Wah Tah K’eght Henry Alfred: 1934 – 2018

Wah Tah K’eght Henry Alfred died September 23, 2018 at the age of 84. He was the last of the Witsuwit’en plaintiffs in the landmark Delgamuukw-Gisday wa court case. Our home beside Driftwood Creek is right on the edge of his territory. Just over a year ago, I asked him and his wife, Wilat Sue Alfred, some questions about the Driftwood watershed. But this part of his territory had long been occupied by settlers, miners, and loggers and he didn’t spend much time here. While he’d been into Silverking once as a young man, he said, he couldn’t do it now. His kidneys were failing and he required regular dialysis.

Much of his personality showed through in that short visit. He told stories of his uncle Peter Bazil from whom he took his name. He cracked jokes. In many ways, he reminded me of my father and uncles – prairie farm boys – who couldn’t resist teasing, who told groaners, who worked hard and could fix almost anything.

Henry was in the hospital in Prince George for much of the following summer, while a group of Witsuwit’en and settlers and researchers worked with Tyler McCreary and Creekstone Press to get Shared Histories to the press. On September 8, Henry’s daughter, Marg Dumont, flew into PG and, after the day’s dialysis session, drove him to Witset so he could welcome the community to the feast his clan, the Likhsilyu, hosted to launch the book. We felt so lucky to have him with us – smiling and talking about the need for our communities to work together – after what must have been an exhausting day. He died just two weeks later.

Dave de Wit gives Henry his copy of Shared Histories.

Ian Michell wrote in his memorial tribute to Henry:

Uncle Henry has led our clan and did a great job. He lived the ways of our Ancestors. The life of … both living off the land and in the boardroom has inspired me to mentor and try to live the old ways. Chief Wah Tah K’eght all of my life, my leader and grandfather in our Wet’suwet’en ways. Strong leader. Thank you.

Shared Histories author, Tyler McCreary, also wrote a tribute to Henry, one that was published in the Globe and Mail, a suitable honor for a man of Henry’s stature. It tells the story of how Henry acquired the knowledge that Ian respected so much, knowledge he took to the courtroom as an expert witness in Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa.

We went up the hill on his [Peter Bazil’s] line, the court transcript reads. Took us about four or five hours walking … he was pretty old. We went up pretty high. We sat down and have lunch. We made some tea and drank tea. For about an hour we sat there, and he pointed out to me … boundary lines in each corner.

Sitting together, Peter taught Henry the names of the boundary markers, [which he later] recited to the court. … It had been 25 years since the day when Peter Bazil took him out on the territory, but he remembered all the names of the boundary markers.

But those names weren’t readily available to Henry throughout those preceding 25 years. I heard him on the radio tell the story of how he was having trouble remembering them until his day in court, when they all came back to him. When he needed the knowledge, it came.

After Peter died, Henry took on the name Wah Tah K’eght, in 1967. Taking responsibility for the name in the feast hall, Henry committed to protect the territories for future generations.

The story of Henry’s life reminds me of the life of Harry Robinson, an Okanagan storyteller, born in 1900 and dying in 1990. In Write it on Your Heart: The Epic World of An Okanagan Storyteller, a collection compiled and edited by Wendy Wickwire, she talks about where his stories came from. As a child he was charged with looking after his half-blind grandmother:

… and during their many hours together, she began to tell him stories which would later become the centre and meaning of his life. ‘Somebody’s got to be with her all the time. And when we’re together just by ourselves, she’d tell me, “Come here!” And I sit here while she hold me. And she’d tell me stories, kinda slow. She wanted me to understand good. For all that time until I got to be big, she tell me stories. She tell me stories until she die in 1918 when she was eighty-five.’

Other elders told Harry stories as well. But during the long years of his ranching life, years of hard work and responsibilities, he didn’t have the time or inclination to tell stories. “’I don’t care for it,’ he explains, ‘and I forget.’” But as a hip injury and old age slowed him down almost thirty years later, he began to remember: “’The older I get, it seems to come back on me. It’s like pictures going by. I could see and remember.’”

