Priest’s Camp

A section of a Larry Hunter mural in Summerland, B.C., showing the Brigades.

This is a section of a Larry Hunter mural in downtown Summerland, B.C., which shows the Brigades passing Okanagan Lake.

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: 

In my first blogpost in this series re: my Canada Council Grant, I told the story of how three Trail historians (Brigade Trail, Oregon Trail, Mullan Road, and more) explored the Brigade Trails that lie in the hills above the city of Summerland, B.C. But our day was not yet finished: we still had Priest’s Camp to investigate, and it was only a short distance away — something like 2 kilometers to the south of the Brigade Lookout (Antler’s Saddle). [I must have got turned around: I was sure we were heading north!] It would have been quite normal for the Brigades, coming home, to have stopped for the night at Pere John Nobili’s Mission House. 

But while we were up there in the bushes, and even before we got there, we shared a few stories. David Gregory first theorized that the Okanagan River directly south of Lake Okanagan was a muddy mess because of oxbows. It was a place where the river may have run slowly and crookedly through many wide curves of water, and where the river waters wore away at the inside curves until the curves became gaps and the river flowed straight again for a while, leaving bits of the river out of the mainstream to become muddy half-circle lakes, called ox-bow lakes, on both sides of its new and very muddy shoreline. I believe he is correct in this theory: certainly Peter Warren Dease, author of the 1826 Brigade journal outgoing, had some trouble passing through this swampland after a day or so of rain. “On leaving the Encampment,” he wrote, “much delay occurred in passing through a Long Miry Prairie in which the Horses sunk to their Bellies, and many of them could not be extricated without being unloaded. They were allowed to rest at the Little Okanagan Lake,” which I believe was Osoyoos Lake. 

This group of men would not be traveling up the hill to Priest’s Camp, which was established in August 1846 by Pere John Nobili: but we will get there eventually. Sam told a story that had been passed down to him through his family: like all Métis men he is a story-teller. He had been told that the gentlemen on the Brigades would buy a canoe from the Okanagan First Nations at the top of the lake, and paddle it down the lake following alongside the packhorse train. They were doing their job and available for emergencies, but as evening fell they paddled ahead and traded with the next First Nations camp for the best food in their village — leaving the less desirable food for their hard-working voyageurs to obtain and pay for. Hmmm. Maybe these voyageurs had some reason for their many complaints, if they were treated so shabbily as this!

But Priest’s Camp. David told us little stories on his way up the hill to Priest’s Camp — all stories that would have come from Nobili’s journals or correspondence. For example: N’Kuala (Chief Nicola) loved the taste of beets. The name of Nobili’s Mission was St. Joseph’s Mission, or Station, and it was situated in the middle of N’Kuala’s village at present day Garnet Lake [spelled with one t only], which has now been dammed and changed from the two lakes that had existed there when N’Kuala called it his home, to one long, thin and curving lake. Here, a primitive house was built and a cross raised. The Mission house stood between the two lakes; closer, it seems, to the northern-most lake than the one to the south. And his Mission House or Station was surrounded by N’Kuala’s village, where eighty First Nations men acted as his protectors and guards. It seems a good place, with plenty of food: the river or creek that leads through Garnet Valley is Eneas Creek, there is deer poop found everywhere on nearby Mount Eneas even today. It is, in fact, now a deer preserve. 

Well, we soon arrived at Priest’s Camp, which is surrounded and protected by a heavy fence and gate. It’s a lovely place, pine forest, with many clear open spaces, and the now-merged lakes curve around the bottom of the hill we stood on. We got some more stories: Nobili was here in August 1846 to 1848: only two years. Before he left the place for the Willamette Valley, and later, California, he buried some belongings in the centre of N’Kuala’s village, as a promise that he would return. He then destroyed the buildings he had lived in, to prevent the hated American Protestants from taking them over after he had departed. And, of course he did not return: in California he stepped on a nail and died of tetanus on March 1, 1856.

But here is the most amazing story of all: In 1986, a First Nations man visited Garnet Lake, and dug up the possessions that Nobili had buried in the centre of the village: a wooden crucifix, and a Bible. This probably happened because the damming of the lake was imminent, and the burial place would soon disappear under the waters of the new enlarged lake. The important thing here, of course, is that the First Nations men, members of the nearby Penticton Reserve, knew these items were there and left them alone for so many years. That is respect!

We left Priest’s Camp and made our way down to Summerland, which is not far away at all! David was happy to guide us around: he showed us some of the lava bombs that he had collected in his yard, and told us that Fitzpatrick Winery stood where the Lone Tree used to be — and that they produced an extremely good “Lava Bomb Wine.” You should try it out (I’m sure it tastes better than the Lava Bombs themselves do!) He showed us through Millionaire’s Row and told us about the wealthy families that lived in Summerland in the early years: some of them I think were connected with Hollywood. Then we scarfed down a dinner at A&W (which David frequents because of his grandchildren), and headed home at last, delightfully exhausted. We had work to do the next day. We had to locate the Kamloops historian who Sam knew from the past, and who I have met once or twice. He, too, is a Brigade Trail historian, and we wanted to meet him in Westwold (between Okanagan Lake and Kamloops, to the north), where we could see if we could locate a man who Sam had talked to twenty years earlier when he explored the route of the Brigade Trail for himself. We had the man’s name: it was simply a matter of finding the man. I was interested (as Sam was) in locating the place where this man had found so many artifacts from the fur trade. Was this the North West Company camp known to exist in the valley, or was it someplace else — another historic spot that no one yet has marked?

And of course the next thing we wanted to do was to see if we could find the Westwold Cairn that marked the spot where the old North West Company house once stood. And through the generosity of the gentleman-farmer who owned the property, and whose name I am going to keep secret from you, we found it! What an adventure that was!

There was one more small task after that: a short meeting with a member of a First Nations family in Monte Lake, to show us around Monte Lake itself. That’s where our day went sideways. But I will tell you that story later…

When the next blogpost in this series is written and published, it will appear here:

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


2 thoughts on “Priest’s Camp

  1. Ken Favrholdt

    Hi Nancy,
    You have permission to mention my name.

    I’d like to talk to you about St. Joseph’s Mission when you have time.