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.

McCabe Trail

Three routes from Driftwood Road give access to Harvey Mountain: Lyons Creek, Harvey Mountain and the McCabe trails.

I first set foot on the McCabe trail in 1977 or 1978, can’t quite remember which. Joe L’Orsa took a group of us (including Walt Taylor, Mike Morrell and his son Tomas) up the Lyons Creek trail to the lake just above its headwaters where some of us swam. We then dropped down on what is now called the Blix trail until a tiny path emerged out of a wet meadow full of flowers. Mike and his son went right to follow the McCabe trail to its summit above the Little Joe lakes; the rest of us turned left to follow the trail down to Sunny Point.

This was not yet a park and there were no signs signaling trail heads or route distances. But we had Joe who grew up travelling in these mountains with his family. At the hike’s beginning, he stopped just below the Lyons Creek trail entrance to show us where the trail originally began. It used to be called the Gale & Lifton trail and was, he wrote in his unpublished A History of the Babine Mountains Recreation Area, “already considered an old trail by 1921. It may have followed an ancient Indian entry route, possibly into the marmot ground near Ganokwa Basin.”

We passed the old sawmill site, the remnants of which are still visible, and struggled up the hill to the long central stretch where the climb abates for a few kilometres. The trail was often muddy and not always clear. Joe was very patient as we struggled towards treeline. Hiking was still new to me and I suffered from the delusion that if you sweated and struggled up steep inclines swatting mosquitoes, you weren’t having fun.

Once in the alpine, we followed the trail around to its junction with the route leading over Padella Pass and turned left to follow the creek up to the lake we call Number Six Lake (if you look down from Harvey Mountain you can see a six or a nine clearly drawn by the lighter sediments on the lake bottom). The shintangle almost obliterated the trail up the creek, and the route down was equally sketchy. It was hard at the time to believe Joe’s stories of taking horses down there. It’s still hard.

Once on the McCabe trail, we had a pleasant walk out though I don’t remember much of that specific trip. When I think about how many times we’ve walked it since, the years blur together. We often take visitors up to a lookout point where you can see across into Silverking and catch a glimpse of the cabin there. The dramatic drop is stunning and we almost always see goats.

According to Joe’s research, the trail was built in 1919:

The famous McCabe trail was constructed, from the wagon road below Sunny Point, along the backside of Harvey Mountain, to the Copper Lakes area. This trail was built – or caused to be built – by Red McCabe, on a trail grant under the provision of the Mines Development Act.

Red McCabe didn’t get his name from the colour of his hair: he was the president of the local chapter of the old Socialist Party of Canada and prospected with two other party members – Pat McPhee and Jim Carson.

McPhee had been prospecting in the area for at least fifteen years by then. Joe describes a trip taken in 1905:

Provincial Mineralogist W. F. Robertson makes a major trip from Quesnel to Hazelton. From a camp at the Hudson Bay Ranch in Driftwood, he visits the Babine Range, with Pat McPhee as a guide. Apparently they went up what is now the Lyons Creek Trail and visited the … claims on what is now known as Harvey Mountain.

Jim Carson had a camp just above the bridged creek that crosses the trail below its opening into the boggy meadows where the Blix trail takes off.  Joe showed us the remnants of his camp as we walked out. The only evidence now is a wire scar left in a big spruce tree where he pitched his tent. (Carson Basin, a long gentle slope on the north flank of Pyramid Mountain, is also named for him. If you poke around up there, you’ll find lots of old adits.) I’ve been told Axel Elmsted, another longtime Babine Mountains prospector,  used to call the mountain Bolshevik Hill because of the three men’s political affiliations.

After crossing several brushy slide areas, the trail further down traverses a big rock slide that pre-dates its original construction. If you stand on it and look down, you’ll see just below another path crosses the rock – this is the trail that leads down to the spot on Driftwood Creek where the engineers who surveyed the trail (hence it’s pleasant grade) camped. More on that another day.

Tony L’Orsa, Joe’s older brother, still remembers when the McCabe trail was wide enough to be the wagon road instead of the narrow path it is today. There used to be a cabin not far from Sunny Point which was burned down by the forest service, he said. Later exploration tore up the original trail’s beginnings, but it remains one of the most scenic routes into the Babines and, on its lower reaches, provides splendid views across the upper Driftwood watershed.