The link between caring for elders directly, a task which creates opportunities for knowledge to be shared, and becoming a repository for that knowledge seems clear. Henry’s life exemplified this. Tyler writes:

He was committed to taking care of the elders in his community. Living with his grandmother, he had supported her when she went blind. He also helped care for Peter Bazil, the son of his grandmothers’ sister and former holder of the name Wah Tah K’eght. Henry would bring him water and cut his firewood, and eventually brought him to live in the family home during the winters.

Many of the other tributes to Henry clearly illustrate the love he engendered. His daughter Marg writes:

Wah Tah K’eght didn’t tell us how to live, he lived, and let us watch him do it. Wah Tah K’eght was a man of few words but said so much with the look in his eyes and body language. You knew he loved you if he teased you. We always knew Wah Tah K’eght only went to Grade 4 but to us, he was our professor. A professor who knew so much about our ways, our protocols, our culture, our land, and our language. Dr. Wah Tah K’eght.

One of the links between these two men is their relationship to the land their people have occupied for thousands of years. Philosopher Julian Bagginni, in an excerpt from How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy, reminds us that Indigenous relations to the land serve to “provide a corrective to the assumption that our values are the universal ones and that others are aberrations. It makes credible and comprehensible the idea that philosophy is never placeless; thinking that is uprooted from any land soon withers and dies.”

As Ian said, Henry was at home both in the boardroom and on the land. Our family and Creekstone Press feel honoured to have lived on his territory for over forty years.

Thanks to Harry Kruisselbrink for the above photos.

Hudson’s Bay Company Ranch

I had a wonderful walk in early September with Eileen Shorter who very kindly took me on the route where the Collins Overland telegraph trail and what later came to be known as the Bulkley Valley Road (now the Telkwa Highroad) crossed her property onto the Nageli farm. It was a beautiful fall day, the early fallen leaves marking the road, the old ditches a slight depression on either side. We walked to the edge of Driftwood Creek where we found some signs of an old bridge.


In an earlier blog, I wrote about the many ways  Driftwood Creek has been crossed; before the current bridge location (see pink dot) was used, the creek was crossed at the green dot, just where the Nageli farmhouse sits high above the road.

Here’s what Alan Pickard said:

A bridge across Driftwood Creek is shown on J H Gray’s correctional survey field notes for 27 December 1906. This bridge is on Lot 844 on what was then the Hudson’s Bay Company ranch.  A 2 km road had been constructed on the true left of the creek from the Telegraph Trail crossing of Driftwood Creek to a place where a short log bridge could be put across using rocky banks on both sides. British Columbia Archives photo A-05288 dated 1905 is most likely the bridge across Driftwood Creek on Lot 844. Although there is a private farm bridge [the Nageli’s] at this location now, it was decided by the Highways Department that a bridge at the Lot 844 site would not be renewed in 1916. Therefore a bridge existed across Driftwood Creek on Lot 844 from 1905 to about 1916.

I don’t think that the remnants I saw match the bridge in the photo – it doesn’t look like the same crossing place. But it was definitely one of the bridges that crossed Driftwood Creek to connect the old pack trail from Aldemere to the Hudson’s Bay Ranch on its way to Witset and eventually Hazelton.









The bridge timbers indicate a crossing with one end on the downstream shoulder of the rock outcropping on the right and the other immediately below the Nageli farmhouse.

Alan Pickard again:

The Hudson’s Bay Ranch was Lot 844, Township 2A, Coast District. This was actually the NW 1/4 of Section 16, NE 1/4 of Section 17, SE 1/4 of Section 20, and SW 1/4 of Section 21, Township 2A, Range 5, Coast.

The HB Co. paid $1,600 for this land and were given the Crown Grant on 13 October 1902.

R S Sargent “staked” this land in 1898. This means he measured the land off the 1892 Poudrier survey posts and selected the best hay land he could. But he had to abide by the rules of the Land Office and “stake” 1/4 sections etc. But there was no ability for the Lands Office, presumably in Victoria at that time, to handle the request for land by the HB Co., so they were allowed to use the land without some government agent checking things out locally.

