Weather on the Lower Fraser River


Squa-zown to Fort Langley

CM/F9 Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives. Detail from original map.

I wrote this blogpost a few years ago, when there was extreme cold everywhere! The same seems to be happening again, particularly on the east side of the Rocky Mountains and in much of the United States. I think its suitable that I re-issue this post, in sympathy for all of you. We in Victoria are not too cold (a degree or two above zero C for the most part). This is local history, but it is a local history that everyone who might read this will have some sympathy for!

But if you think it is cold today, then it will be a shock for you to find out how cold it was in the past!

The map shown above is a portion of Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s 1867 map of British Columbia (CM/F9, BCA), showing the Fraser River from Squa-zowm [Anderson River] south to Forts Yale and Hope. Fort Langley is just off the map on its left hand side. The map is used with the permission of Royal B.C. Museum, and the British Columbia Archives.

If you read my book, The Pathfinder, you know that two very bad winters are spoken of — the winter of 1847-48, and that of 1861-62. From Jason Allard’s writings [E/C/Al5A, BCA], here is his recollection of one cold winters in the Fraser River at Fort Yale [Yale, B.C.] In case you don’t know, Jason was the son of Ovid Allard who worked at Fort Langley and Fort Yale under James Murray Yale.

“Weather conditions in the Fraser Valley since the early days of the Gold rush up the Fraser has greatly changed. At Yale, in the early days the First snow fall usually took place in the begining [sic] of November — October and November were always wet so was March April and May. It was nothing unusual for a rain Fall for weeks at a time particularly in the lower Fraser Valley. It was a regular event for the Fraser to freeze over in December and remain closed until the Month of March.

“Since the coming of the whites to the Fraser Valley — there has been two very Severe Winters — 1847 and 1861/2. An old Indian chief of Yale who was aged about 90 yrs. at the time I speak of in 1858 [when young Allard heard the story]. The Chief Tal-Tal-wheet tza said he remembered a severe winter in Yale when the river opposite Yale was Frozen over — Goats and deer and other game died of Starvation and were Completely wiped out. Mountain Goats & Deer came down to the Valley and stood around, and also on top of the Indians’ Subterranean houses for warmth. They were so tame that they were killed with Clubs. The old Indian said it was pitiful to listen to the cries of the Deer for Mercy when being clubbed. As a matter of fact it got so the Indians would not kill them — and besides their meat became unfit food through starvation.”

He goes on with more stories: “The winter of 1847/8 was a remarkable cold winter. The river was Frozen from Hope to Langley. Mr. Chief Trader H[enry] N[ewsham] Peers a H.B. Co’s officer Skated from Hope to Langley on the ice — The Severe Weather and deep snow killed nearly all the Hudson’s Bay Co’s cattle at Fort Langley. Those cattle that did not die of starvation Were drowned in Crossing them on to Island where there were bull rushes. A Few head were saved by the Indians, who gathered rushes for the Starving Cattle — My old Nurse Rose told me that the Snow in Langley was three ft. deep Early in May and the run of Ull-a-chons (small fish) died on top of the Ice.

“I remember well the severe winter of 1861/2. It was at first a pretty open winter and owing to the low stage of the water in the Fraser the Steamer Col. Moody Maade [sic] her last trip to Yale for the time being in Decr. It was on the Morning of the 4th of February 1862 that I was awakened by My Father Ovid Allard who was then in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Co’s business in Yale… As soon as I was awakened — I heard the Wind blowing and when I looked out the drift snow was halfway up the roof — the very same day the river was partly frozen over on both Sides of the river leaving a narrow channel where it was swift Current.

“I engaged two Indians to take the Board of Management’s letter to Ft. Langley & thence on to its destination… Yale was completely snowed under. A few who had snow shoes broke roads on the side walk of the one business street. Communication with the lower Fraser and Victoria was at a stand still and travelling was laborious and dangerous on account of the ice… Business and Transportation were on a stand still until the 14th day of April when the steamer “Flying Dutchman”, Capt. Bill Moore, blasted the Ice at Union bar above Ft. Hope in order to reach Yale…. ”

I am complaining about the current cold weather as much as anyone is, but I think we cannot complain too much. It could be worse, and it has been.

Happy New Year, everyone. May 2018 be warmer than 2017 has been lately.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2014. Repurposed, December 2017. All rights reserved.


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