Gordon Harvey – tenacity and transience

When we first arrived in Driftwood Canyon, Gordon Harvey had just died (December 1976) but his house, a shed, a bathhouse and a log barn were still standing.

Stories about Katherine, Peavine and their son Gordon Harvey are layered into Driftwood history. Peavine had a claim on Harvey Mountain (named after him) and any hikers going up the Harvey Mountain Road trail passes by the remnants of his cabin at one of the switchbacks. Gordon, in his memoir below, speaks of his father’s booming voice and real estate savvy. Wet’suwet’en stories speak of how he used that voice to intimidate them during the years when they were being steadily evicted from their homesites along the Bulkley Road (now the Telkwa-Moricetown Highroad).

Katherine played piano at many parties and was known to be pretty feisty. Some say the way she heated her house burned down three of them – if you’ve ever tried to saw logs into woodstove-sized lengths with a swede saw, you’ll understand her preference for opening the door to the woodbox, shoving in one end of a log, leaving the door open and just pushing it further in as it burned.

After his parents’ death, Gordon continued to live on the family property, another one of the valley’s eccentric bachelors. He told his family’s story in Bulkley Valley Stories, published in 1973.

Memories of Driftwood Canyon

My father, C.G. Harvey, arrive in Hazelton in 1907 where he entered the hotel business. He was one of the “Big Three” with “Black Jack” McDonell and Jack Sealy. He was also engaged in the land promotion business. Happy Turner wrote: “he was a good one to spy out the land and in no time, was on speaking terms with every section post in the district. He is still pushing in a tunnel on Harvey Mountain with a true prospector’s optimism.” He located, for Jack  Sealy, a large ranch in the Driftwood Creek area, which is now the even larger Bill Morris ranch. [This has since been split into several properties.]

Prior to coming to the Valley, he prospected in the Kootenays, California, Mexico and the Yukon.

My mother was born in London in 1882. In 1908, she came to  Canada, working in the law office of R. B. Bennett who was M.P. for Calgary West and later Prime Minister of Canada. On she moved to Vancouver and then north to Prince Rupert and up the Skeena by river boat to Hazelton. There she worked in the office of District Mining Recorder, S.H. Hoskins, father of the retired Ford dealer, Os Hoskins.

In 1912, she and my father were married and carried on the hotel operation until 1914. Then that summer they rode horseback to Smithers with me, their six month old son, strapped to the saddle.  When we reached the Sealy Ranch, the young foreman, Bill Kirton, recently arrived from England, took us by wagon over a rough mining road to our property on Harvey Mountain – on the way to Silver King basin. Sometime later dad broke his leg at the mine and we found him in the cabin administering his own first aid. He had taken apart a section of stovepipe and was using it as a cast. We pulled him out on a hand sleigh to receive medical help.

My mother and dad carried on mining operations under the most primitive conditions with hand drill, shovel and wheelbarrow. I worked in our mine when I was eleven. They stuck with what he described as the only “mine in the Babines” – others were only prospects.

How did my father get the name “Peavine Harvey”?

On one occasion, he was preparing exhibits of Bulkley Valley produce for the PNE at Vancouver. Included was a sheaf of our famous timothy hay and some wild huckleberries.

The night before he left, some “friends” stole into his hotel room and made some changes. In place of timothy, they put in a bundle of local peavine hay and replaced the berries with a box of rabbit manure. He didn’t discover it until he arrived at the PNE in Vancouver.

“Peavine” Harvey will be remembered for his booming voice – he was hard of hearing! A stenographer who worked for the Government Agent, Mr. Bryant, said the whole building vibrated when Peavine greeted the staff in the office. My mother, a bit of a woman about five feet tall, was an accomplished musician. She played background music on the piano for the silent movies, run by Wiggs O’Neill and held in the old town hall. We kids used to sit on hard wooden benches to view the weekly Tarzan cliffhanger.

I went to Driftwood school where Edna Vickers, 19, taught us. I was quite in love with her and informed my parents I’d be marrying her when I grew up. I  hadn’t figured on Roland Sykes beating my time – she walked out of my life when I was 13. In August ’72, they were back in Driftwood where many of us students had a reunion.

Gordon donated the land for the park.