Of course Sargent chose land on the pack train trail, which was the 1866 Collins Overland Telegraph trail.

What Alan’s research doesn’t refer to is an earlier owner. A Witsuwit’en petition to the 1909 Stewart/Vowell Commission hearing in Hagwilget stated that a Witsuwit’en woman, Mrs. Leo, and her daughter Nellie (together with 10 cattle and horses) had been living at Lot 844 before this. Richard Overstall writes:

The records show that the main Bulkley Valley hay farms in the early twentieth century were originally developed and owned by [Witsuwit’en] families: the Hudson Bay Ranch on Lot 844 was known as Sesink’en and worked by Mrs. Leo and her daughter, Nellie; the Glentanna Ranch at Lot 861 was known as Dee’tsilyee and run by Peter Michel’s family…

I haven’t found out how or when the title shifted, but Stories of Swiss Settlement in the Bulkley Valley records that Herman Nageli bought the farm from Harry Zogoff in 1948. Herman and Anne’s second child, Esther, was born in 1962. “My dad had all kinds of stories about Harry, that maybe he had been involved in some way with the Hazelton bank robbery and if my dad looked in the right spot he might find something.”

She showed me the barn, which is the only one of the old Hudson’s Bay buildings still standing.

There was an old granary that had a beautiful wooden floor we liked to play in and this one snowy morning the roof was down … that’s where we had chickens and such, but my dad always called it the granary…there was a bunkhouse, there were barns when I was a child, and my dad knew some of the stories … a really old man arrived with his great grandson and he had worked there as a young child, maybe nine or ten years old, and he was doing a trip through the valley to remember his youth … I remember that we were enthralled that he had been there; he was this wrinkly little tiny old person.

On the left, the old farmhouse from across Driftwood Creek; on the right the logwork of the house is typical of many houses of the same era. The stonework in the basement dates from the original ranch.







So the location of the Driftwood watershed’s Hudson Bay Ranch is clearly established. But in the course of editing Creekstone Press’s latest book, Shared Histories, I found Witsuwit’en people refer to the Oschawwinna Reserve 3, a location much closer to Witset (Moricetown) as the Hudson Bay Ranch.

Wilat Sue Alfred told me the story of how her family had been moved from place to place as settlers took up land in the Bulkley Valley.

What happened is they were all south of Houston where my grandmother had territory – Sam Goosley Lake – they all lived there, my mother, my aunties, my uncles were all born out there on the territory – What they now call Buck Falls, Nilt tsi – means misty falls – they were all living out there and all of a sudden the government came in, they took them off the territory and they placed them in Glentanna and what grandpa’s family did, they cleared the land, huge land and they were going to build a log house, what did they do? they came again, and what they did, they put them in Oschawwinna.

Melanie Morin’s book, Niwhts’ide’nï Hibi’it’ën: The Ways of our Ancestors, cites Likhdïlye Russell Tiljoe’s memories of his father, Alec Tiljoe, wintering horses for the Hudson’s Bay Company there. When I spoke to Russell, he confirmed the story. His father and uncle, Antoine, ran pack trains for the Hudson’s Bay Company from Old Hazelton to Aldemere and Telkwa in the 1910s. His grandparents also lived there – it was in the Tsayu territory – Alec’s clan.

Out for a walk to Driftwood Creek’s confluence with the Bulkley River, I was trying to pinpoint the date we hiked up the old trail. I wanted pictures. It turns out, none of us had any, but a few minutes further along, right beside the creek, Jim Pojar spotted this hawthorn bush. Go figure!

In fact, the old Moricetown-Cronin trail passes through there, a trail that took people from Witset to Babine Lake along the back side of the Babines. And the name of the reserve, Oschawwinna, means prickly and refers to the black hawthorn bushes that grow in a clearing there – north of the Telkwa Highroad up toward Duckwing Lake. It’s the only place he knows of where it grows. (The plant, Cratageus douglasii, is more commonly found in the Skeena drainage). We walked through there years ago, trying to retrace the trail, and were entranced by the open meadow with the big prickly bushes in the middle. Alan Pickard writes:

In the summer of 1898 the HB Co. also allowed their pack train to graze and they cut hay on land claimed by the Witsuwit’en. This was the 160 acres that was or became Oschawwinna 3 reserve. This reserve was laid out by O’Reilly on 19 September 1891, and finally surveyed by E M Skinner in 1899. R E Loring was also involved with the layout of this reserve.

