1656 On the road with Liz Bryan

Two books reviewed by Ken Favrholdt:

Adventure Roads of BC’s Northwest Heartland
by Liz Bryan

Victoria: Heritage House, 2022
$24.95 / 9781772034035

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Pioneer Churches along the Gold Rush Trail: An Explorer’s Guide
by Liz Bryan

Victoria: Heritage House, 2022
$24.95 / 9781772034011

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Liz Bryan, photographer and popular writer, has published two books this year demonstrating her skills behind the lens and the keyboard. They are books intended to motivate one to explore the province but are as interesting to the arm-chair traveller with a penchant for history and the landscapes of British Columbia. Adventure Roads comprises 221 pages, Pioneer Churches 218 pages. Both books are published by Heritage House which has done a fine job of producing these appealing, complementary volumes, worthy successors to Bryan’s Pioneer Churches of Vancouver Island and the Salish Sea: An Explorer’s Guide (Heritage House, 2020, reviewed here by Martin Segger — Ed).

Liz Bryan

Adventure Roads of BC’s Northwest Heartland is comprised of ten chapters of scenic trips through the mainland of the province. Her book is based on an earlier (2008) production titled Country Roads of British Columbia: Exploring the Interior, but now out of print, so Bryan saw fit to bring it up to date.

Three excellent maps by cartographer Eric Leinberger, with colour references to the chapters, cover the trips through some of the most historical northwest parts of the province. From Merritt to Barkerville and Kamloops to Bella Coola, the book takes me back to many places I have personally visited and worked. Bryan makes me want to return to see what has changed and what has remained the same.

This bridge over the Fraser River, west of Williams Lake, is the unofficial divide between the Cariboo and the Chilcotin. Photo by Liz Bryan

There have been many travel books produced about British Columbia over the years that combine photographs and narratives. Since the 1970s, colour photography has dominated these works. One of the earliest regional portraits of BC has been a set of books from the late sixties and 1970s by Anthony Carter, titled the Indian Heritage Series. Since then, many parts of the province have been profiled in picture and text. In recent years, Chris Harris, beginning with Cariboo Country: British Columbia’s Spirit of the West (1995) has taken a mainly pictorial approach. Now, Liz Bryan has set a new standard combining beautiful imagery with colourful travelogue.

The Bulkley River, north of Smithers, roars through a tight rock canyon, a traditional hot spot for Indigenous fishermen. Liz Bryan photo

In Bryan’s treatment, each chapter focuses on a few aspects of different regions. For example, The Deadman River highlights the amazing geology of this valley; the Nisga’a Highway the First Nations of the area; the First Gold Rush Trail the back road above the Fraser River; Soda Creek the pioneer history along the middle Fraser; Lillooet to Pemberton the history and stunning vistas of the Fraser Canyon; Fort St. James focusses on the fort itself and the historic churches of the area; the back road to Barkerville via the ghost town of Quesnelle Forks; Heartlands of the Gitxsan also reveals the Indigenous culture of this area, including the reconstructed village of ‘Ksan; Tracking an Old Murder through the Nicola Hills recounts the story of the notorious McLean gang, told many times before, as well as mention of train robber Bill Miner. This part of BC is definitely the wild west!

The final chapter is about the long and lonely road from Williams Lake to Bella Coola.

House of Numst on Bella Coola’s main street. The ancient House of Numst, or “house of stories,” a replica of a traditional longhouse, was constructed in 1968 by a group of young Nuxalk volunteers who wanted a meeting place where their emerging cultural resurgence would be encouraged and flourish. Currently the longhouse is being completely restored to become the headquarters for Nuxalk Radio. Photo by Liz Bryan

Several chapters also present side-trips such as to Walhachin along the Thompson River, the orchard development that nearly became a ghost town but has survived as a village; the Gang Ranch west of the Fraser River, founded in 1865; the onward Ranch near the Secwepemc community of Sugar Cane; Skatin, formerly known as Skookumchuck, site of the World Heritage Site of Church of the Holy Cross, one of the oldest churches in BC (see Pioneer Churches review below — Ed).

The historic Gang Ranch with its barns, machinery, and graceful old house. One of BC’s oldest and largest ranches, it was founded in 1865 by two brothers, Jerome and Thaddeus Harper, and the cattle brand, an interlinked JH, dates from this era. Liz Bryan photo

Bryan’s writing style is straightforward and full of detail. She displays a good handle on Indigenous names, which is essential at this time in our history. One name, Chillihetza, chief of the Douglas Lake people at the time of the McLean boys’ murderous rampage, is spelled differently by Bryan, but First Nations names have been challenging for writers and even anthropologists for a long time. A place name caption is misnamed Split Rocks (p. 25), and the photo is not of Split Rock, which is near Skeetchestn on the road to Red Lake.

A ghost ranch in the upper Deadman Valley. Photo by Liz Bryan

The book ends with an excellent list of recommended reading and a thorough index. Another road book from Liz Bryan is, I hope, on the way to cover the rest of BC as well as this one does.

In its village setting, old Hoystein sits on a bench above the Bridge-Fraser confluence north of Lillooet. The church and most of the village burned to the ground in a disastrous forest fire sometime in the 1970s. The church was to the right of the graveyard, pictured here. Liz Bryan photo

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Pioneer Churches along the Gold Rush Trail is a more complex work than Adventure Roads, focussing on the historic churches along the route from the Fraser Valley to Barkerville. Bryan’s photography is superb. The descriptions of the 47 churches begin with Holy Trinity Anglican Church in New Westminster, built by the Royal Engineers in 1860.