Driftwood Canyon now has electricity – I paid my first bill in January, ’73. If you follow Babine Road to Sealy’s corner and turn west you will see a sign by the old school that reads, “Fossils”.  About two miles up, you enter a provincial park, “Driftwood Canyon Park”, which includes the fossil beds, crown land above it and the virgin wilderness to Silver King Basin. I have owned the original “Peavine” Harvey homestead since my father’s death in 1945. I have my private park, called “Lone Pine Park” whose visitors book contains five thousand names of people who seek the quiet beauty of Driftwood Canyon.



Ten years ago, visual artist Perry Rath and I (with the wonderful help of Dorothy  Giesbrecht) collaborated to make the weather from the west, a collection of my poems and his paintings. The paintings, many of which came from his In the Skin of This Land series, layer paint, photographs, maps and other texture to create an image that reflects the complexity of the ways we inhabit the land.

Perry’s partner, Taisa Jenne, lived with her family just up the road from us for many years and so he came to know Driftwood Creek and the Babine Mountains from the first days he arrived here.

Right at the turn onto road to the Jenne house stood the remnants of the Harvey home – a tumbling down barn and a tilting bathhouse. Using the old photograph from our collection and one of his own taken at the time, layering paint over topographical maps, Perry made Driftwood Vestige.


When BC Parks gave Driftwood  Canyon Provincial Park a facelift, designer Tom Grasmeyer created some beautiful interpretive signs along the path to the fossil beds. One of those signs acknowledged the ways in which the creek and the canyon have been a source of inspiration for many of us. Posted on a platform above the creek, it includes an image of this painting and one of the many poems I’ve written after a walk along the creek:

still waters

under the heel of its turn
the creek
digs a hole
swallows turbulence

the current does not diminish across its surface
but some aspen leaves
september golden
and spiral

how much
I wonder
does depth
slow you down

if the creek and leaves are right

a few cool seconds to linger
over the intricate arrangement of creekbright stones
submerged in water’s endless exhalation

                                                                       one breath singing in the long song to the sea

The creek is vibrant reminder of both transience and tenacity. The Harvey house is long gone and the old log barn has finally fallen. No more space for timothy or tractors. No more room for pirate treasure hideouts. By the time this summer’s grass is fully grown, it will have all but vanished.


The creek is rising

We woke up to snow this morning – and the roar of a rising creek. No rocks rumbling, though, so it’s not out of control. Last night we saw a pair of harlequins up by the log jam, sitting a few feet apart on a tiny gravel bar.  Just beside them, a willow branch was flailing in the current and we figured it had been ripped out upstream. Then a dark shape rose underneath it, dragged it over to the bank and disappeared. A beaver. We watched for several minutes, but it didn’t re-appear.

This morning, standing on the bridge at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park looking downstream – a pair of harlequins. We assumed it was the same pair we saw last night. Turning to walk up the creek, Lynn spotted another pair, just a few metres above the others – the first time we’ve seen two pairs at the same time on the same stretch of creek.

We’ve often speculated about their nesting habits – and wondered what effect high water has on them. I’ve excerpted this from The Bizarre Life of the Harlequin Duck by Gary Turback. It answers many of our questions:

Although classified as sea ducks, these avian mariners weigh anchor each spring and migrate inland to breed. The Pacific birds wend their way to rushing, tumbling mountain streams, while the eastern birds settle on turbulent rivers primarily in Quebec and Labrador but occasionally in Newfoundland. The Pacific harlequin is the only duck in the world that divides its time between sea and mountains.

In spring, breeding-age western harlequins–those two years and older–leave Pacific coastal waters for mountain streams in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. A few even cross the Continental Divide to nest. Researchers believe some harlequins journey from sea to summit as anadromous fish do–by following streams.

Harlequin society is matriarchal, with adult females returning salmonlike to their natal streams to reproduce. “While on the coast, a young female picks out a bachelor to take home,” says John Ashley, a wildlife biologist at Glacier National Park. Because nesting females are more vulnerable to predation than are males, plenty of unpaired males also show up on the mating grounds, although they rarely get a chance to breed.

A harlequin pair may remain together for years, apparently with great loyalty. In 1992 on Washington’s Morse Creek, Schirato and fellow Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Matt Nixon captured a female in a banding net, but her mate escaped downstream. Seeing his partner detained, the male returned to the net, repeatedly called to her and eventually became entangled himself. “I’ve never seen other ducks do that,” says Schirato.