An August 31, 1898 article in the Victoria Daily Colonist states that the Hudson’s Bay Company

had cut some hay at a place beyond Moricetown, claimed by the Indians as a reservation, and the latter protested. The affair was at once brought to the attention of the department, with the result that it has been amicably settled, the natives being found right in their contentions, and the Hudson’s Bay company being ready to recompense them for the hay taken.

Since the place was already established as a reserve, the claims were heeded. However, claims for other Witsuwit’en homesites along the pack train route were not heeded. I’ve written about the people at Canyon Creek in my first book, Canyon Creek: A Script. In it, there’s a reference to Peter Michel, Wilat Sue Alfred’s grandfather. He made a claim to his homesite at Glentanna to the 1915 McKenna/McBride Commission:

  1.  Now we come to the application of Peter Michel.
    Q.    You had a house which was destroyed. Where was that house?
    A.    A white man burned it where Charlie Chapman is now.
    Q.    Where does Charlie Chapman live now?
    A.    It is in the district surrounding Lot 861 on the Bulkley Lake Road – it
    is about 1-1/2 miles from what we call the Hudson Bay Ranch, and that
    ranch is Lot 844.
    Q.    How long had you your house there before it was burnt down?
    A.    My wife’s father lived there for a long time and I came there and
    built a house there for my boy and myself.
    Q.    How many houses on the place?
    A.    Two smokehouses and one good log building. I used a whip-saw to make
    the lumber.
    Q.    Was it Chapman who ordered you off the land?
    A.    No, it was Peavine Harvey of Old Hazelton.
    Q.    Well, what do you want Peter.
  2.  I want to get a piece of land where my house was burnt.
    Q.    Suppose you can’t get that piece of land is there any other piece of
    land that you know of that you would like to get?
    A.    White men are camped all along there. If I can’t get that piece of
    land I would like to get another piece that I know of.
    Q.    Where is that piece?
    A.    (Examining map) I think it is not very good all around it, and I
    don’t think I can get the piece I want, – the only place I want is where
    I was staying before.
    Q.    Well, we will see when we get to Victoria, but I cannot hold out much
    hope, however, we will do our best.
    A.    I want to get a place somewhere up Bulkley Valley where I used to hunt

Peter Michell ended up moving his family to Oschawwinna where they lived until the children were grown; then they moved to Witset.

I haven’t, so far, found any further mention of Mrs. Leo and Nellie at what became the Hudson’s Bay Ranch. The site is beautiful and would be a natural place to make a home – Cygnet Creek flows into Driftwood Creek at that spot and there would have undoubtedly been lots of open land around there to raise horses and cattle. Like many others, if their homesites were on land that had been staked by settlers, their claims were unlikely to be heeded.

Thanks to Eileen Shorter for taking me along the old road and to Esther Nageli for sharing some of her family stories (more on that later). And thanks again to Alan Pickard for his research.


Finally, rain.


We’ve been away, dodging in and out of heat and smoke, mostly lucky. Just days before we left on August 1, we sent off the proofs for Creekstone Press’ latest book, Shared Histories: Witsuwit’en – Settler Relations in Smithers 1913 -1973 by Tyler McCreary. As we drive south, I imagine huge scrolls of paper (I grew up in a paper mill town and that’s where we’re headed), massive rollers turning, long blades slicing through the bleeds at the edges of some pages.

Smoke between Fraser Lake and Vanderhoof, fires north and south. Afternoon sun scorching the high rises along the Fraser River in New Westminster. The relief of a swim off Grief Point in Powell River, my 94-year old mother joining us.

The bright book cover printed and cut; a glossy skin protecting its images, the kind words on the back. The glue along the spine.

