as they cursed the trees that were giving them trouble, or the horses that wandered off while they were working. Picture them pausing in their work to smoke a pipe, and enjoy the beauty of the place they were currently in.

Picture, too, the chattering Canadien and mixed-blood voyageurs of the brigades that followed on the axe-mens’ heels, shepherding the pack-horses along the trail, and enjoying the beauty of the scenery and the flower-filled meadowlands. The brigaders passed the axe-men somewhere on the Tulameen plateau, and arrived at the top of the steep downward slope of the mountains a few days ahead of them. They knew it was not so gentle up ahead — before they reached Fort Langley they had to contend with the descent of rough and rugged Manson’s Ridge. That mountainous passage would plague the HBC men for years to come.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. All rights reserved.