In May or June, the female lays about six eggs in a nest expertly concealed in streamside vegetation, a hollow tree or logjam. The male now returns to the ocean, precluding any possibility of renesting if the eggs are destroyed. Oddly, some unpaired females choose this late time to migrate inland. “It’s possible,” says Ashley, “that these females might pass the ocean-bound males headed in the opposite direction.” The tardy females, which are young birds looking for future nest sites, do not mate.

With luck, a mated hen will produce a few new harlequins. “Generally, harlequin reproduction is rather abysmal,” says Reichel. “They don’t breed until they’re two years of age or older, they lay relatively few eggs, and they can’t renest if they lose their clutch.”

Mink, goshawks and other predators likely kill some ducklings, but probably a greater proportion of harlequin young fall victim to cold weather or high water. Raging streams do not bother the adults, however, thanks to swimming skills that sometimes seem almost fishlike. For them, no torrent is too turbulent. “Harlequins routinely navigate rapids–with water spraying and foam flying–that few kayakers would ever enter,” says Ashley.

The duck even feeds in the seething current, diving to force its way to the stream bottom. With wings held tight against its body and feet pumping rearward like propellers, the bird noses troutlike from rock to rock, searching for aquatic insects to eat. Meanwhile, the water churns around it. “It must be like swimming in a washing machine,” says Ashley. After 20 or 30 seconds, the harlequin bobs to the surface for air, then dives again.

For adults, the swift current provides the best defense against most dangers. When threatened, a harlequin simply swims into the watery maelstrom and is swept downstream to safety. On the relatively rare occasions when stream-dwelling harlequins fly, they remain low and follow the stream’s every twist and turn.

Practicing in quiet backwaters, young harlequins soon become adept at negotiating tricky currents. Before they learn to fly, however, their mother may return to the coast, leaving the youngsters to fend–and navigate–for themselves. “Some hormonal urge must tell the female to migrate now!” speculates Cassirer. “Fortunately, the young somehow know where to go when they later learn to fly.” The prevailing theory holds that hens (and the males before them) must return to the coast before their annual molt renders them flightless.

By late September, virtually all harlequins are in coastal wintering areas, where they congregate in substantial flocks and feed in the nutrient-rich intertidal zone. Often, they forgo protected bays in favor of the roaring surf. Violent water, it seems, is in their blood.


A mist drifted up the canyon a couple of nights ago. I’m not sure where it came from – it wasn’t one of those cold air, warm water ones. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the creek or, lower down, the river. It drifted up and turned everything dark; the cottonwood branches spooky black lines disappearing into grey, the evening early, quiet. No frost at night. Then it rained. Rained hard.

Everything changed.

We catch a whiff of cottonwood buds fattening up, the nettles pop out of last year’s tangle, the wild currants are in leaf. Chickadees, of course, and juncos. Nuthatches and robins. The racket of hummingbirds at the feeder, sapsuckers, flickers, even snipes in the distance. White-crowned sparrows scratching for seeds. The ravens nesting just up the creek cruise through, looking for dinner.

We can hear the creek now from our bedroom window. It’s rising, darkening, foaming at obstructions. A pair of harlequins are courting just above the log jam where yellow-rumped warblers flutter and snatch at the surface of the water. A spotted sandpiper stares at us. Golden-crowned kinglets buzz in the spruce trees beside us. We wait for the lone Pacific wren to begin its aria.

The lobaria, ashy flakes just last week, is plumped up green and luscious. Alectoria and usnea, glittering with raindrops.  Xanthoria’s orange, even brighter.

The air is soft and alive with colour, with movement, with music.

Thanks to our neighbour, Greg Wedlock, for the harlequin photos.

Walter Faeh – above the mouth of the creek

If you’ve ever been to Smithers, you’ll have seen the man blowing the alpenhorn at the highway end of Main Street, you’ll have seen buildings faced with white stucco, false shutters stenciled in floral motifs,  decorative balconies, and pitched roofs – all the result of an official alpine theme adopted by the town in the nineties.

Why the alpine theme? Well, the mountains, obviously.  And those picturesque dairy farms dotting the surrounding rural landscape. Sure. But, really? A little Switzerland motif smack in the middle of Wet’suwet’en territory? Seems crazy.