Our son’s wedding on his grandmother’s lawn, the smoke already rolling in to erase the islands just offshore, the mountains behind Courtenay. Hanging on for days.

When we finally head north again, we hear the book has been shipped. And, for the first time in a month, rain. The Fraser Valley wet. The Fraser Canyon, damp. Further north, back into the smoke. A pale blue haze shimmering in the distance.

Again, between Prince George and Burns Lake, brutal smoke. No rain here. Sore throat, irritated eyes and those poor residents have been inhaling this for weeks now.

Home and the books have arrived. Carton after carton of stories, analysis, old photos and maps. A great sigh of first relief, then pleasure.

The ground has sucked in its cheeks around the shrunken stems of fireweed, nettles, and cow parsnip.  Cottonwood leaves, open palms on the ground, scarred by the leaf miners’ sad stories. We walk up the Malkow Lookout trail, our footsteps puffing up clouds of dust. The cows watch us pass, their cow pies already flat plates, dry on the desiccated grass. A few asters in shaded spots, nothing else in bloom. The bush is loud with the hum of bees. Everything is speckled with aphids, shining with honeydew. Some leaves are shellacked, others sticky. And this, I find, is nectar for bees.

We hear chickadees, juncos and kinglets. See one flock of robins startled up out of the field. Five water bombers pass overhead, one, two, three, four, five. Heading toward Babine Lake.

The saskatoon berries are desiccated, the cranberries few, the wild raspberries hiding in the shade. Our own grass is sparse, soil showing through at the crest of every downhill slope.




And then, tonight. Standing outside in the suddenly early darkness. Finally. Rain.






At last, dippers!

It’s been a quiet few months on Driftwood Creek. Just snow, snow and more snow. The driveway ploughed and ploughed again, the deck shovelled and shovelled until there was no place to put the snow, the roof shovelled onto flowerbeds, six feet of compacted snow. The snowbanks got so high we couldn’t see the creek, the snow heaped so high on the bridge railings we had to clear openings, one to look up the creek, one to look down.

But in the last week, we’ve seen dippers again. Finally. Sometimes a pair. And the juncos are back, the mountain bluebirds flash their brilliant blue, the robins flock by the dozens, the bell tone of a single varied thrush. Flickers and sapsuckers hammer the house. Hawks cruise the cottonwoods. Along one of the bare slopes of the canyon, about thirty grey-crowned rosy finches – birds we rarely see. Geese overhead, mallards on the melting beaver pond and, of course, cranes.

It is time for the harlequins to return as well. Last year this time they were making out in a pool just above the log jam; this year the creek is still thawing. Last year this time the trail up out of the canyon was open and welcoming; this year it’s a litter of fallen trees and rotten snow. The combination of several years of willow borer and leaf miner in the aspens left them vulnerable to heavy snows and erratic windstorms.

Sometimes we feel the same way. Vulnerable. To illness. Age. Accident. The news is full of bad luck. When big gusts blow through the huge old spruce trees outside my window, I listen for a crack, get ready to run.

But the light brings us back. The silliness of daylight savings is soon washed away in the widening smile, the opening arms, the head thrown back, the crow of light’s laughter. Welcome, welcome light.

Everything connects…

Creekstone Press

We are very proud to be celebrating Creekstone Press’s 20th anniversary this year. We began by publishing my book, Canyon Creek: A Script – a book about the eviction of a Witsuwit’en family from its homesite on the Telkwa Highroad in the 1920s. We’ve published about one book a year since then and we have two more in the works. Last year, Neil Sterritt’s Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History – with local design and cartography – won the Roderick Haig-Brown regional prize, a prize awarded for a book that contributes to the enjoyment and understanding of BC; it also took second prize at the BC Historical Federation’s book awards. And one of our other authors, Sarah de Leeuw, who wrote Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern BC, is also up for an award for her collection of essays, Where it Hurts. Both Neil and Sarah have been guests on In the Shadow of the Mountain and their interviews can be accessed via CICK’s website.  Other guests who have been on the show nominated for prizes this year include Eden Robinson who’s been nominated for the Ethel Wilson fiction prize for Son of a Trickster; Theresa Kishkan nominated for the Hubert Evans non-fiction prize for Euclid’s Orchard & Other Essays. Our second book, Oar and Sail: An Odyssey of the West Coast by Kenneth Leighton, which was short-listed for a prize back in 2000 – is excerpted in Spindrift: A Canadian Book of the Sea, another short-listed book.