The map with two insets by Eric Leinberger is accurate and essential in locating the many rural churches. Their addresses and phone numbers are also useful. Many of the churches were built on Indian Reserves by missionaries of Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist orders who proselytized and established themselves in the communities with employed Indigenous labour.

Bryan has amassed a great amount of information about the churches. However, such detail is prone to errors and a few mistakes need correction. The description of St. Joseph’s Church in Kamloops, for example, mentions Father Modeste Demers as an Oblate, which is not the case. He was a secular priest from Quebec who came to New Caledonia in 1842. The Jesuits established a log chapel at Tk’emlups in 1846. The original St. Joseph’s Church was built ca. 1871, not 1882, although the church has gone through several iterations including its complete restoration in 1985.

The tiny Anglican church of St. Saviour’s (1870), at one end of the long main street in Barkerville, is a wonderful example of pioneer Gothic architecture, interpreted in local pine. The church is the first building that visitors see in the heritage park. Photo by Liz Bryan

About St. Mary’s Church at the Skeetchestn Reserve, Bryan states that Oblate missionaries had been in the area since the 1840s. But they did not arrive in BC until 1858 with Father Pandosy, and the first St. Mary’s Church, built of squared logs, was not erected until 1868.

Also at Skeetchestn, the Deadman River was given its name in 1817, states Bryan, “very soon after settlers arrived in the area.” This should refer to the fur traders, not settlers.

The Church of the Holy Cross (1905) sits in the Indigenous village of Skatin, south of Mount Currie. This interior view from the choir loft shows the whole nave, well lit by its colourful windows. Nearly everything here was handmade, displaying the incredible talents and dedication of the Indigenous carpenters. Liz Bryan photo

Apart from these quibbles, Bryan does an admirable job of describing the details of the churches’ architecture and explaining the changes that have accompanied their history. She includes churches that have succumbed to fire, including the recent Lytton holocaust that destroyed the very significant St. Mary and St. Paul Anglican Church, and the rebuilt St. Andrew’s (Murray) Church at Nicola, near Merritt, after arson took it.

Bryan provides an appropriate and helpful glossary of church and architectural terms at the end of the book. Acknowledgements and suggested readings point out Bryan’s extensive research, and a useful index rounds out the 217 pages.

St. Mary and St. Paul was known as the Cathedral of the Thompson River First Nations. This church was destroyed in the catastrophic wildfire of July 2021, which devastated the town of Lytton. Photo by Liz Bryan

Liz Bryan relies, among other sources, on previous work by Barry Downs, Sacred Places: British Columbia’s Early Churches (1980) and John Veillette and Gary White’s Early Indian Village Churches: Wooden Frontier Architecture in British Columbia (1977). It is easy to predict that Bryan’s Pioneer Churches along the Gold Rush Trail: An Explorer’s Guide will find a welcome place on the shelves of church historians, as well as appealing to scholars of the gold rushes and fans of BC’s interior history more generally.

St. Mary’s, Lillooet, today exists only within the confines of the town’s museum, which acquired the church structure in 1964. In the Lillooet Museum one can still see the structure of the 1861 St. Mary’s Church in the Royal Engineers’ signature scissor-truss rafters. Liz Bryan photo

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Ken Favrholdt

Ken Favrholdt is a freelance writer, historical geographer and museologist with a BA and MA (Geography, UBC), a teaching certificate (SFU), and certificates as a museum curator. He spent ten years at the Kamloops Museum & Archives, five at the Secwépemc Museum and Heritage Park, four at the Osoyoos Museum, and he is now Archivist of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. He has written extensively on local history in Kamloops This Week, the former Kamloops Daily News, the Claresholm Local Press, and other community papers. Ken has also written book reviews for BC Studies and articles for BC History, Canadian Cowboy Country Magazine, Cartographica, Cartouche, and MUSE (magazine of the Canadian Museums Association). He taught geography courses at Thompson Rivers University and edited the Canadian Encyclopedia, geography textbooks, and a commemorative history for the Town of Oliver and Osoyoos Indian Band. Ken has undertaken research for several Interior First Nations and is now working on books on the fur trade of Kamloops and the gold-rush journal of John Clapperton, a Nicola Valley pioneer and Caribooite. He lives in Kamloops. Editor’s note: Ken Favrholdt has recently reviewed books by Erín Moure & Anne Callison, Jeannette Armstrong, Lally Grauer, & Janet MacArthurArthur Manuel & Ronald DerricksonClarence Louie, and John Macdonald for The British Columbia Review.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

Anderson Lake looking south from Seton Portage, on the Lillooet to Pemberton Route. Photo by Liz Bryan
The tower of Our Lady of Lourdes, in the Upper Nicola village of Quilchena, beside the wagon road to Kamloops, housed an enormous 600-pound cast iron bell that was made in 1893 in St. Louis, Missouri. It was installed in the church in 1896 in preparation for its consecration. A piece of solid documented history, it was inscribed with its name, Bernadette, and recorded the names of the local donors, the clerics involved, and also the name of the local First Nations Chief, Celisten Shilhitsa. When the church all but burned to the ground in 1979, only the bell and a large statue of Our Lady of Lourdes survived. Photo by Liz Bryan
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