But I have to admit, it doesn’t seem to have ruffled any feathers. Both the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre offices follow the guidelines.




Which all goes to show that the Swiss immigrants, who mostly arrived in the mid-thirties, have maintained a strong cultural presence in the community. And a strong presence in the Driftwood watershed. A survey of the early owners of rural properties within its drainage includes the L’Orsas, the Nagelis, the Sturzeneggers, and the Tugnums. In fact, they are all still here, the Nagelis and Sturzeneggers still raising cattle. But they weren’t the first. In 2006, the Bulkley Valley Swiss Club published Stories of Swiss Settlement in the Bulkley Valley 1910-1960. The first entry tells the story of Walter Faeh – I’ve reproduced much of it below, with their permission.

Walter Faeh was the first Swiss known to have settled in the Bulkley Valley. He was born in Basel on 19 November, 1887. After attending a commercial college there, he started a career in business. However, he was not born to earn his living in an office. In 1909 he left for Canada and found a job on a farm in Saskatchewan, where he worked very long hours for $10 a month. When word reached him that railroad construction labourers were getting 15 cents an hour and only had to put in a ten-hour day, he packed his bags, walked four miles to the railway and flagged down a train. In Saskatoon, he was hired on a Grand Trunk Pacific Railway construction crew. He soon found his way to Vancouver after stops in Edmonton and Calgary.

In 1910 he took a boat from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, where he boarded the newly built sternwheeler S.S. Inlander and steamed up the Skeena River to Grand Trunk Pacific construction Camp 166, where he worked for a few months. There were still about four years of railway construction to go before the last spike was driven in April 1914, and Walter could have been employed for some time if that had been his wish, but he had heard about the excellent farm lands being made available to settlers in the Bulkley Valley and that is what really interested him.

He was soon on the move again. He walked upstream along the Skeena River, presumably on the newly surveyed rail right-of-way, to about Skeena Crossing. There he found a Native who rowed him across the river for fifty cents. The following day he walked to Sealy Landing where railway contractors Foley, Welch and Stewart had a large depot and construction camp. In the barber shop Walter mentioned his intention of taking up land in the Bulkley Valley, and the barber offered him a quarter section there that he had optioned. For $100 the barber would cancel his option and Walter could file on it. Walter decided to investigate, walked up to the mouth of the Bulkley River, crossed on the ferry to Old Hazelton and visited C.G. (Peavine) Harvey’s real estate office, where he saw that most of the best Bulkley Valley land had been preempted. He decided to take the barber’s offer. The final cost of this quarter section (Lot 1182) was $300, because Walter was obliged to pay the government one dollar per acre, plus 25 cents an acre for the legal survey. Additional conditions of the preemption required that, over three years, he had to make certain improvements to the property and reside there six months each year. When those conditions were fulfilled, he would receive a deed to the land.

Around Christmas-time Walter bought about 1,000 pounds of supplies and equipment at the Hudson’s Bay store in Hazelton and had the load transported to the Cronin ranch (Lot 859) at Glentanna for $20. He apparently accompanied his outfit and packed the supplies down to Joe Matus’ place (Lot 855) on Driftwood Creek. From there he had to find his land, which he did by following the new survey lines to the northeast corner of his Lot 1182, where he constructed a rough shelter and stored his things. After exploring his property, he chose a good place to build a cabin. After a few days, Joe Griffin came down to see if the greenhorn was frozen yet, because the temperature was about 40° below zero. Not quite, but a few days later Walter froze a big toe and had to move into Matt Malkow’s cabin on an adjacent homestead, which was empty for the winter.

In the spring of 1911 Walter built his first cabin. When he needed supplies, he had to walk to Aldermere (about 18 km) or Hazelton (about 65 km), until the railway was constructed through Smithers and the townsite was established in 1913. Snake Road, which went past his farm, was also constructed about 1913. Walter spent his summers clearing land, erecting farm buildings, haying and fencing. He eventually cleared about sixty acres of land, all by hand. He used the cleared land to grow hay, which he sold, saving only what he needed for his team of horses. When the Swiss Settlement Delegation visited him during their survey to determine the suitability of the Bulkley Valley for Swiss settlers, he is reported to have pointed to his modest hayfield and said, “There, twenty-five years of hard work.” Walter was, at times, hired on as a faller in a logging camp during the winter, and he worked underground at the Telkwa coal mine in 1943.