In the Shadow of the Mountain

While Creekstone Press continues its work, I’m ready to shift directions and leave In the Shadow of the Mountain. It’s been almost four years and over 50 shows and has given me a wonderful opportunity to connect with other writers, to give me both the motivation and excuse to just talk to other writers about writing. But it takes time away from my own writing, which each of my conversations on In the Shadow of the Mountain makes me miss even more.

I’d like to share some of thoughts about leaving.

Yesterday I broadcast my final edition of In the Shadow of the Mountain on Smithers Community Radio Thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at CICK 93.9 FM for helping out with the show and for all the other shows they make, the community events they present, and the community connections they foster. And thanks, as well, to Interior Stationery and Books/Speedee Interior Stationery and Books/Speedee Mills and Books on Smithers’ Main Street – for sponsoring the show and for keeping us in good reads. Bravo!

I was especially pleased that my final guest for In the Shadow of the Mountain was Donna Kane, a writer from the Peace River country, Rolla to be exact. Donna was a guest on the show many times – she did a regular writing gossip column in its first year and I also did a show with her about her chapbook Pioneer 10: I Hear You.  She’s published two books of poetry, organized innumerable poetry readings and writers’ camps, including several in the Muskwa Kechika where her husband, photographer Wayne Sawchuk, takes summer-long horse trips every year in order to draw attention to some of the last remaining wilderness in the Northern Rockies. I had the pleasure of spending a couple of weeks at an artists camp there a few  years ago and created a series of images and poems called The Muskwa-Kechika Fire Poems.

It’s no surprise that Donna’s latest book is called The Summer of the Horse. What surprised me is that it’s not poetry, but rather a memoir of sorts. It documents the day she and Wayne met at a book fair, each of them having grown up almost next door to each other without ever meeting, each in long term relationships; they are instantly drawn each other. In the book, Donna documents the changes their relationship precipitated, the pain and uncertainty it caused, and the questions it led her to explore: the ways in which our thoughts, our observations and our actions are inextricably connected. To quote poet Lorna Crozier, “It’s a love story, not only between a remarkable man and an equally remarkable woman, but between this same woman and horses, this same woman and the BC wilderness. There is such fine thinking between these pages that could only have been written by a poet/philosopher. By someone who opens her mind and body to the beauties and sorrows that surround her and who finds the words to knot everything together with such finesse they’ll never come apart.”



Teetering past the solstice


Oh, it can be dark here in the canyon in December. Three hours of direct sunlight if we’re lucky. And cold. The solstice arrived with, finally, a dipper on the creek below the bridge up the road from our place. The one where the outlet of the ground water seeping out of Gordon Harvey’s old park enters the creek and makes an open spot even when everything is frozen. The old park where little bridges used to cross the creeklets trickling through tall spruce and cottonwood. A carved bear, long gone. A guest book anchored to a tree, also gone.

The solstice also brings a plane landing into the -14 winter evening. On it, our elder son and his fiance. Vancouver kids shivering in the cold. Life in the house doubles. That night, wolves howl nearby. It feels like a sign, a return of life and light. The next day, -20, we climb the hill and look for tracks. We don’t find them but we relish the sunlight as we look across the valley, its murky air.

The other boy arrives with our almost six-year-old grandson, wild with Christmas, keen for everything. We walk over to the creek, throw chunks of snow off the bridge into the open spot just under the bridge’s arch. No dipper.

The birdfeeder is a circus of colour and movement: Steller’s jays, whiskey jacks, redpolls, nuthatches, chickadees, hairy and downy woodpeckers, a magpie and pine grosbeaks. On the fringes, a pine marten. A pair of ravens. Look, we say to our grandson, whose first language was raven squawks he made with his grandpa, raucous squawks the ravens answered. Look. There they are. Your old friends.

