Lac La Hache (Axe Lake)

Axe Lake, B.C.

Loon Lake and Williams Lake, taken from Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s 1867 Map of the Colony of British Columbia, CM/F9 Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, B.C .Archives. Detail from Original Map.

With hard work and good luck, my book, The HBC Brigades: Culture, Conflict, and the Perilous Journeys of the Fur Trade, will be published by Ronsdale Press in May 2024. I will keep you in touch with how to order or pre-order the book once I have the information myself.

I would love to know how Lac la Hache got its name, but I only know that it is named for an axe which apparently was lost in its waters, or more likely along its shores. If anyone knows the story, please let me know.

But I do have a few stories about the lake and its environs. Obviously, it was on the brigade trail between Kamloops and Fort Alexandria, and it was traveled many times over the years after 1812, when it likely became part of Stuart’s provisioning brigades. Once the North West Company men had an established trail to Kamloops, men would have traveled over it every year in order to communicate with the latter post. We know that the Stuart’s provisioning brigades went out in 1812, and in 1820, 1821, and 1822. The NWC brigades differed from those of the HBC: they traveled out light, their furs having been sent east via the Peace River route. They came in heavily laden, not with trade goods necessarily, but with expensive food provisions for the winter. The use of this trail as a brigade trail (provisioning or otherwise) was discontinued in 1823, and it would not be until 1826 that it would be used as part of the Hudson’s Bay Company brigade trail.

Alexander Caulfield Anderson rode past this lake for the last time in the spring of 1848, on his way to Kamloops and Fort Langley. His family rode out with him, as Anderson was being transferred to the charge of Fort Colvile. Anderson’s son, James, tells the story:

In 1849 a horse trail having been constructed in the interval between the time of my father’s exploration[s] [in 1846 and 1847] and the above date [1848 is correct], the route was for the first time used for the transportation of supplies to the various interior posts. In the year previous, my father had been transferred to the charge of Fort Colvile and we all moved to Kamloops where we, mother and family, spent the summer whilst my father was absent on his journey to Fort Langley… Fort Kamloops at that time was situated on the right bank of the South Thompson, just at the confluence of the North [Thompson] River, and I refer the reader to the accompanying sketch made by my father in 1849.

The old Thompson's River post was built on the east bank of the North Thompson River, and the new post of Kamloops constructed on the river's west bank, in 1843.

Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s 1849 painting of the Kamloops post, courtesy the Kamloops Museum & Archives. In 1843 the larger post was built on the west bank of the North Thompson River; but the post that Sam Black knew is the smaller post or building on the right hand or east back of the North Thompson River, which comes in from the top of the image.

James Robert Anderson’s story continues, and now I understand how he confused the dates. The drawing was done in 1849, but the Anderson family left Fort Alexandria in 1848:

By this sketch it will be seen that the present site of the city of Kamloops was occupied by a corral or as it was in those days designated “a park [parc]…” We were quite a large party on leaving Alexandria, as besides ourselves, Mr. [Donald] Manson, his wife and family, were in the party, Mr. Manson leaving his family at Kamloops in our company during his absence to Langley.  My sister and I rode our own horses besides Mr. Manson’s eldest daughter; my brother Harry, two years younger, also rode alone, but firmly strapped to the saddle, he being but five years old and personally attended by Tout Laid, the native of ugly countenance previously referred to…

What James had written of Tout Laid is this:

…My own horse was named Petit Cendre, being a Strawberry roan; an Indian who frequented the post a good deal, on account of his rotund form, was dubbed Gros Ventre, another on account of his physiognomy was called Tout Laid [“All Ugly”]; many other nicknames which I have forgotten were applied to the various persons and animals attached to the Fort [by the Canadiens and Metis].

Applying unflattering nicknames to everyone and everything thing, was an important part of the Canadien and Metis culture. James’s story continues:

Now Tout Laid, in his imperfect French jargon, would every now and then, when he thought occasion demanded it, caution Henry in the following terms, “Tiens bien toujours mon Harry,” pronounced in his patois, “Cha ban toujours mon Hallie,” and Harry, always short of temper, would turn upon Tout Laid and say, “Tais toi donc Tout Laid.” On one such occasion when the trail took us down to the very beach of Kamloops Lake, Harry in turning upon his attendant, was swept off his horse by the overhanging branch of a tree.

I have very good cause to remember Lac la Hache, for it was in that vicinity the following incident took place. I was riding my spirited little horse Petit Centre mentioned before; we were on a level plain, my sister [Eliza Charlotte Anderson] by my side, when an eagle’s nest distracted my attention, and carelessly dropping the reins, my horse in stooping to take a bite of grass stepped on them and throwing up his head snapped them; in an instant with one bound he cleared  the space in front where the elders were riding and set off at a mad race across the plain. My horse was by odds the swiftest in the whole brigade so that when I looked behind the last of them were seen far behind, my father alone was scouring across the plain in a vain effort to head me off. A hill on my left I fervently hoped was in my line of travel, but no, the road took through a dense wood and I realized that my danger was imminent, so twisting my hands in the mane of the now maddened horse, I offered up a prayer… Two Indian women who I met scurried away in terror instead of making any attempt to stop my horse, evidently believing I was from another world. Shortly after entering the wood the trail was blocked by a fallen tree, which had jammed about six or seven feet from the ground, and the road had therefore deviated and been made round the stump. My horse never hesitated but rushed madly up [to] the obstacle; holding to the pommel of my saddle I threw myself to one side and instantly had safely passed the obstruction, and before I realized the cause of a wild yell, found myself in the middle of a cavalcade of Indians who instantly captured my horse. As luck would have had it, amongst the Indians was a French Canadian, Fallardeau by name, how he came to be there I do not to this day know, but it was through him I was enabled to make known my plight.

This is almost certainly Michel Fallardeau, See:

A few minutes after my father came racing through the woods, having made a detour, and after a time everybody else, the women folk in tears. Provided with a hair rope bridle I continued the journey on my now winded horse. [James Robert Anderson, Memoirs. My copy, but also in the B.C. Archives].

As you can see here, James’s younger brother was Harry, born at Fort Alexandria on the 11th of July, 1843. Henry was always an angry young man, it seems. When the family lived at Cathlamet in the 1850’s, Henry ran away to join the American army, and because he was so young, he was taken back home by his father. On the Saanich farm he was involved in a knife fight with an Indigenous man, and ran away to join the gold rush in the Omineca district. For a few years he worked for the HBC at Fraser’s Lake, then was out of a job when the post was closed. He became a Constable in the B.C. Police and made history at Wild Horse Creek, Nelson, and in others parts of the Kootenays — the arrest of a murderer at the Bluebell Mine is part of his history. Sometime I will write Henry’s story: it is a pretty fascinating one and will amuse many. But for now, this is the story of the brigade trail near “Axe Lake.”

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.

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