Walter never married. He seemed to be a perfectly contented bachelor. His only known vice was an addiction to Copenhagen brand chewing tobacco, or “snoose” as it was called. In addition to farm work, he spent much of each summer prospecting for mineral deposits, using a pendulum as a guide. He found coal along lower Driftwood Creek and did a considerable amount of work on that prospect, but he never found anything that he could sell. Walter enjoyed being out in the hills, and it is doubtful that he really cared whether he found anything of serious economic interest or not. He was quiet and unassuming, with a sparkle in his eye, a ready chuckle and a philosophical optimism that made him a well-liked and respected member of the community. He was very much a free man. He dressed very well when he went to town. He did not own a car. He walked to town or caught a ride with a neighbour or, when Wall’s Taxi used to make the Glentanna-Driftwood loop on Saturdays, he joined Bill Bruce and others and paid 50 cents to go to town that way. He had no telephone, no electricity, no running water and no debts, and that was just the way he wanted it.

In the mid-1970s Walter sold his farm to Leroy Taylor, but he still lived there during the summer. He started spending the winters in Smithers in the Bulkley Hotel, accompanied by his friend Bill Bruce. He tried one winter in Vancouver, but he did not like it enough to go back again. Eventually, he moved into the Bulkley Lodge extended care home in Smithers, where he enjoyed the companionship of many friends and the luxury of someone else doing the cooking. Walter passed away on 8 October, 1984.

Bill Metcalfe, an old friend of ours, lived in Jim Briggs Sr.’s  old farmhouse across the road from the beautiful driveway leading through pasture and aspens to Walter’s cabin. When he took us for a walk there more than 35 years ago now, we went right down to the river where the underbrush opens to the wreck of an old cabin in a clearing beside the Bulkley, between its confluence with Canyon Creek and Driftwood Creek. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of property in the valley. Leroy Taylor lets us walk or snowshoe through there every couple of years.

Just last week Leroy told me the story of a man who owned the clearing. He grew potatoes down there (it used to be land right down beside the river would have about two more frost-free weeks on either end of the growing season, Leroy says, but that seems to have changed now) and would haul them up every fall to sell. One year an early frost killed them all so he packed it in and sold the land to Walter. The property came to Leroy when he bought Walter’s place.

“Come spring Walter would go out and cut down some poplars and haul them over to his cabin. When he had enough firewood to get through the next winter, usually in May, he’d start doing his prospecting – he went all over the place doing that.”

The Briggs’ place is gone now – and Walter’s cabin is beginning to fall apart. But it’s positioned in such a way to tell the story of a man with an unerring sense of beauty, his windows looking out across a hard-won clearing to the mountain across the river. And still with plenty of space for the most restless of spirits.






The harlequins are here again

Just this past week, we’ve spotted the harlequin ducks on the creek, within a week of the time they show up every year – shortly after the sandhill crane migration has moved further north. Friends on Haida Gwaii report seeing over 200 of the ducks just offshore from Sandspit. Why some choose mountain streams and others stay on the coast is a mystery. Maybe for the same reasons some of us leave the salt chuck and head for the mountains.

I wrote this post for my Say The Names blog back in May, 2012 and thought I’d share it here.

We’ve been out looking for a couple of weeks now, wandering the edges of the creek, noting the rise and fall of the water, the muddy and nutrient foam tricking our eyes into seeing ducks bobbing in the back eddies.

This morning, just across from a small viewing platform in Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, we saw the usual three: two males and a female. We stood high up on one bank of the creek; they hopped up onto rocks on the other side and we all had a good look at each other.
There’s a fascinating Species at Risk Study that outlines their use of creeks for breeding – they tend to form long-term bonds and the females will take up to four years to reach reproductive maturity. Having clear, fast-flowing streams seems to be essential to their survival because they feed on the “invertebrates in the substrate” – i.e. all the little creatures wriggling around in creek gravel. Dippers eat from the same table.
They are both markers of the ways in which home is one specific and familiar place connected to the greater world in ways we barely comprehend.

Stories looking for home

We writers are always talking about the importance of stories. Of the ways in which stories reflect a culture back to itself – for teaching, for entertainment, for the record. For thoughtful commentary. So we’re always tickled to find anyone who agrees. Especially a couple of law professors. Of course common law is really based on old stories, so I guess it makes a kind of sense.