The house is quiet as we come to the end of the year, the boys and the girl gone. The temperature stays low and the creek is quieter and quieter. The openings all closing. But the light is returning and I know somewhere on Driftwood Creek a dipper is dancing in the new year.

… some lines from an old poem of mine … Why are some rivers?                                                                            

A quiet seepage –
too quiet, really, to be called a spring –
can unlock the earth’s own heat.
The ice exhales and opens
a sudden pool for this dipper
bobbing on a splintered stone.
It dives right in and finds a current
that’s warmer than the winter air.
There’s spirit in there somewhere
and bouncing back, the bird
it dipsy doodles
on the slippery dance floor
tapping out some bebop riff
we all wish that we could follow.

Happy New Year from Driftwood Canyon!

Driftwood Creek – and the ways we cross it

Thanks to Alan Pickard  for sharing his research. Alan lived on the Telkwa Highroad for many years and has been researching its history for almost as long. Although he has returned to live in his home country of New Zealand, he visits regularly. He is writing a book he calls Place Name Stories Of The Bulkley Valley and the Driftwood name is one of the inclusions. This is what he has discovered.

Driftwood Creek, C’ide’Yikwah in Witsuwit’en, has its headwaters in the main, southwest facing basin of the Babine Mountains. It flows into the Bulkley River about 10 km down river from Smithers. Although driftwood collects in the beds of many rivers and creeks it remains unknown when the name Driftwood was given to this creek.

Only the Suskwa and Bulkley Rivers are shown on a 1866 Collins Telegraph map and documents. The Poudrier map of 1891 gives it the Witsuwit’en name Chi Noo A Kwa which must be what the surveyor Gauvreau heard during his walking survey through the Bulkley Valley in 1891; this presumably was a rendering of C’ide’Yiwah. Poudrier writes Big Rapid Creek in his 1892 survey field book for Driftwood Creek. Poudrier’s survey party met with some opposition from the First Nations people at Moricetown and they did not use First Nations people in their survey work. It seems Gauvreau used, or at least talked to at some length, First Nations people in 1891. Many of the details on Poudrier’s map of 1891 could only have come from Gauvreau.

A G [Father] Morice does not mention local creeks that cross the Telkwa High Road. It is most likely the name Driftwood Creek came from some of the pack-train or other travelers who passed through the Bulkley Valley from 1874 onwards. Camping places were most often beside creeks and these camping places were given local names, some of which will not have survived into the European settlement era. The name Driftwood Creek first appears in writing on J H Gray’s correctional survey field books for January 1906.

This crossing at the Nageli farm is just above the older one.

A bridge across Driftwood Creek is shown on J H Gray’s correctional survey field notes for 27 December 1906. This bridge is on Lot 844 on what was then the Hudson’s Bay Company ranch.* A 2 km road had been constructed on the true left of the creek from the Telegraph Trail crossing of Driftwood Creek to a place where a short log bridge could be put across using rocky banks on both sides. British Columbia Archives photo A-05288 dated 1905 is most likely the bridge across Driftwood Creek on Lot 844. Although there is a private farm bridge [the Nageli’s] at this location now, it was decided by the Highways Department that a bridge at the Lot 844 site would not be renewed in 1916. Therefore a bridge existed across Driftwood Creek on Lot 844 from 1905 to about 1916. It is unknown who took the 1905 photo and whether it is correctly dated. There was a photographer with the Provincial Mineralogist in 1905.

This early aerial photograph of what is now Eileen Shorter’s ranch shows the old king truss bridge over Driftwood Creek.

There is no mention of a bridge at the Telegraph Trail crossing (present Telkwa High Road) in any documents up to about 1916. Driftwood Creek is easy to ford at this point [just below Glenwood Hall] when the creek is not in flood. Many small bridges were built along the Hazelton to Aldermere trail/road from about 1905 onwards, and more and more money was spent on improvements of the road. Some King Truss bridges were built on this road from 1907 onwards. The problem for the Public Works Department, and later the Highways Department, was that the bridge on Lot 844 was on private land whereas the Telegraph Trail was a public right-of-way.