In “Indigenous Law and Legal Pluralism”, Val Napoleon and Hadley Friedland illustrate ways in which indigenous legal traditions can be respectfully accessed by “applying legal analysis and synthesis to … stories, narratives, and oral histories.” (Napoleon and Friedland are part of a movement trying to build a bridge between indigenous and western legal traditions. Val is the director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit at UVic; Hadley was its research director until last year.)

The article opens by quoting George Blondin from When the World was New: Stories of the Sahtu Dene:

It used to be that every family with a living grandfather or grandmother possessed a storyteller from another time. The duty of storytellers was to tell stories every day. That is why Dene tradition is so complete, as far back as the days when [Naá]cho–giant now-extinct animals–roamed the world.

Over the years, we have heard many stories from the Driftwood watershed. The year Cronin mine mailman Joe Pekoe was killed in an avalanche. Other men killed in sawmill accidents. The time Katherine Harvey stole her husband Peavine’s chimney from his cabin beside his mine workings because she and their son Gordon had run out of money. Instead of coming home, he had her charged with theft and she spent the winter in jail in Vancouver (this may be apocryphal as there’s also a story about him breaking an arm and Katherine using a stove pipe for a splint). The time two women stood outside the foreman’s cabin in Silverking Basin at night at 30 below, their ski boots in their hands, ready to depart because they got the old airtight burning so hot it was a reverberating bright red.

Hadley and Val conclude “Indigenous Law” with a reference to a statement in Harold Norman’s article, “Crow Ducks and Other Wandering Talk”. Creek elder John Rains saw ten dead and mangled crows on the snow in the bush: “Some story will come along and find those crows, and use them,” he said.

Norman continues:

To the Cree, stories are animate beings. One could tell a biography of a single Cree story (which would be a story in itself) just as one could tell the natural history of an animal.  In this respect, one could ask, What do stories do when they are not being told? Do they live in villages? Some Cree say they do. Do they tell each other to each other? Some Cree say this is true as well. Certain stories live out in the world, looking for episodes to add to themselves. Therefore, we can understand John Rains’ belief that eventually a story would find the torn crows. Later that story would find a Cree person, inhabit that person awhile, and be told back out into the world again.

What a tantalizing concept for a writer! Stories do seem to find themselves, to create themselves and some of us are lucky enough (or not) to be inhabited by them. Think of the possibilities.

Now think of all that stories that might find their way into the creek: the water running, slipping and sliding down, down, down as it always does, some splashed up into the air, some going down your thirsty throat, some pausing in a back eddy or a quiet pool. It parts and connects, parts and connects in a most lively manner. Think of the stories swirling down its path to find their way out into the world.

The time our neighbour, in the wild spring freshet, launched his canoe, paddled down to the fossil beds, and survived. You’ve heard that expression, three sheets to the wind? Years later, we found a half-crushed canoe beside the creek. Not his, he swears. I still have a piece of it my office. Now I know why I’ve kept it all these years. I’m waiting for its story to stop by and pick it up.

Think of the gossip in every back eddy.

Did you see the moose stumble and fall? Ah yes, that moose is nothing but bones now and see, here comes a trickle of its blood. Did you see us tear that bridge right off its footings? Oh yes, we shoved it right up against that house, they were all asleep and we scared them silly. Remember those kids throwing rocks for the big red dog, how he scrabbled to retrieve them? The mud he churned up? Well, here he comes, look out!

And swoosh, those molecules of hydrogen and oxygen are thrown back into the melee, molecules that held shape and form in three dimensions, snow that held a preening whiskey jack, snow that was eaten and pissed out by goats, by moose, by thirsty skiers and sawyers.

Remember, says the muddy stream, thick with memories, carrying a spruce branch drunken with sorrow, travelling together long enough to tell about the mittens snagged on the branch, the smell of wet wool bringing back the spruce’s memory of the sawyer stripping off his shirt in the heat of the work and tossing it down on top of the tree when it was barely bigger than a twig, and now the branch is useless, no needles, no purpose, a forgotten vestige broken off in a skier’s passing, dropped onto the snow on top of the ice and here it is telling the creek about the smell of horses, of diesel and the cries of working men.

Around and around it all goes until something – a pebble tossed, a rubber boot slipping off a stone, a fox bending to drink – sends it all off again, the water and the stories together.