The name Telkwa High Road did not come into being officially until about 1920 although the name may have been locally used well before this. In the 1912-13 Public Works Report $761.35 was spent on the Driftwood Creek bridge but no specific location was given. It is likely this was the bridge on Lot 844.

In the 1919-20 Public Works Report $1,453.60 was spent on the Driftwood Creek bridge but no specific location was given. It is likely however that this was the bridge at the Telegraph Trail crossing, the present Telkwa High Road crossing.

The current bridge below Glenwood Hall and Shorter’s ranch was installed after the 1986 flood.

The bridge across Driftwood Creek at the Telegraph Trail crossing (the present road crossing point) “went out some time ago”; this from a Highway Department letter dated 5 September 1936. This letter discusses at which of the two locations a replacement bridge should be built.

This is likely near the crossing referred to in the 1905 report. This bailey bridge just below Park Road on Driftwood Road was another replacement after the 1986 flood. In his history of the Babine Mountains, Joe L’Orsa said locals numbered the bridges consecutively above this one, which was adjacent to the Harvey homestead. The “fifth bridge” was at Sunny Point.

From the 1905 Provincial Mineralogist Report; “Babine Range, 17 September 1905, P. McPhee, a local prospector, engaged as guide. The trail up to these claims leaves the telegraph trail about half a mile west of Driftwood creek, and cutting across the rolling
hills through pea-vine and fire weed higher than the horses backs, crosses Driftwood creek about two miles up from the trail . . . The trail follows the east bank of Driftwood up for a couple of miles further, through heavy spruce woods, when it begins to climb
the main mountain side by a steep and poorly cut trail, through the small jack-pine and
balsam trees.”

It is said C G Harvey cut the trail to the Babines and staked the first claims in 1903, but
this date is doubtful. C G Harvey was given the Crown Grant for Lot 859 at Glentanna
in June 1906 and his son said C G Harvey came in to Hazelton in 1907. It is therefore
likely that Pat McPhee knew of the route/trail into the Babines via Driftwood Creek
before Harvey.

From a letter dated 30 April 1937 in the Smithers Highways Department files, “ . . . The
Dieter [road] grade running north is a revival of the old miner route . . .” although note
that the Provincial Mineralogist says the route started half a mile west of Driftwood
Creek, which means the trail started about six hundred meters north of present day
Gilbert Road.

We always called this “the first bridge” – for many years after the 1986 flood there was no bridge here and access to the Babine Mountains was restricted to bike and foot traffic.

In the 1915-16 Public Works Report work was done on the Driftwood Creek Sleigh
Road; that is the road up Driftwood Creek. Four new bridges were built and a new
sleigh road. $1,696.30 was spent. In the report for the next year new work was done on
this sleigh road and $1,206.19 was spent.

The Interior News, 14 July 1920; A. P. McCabe returned to Smithers last week, having
completed the erection of five bridges on the existing route to the mining properties in
the Driftwood Creek section of the Babines . . . The crew on the bridges have been
turned over to Robert Mackin, who will extend the road for several miles as the
beginning of a truck line into the prominent claims of that district.

If the road accessing this bridge over Driftwood Creek on Snake Road is “less steep” than it used to be, it must have been very tricky in winter.

Driftwood Creek also is crossed by Snake Road. This road was first laid out in 1913. It is
unclear when the first bridge was built across Driftwood Creek on this road. In a letter
from the Department of Works dated 8 April 1921, a request for a “high level bridge over
Driftwood Creek on the Telkwa – Canyon Creek Road [Snake Road]” was turned down.
The road approaches to the crossing of Driftwood Creek on Snake Road were made less
steep in 1917. Snake Road was built about 1913.

*I’ll be writing more on this later.

I just had to add one more photograph of a Driftwood Creek bridge – the one currently providing access to the fossil beds at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park. It is the fourth one built in the 40 years we’ve lived here.