And this time of year, the whole world, it seems, is dripping and melting and water is trickling, burbling, sending little creeks running through the woodshed, under the deck, down into the garden, into the pond, under the road and into the still half-frozen creek. Past the old spruce tree where raucous crows are nesting. Everywhere, winter stories looking for a home.


The stories I miss – the ones I hear only as rumours – are Wet’suwet’en stories: rumours of sacred places, of marmot hunts, of goats, of the vanished caribou. C’ide’ Yïkwah or Driftwood Creek marks the division between two territories, that of Wos of the Gidimt’en Clan and that of Ut’akhgit of the Likhsilyu Clan, a name currently held by Henry Alfred. You know it carries many stories. It’s time to listen up.

“Indigenous Law and Legal Pluralism” appears in a special issue of the McGill Law Journal, 61:4.

Driftwood Creek watershed – the map

What exactly is a watershed? When I asked map maker extraordinaire Morgan Hite to make a map of Driftwood Creek’s watershed, he did indeed make a beautiful one. But he first had a few words to say about the concept itself:

Sometimes I like the theoretical abstraction of the watershed, but other times it troubles me. The theoretical bit is this: If you hike up into the mountains, sit down on a convenient rock, and pull out your water bottle, and then you empty that water bottle onto the ground (because you’ve just, perhaps, found a spring of better-tasting water), where will that water go? And the theoretical answer is that it will run downhill, into the nearest creek, and thence down to a river and on to the ocean. It’s kind of like Paddle to the Sea, where the tiny canoe goes from the Ontario uplands to the Atlantic. Everywhere From Which Downhill Leads To Here: that’s a watershed.

The troubling bit is that in reality the water you pour out onto the ground will not run to the nearest creek. It sinks into the soil and disappears. Or, if you are on something impermeable, like solid rock or pavement, it runs out until it is spread thin, and then evaporates. Either way it does not reach the nearest creek. You can try this.

So given that water’s actual behaviour is to mix with buried groundwater, or join the vaporous air, is a watershed even a real thing? If we tried to map it, would we have to include all that underground and all that atmosphere? If the concept is irreproducable by experiment, is it still a valuable idea?

I’m still pondering that. It didn’t prevent me from mapping the watershed though. The theoretical watershed.

(It’s a large file – if you click on it, you’ll see the detail more clearly.)

This is how Morgan went about making the map:

With Driftwood Creek I wanted to make a map that presents the watershed embedded in the larger landscape. It should be apparent that you can drive or walk into and out of the watershed, whether you use trails or roads.

From a 1988 map that Marvin George and Neil Sterritt prepared, called the “Territory of WAH KAH KEG’HT,” I was able to draw a few Wet’suwet’en place names. Spellings have changed in the 29 years since then; Wah Kah Keg’ht, for example, is now usually written Ut’akhgit (a chief of the Likhsilyu/Small Frog clan, a name currently held by Henry Alfred). C’ede’i Kwe (Driftwood Creek) is now written C’ide’ Yïkwah. For consistency, I stuck to the old spellings.

I was surprised to learn that, although Driftwood Creek seems to be simply across the river and up the hill from Smithers, it is in fact farther north. If you went due east from Lake Kathlyn and the airport, you would hit Glenwood Hall, the southernmost point in Driftwood Creek’s watershed.

The width of creeks is exaggerated on the map, because water is the main theme. I show Driftwood Creek as 55 metres across. It’s really only about ten.

I wanted to fade the area outside the watershed, but not to fade as much the roads, trails, contours and creeks. So I used two partially transparent masks: one that fades everything equally, and a second that acts only on the basemap of shaded relief and forest type.

The shaded relief, which gives the map its 3D look, is based on measurements made from the Space Shuttle. One of its missions was to use radar to measure the height and shape of every mountain, ridge, valley and depression it flew over. Bright areas and shadows are based on a (hypothetical) sun in the north-northwest.

Unexpectedly, the Driftwood Creek watershed turns out to look like a puffin. Silverking Lake is the eye, and the place where Driftwood Creek flows into the Bulkley is the tail.

Morgan also created a 3D version of the map that gives a visual sense of not only the distance, but the altitude gained if you were to walk or bike from the Snake Road Bridge crossing into Silverking Basin. Thanks for both of these, Morgan.