Tom Lymbery, a former BCHF council member from Gray Creek on Kootenay Lake, reminisces on the 2003 BC Historical Federation conference in Prince George. This story originally appeared in the East Shore Mainstreet.
In 2003 Terry Turner and Susan Hulland’s East Shore history, Impressions of the Past, placed second for the BC Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing in the BC Historical Federation competition. I went with them to the BCHF conference in Prince George where the award would be presented.
We were accommodated at the student residences at the new University of Northern BC. It was some distance from the city, so we were fortunate to be driving to be able to access other events and meals. We met a woman from Nanaimo, the site of the next year’s conference, and took her to breakfast at Tim Hortons – which was a first for Susan.
Terry and Susan’s award was presented by BC Lt.-Gov. Iona Campagnolo, to which they gave a very good response at the impressive banquet.
As the conference always runs for three days, we settled in on the first day. The next day we were taken by chartered Greyhound bus to see the historic St. Pius X Catholic Church in the Lheidli T’enneh community of Shelley, northeast of Prince George. The church was built in 1913, likely by the Oblates, a missionary order originally from France.
A First Nations man met us there and explained the problems they were having to maintain the church and protect it from vandals. The church was built with beautiful stained glass windows from the French region of Alsace Lorraine. A few years after our visit the windows were removed to Exploration Place in Prince George for safekeeping until the church could be restored.
The afternoon Greyhound trip went up the north side of the Fraser River where many sawmills once operated but were now closed and consolidated in Prince George. Our young charter driver had ingeniously put “New York City” on the bus destination sign, and stopped at a restaurant named Paradise. Terry took a photo of the amusing scene. This community might soon be gone – we saw sawmill buildings in the background, but they were no longer in use.
We drove further on, intending to cross the last remaining combination rail-and-highway bridge in BC to take us to Penny, another sawmill place now barely hanging on. But as there was a work crew on the bridge, our driver turned the bus around on the highway (quite a feat) and returned us to Prince George.
On the next day, Sunday, we had an option of driving to Fort St James, and this we were eager to do. One of the advantages of BCHF conferences is the opportunity to visit places you might never get to otherwise. We were taken by a different company’s charter bus, and stopped for a break at Vanderhoof, which claims the distinction of being the geographical centre of BC.
Fort St. James National Historic Site on the shore of Stuart Lake is the earliest HBC trading post this far west. It was built back in 1806 by Simon Fraser of the North West Company to trade with the local Carrier (Lheidli T’enneh) First Nation. For much of the post’s 150 year lifespan it was the Hudson’s Bay Company’s headquarters for what is now mainland BC.
The fort was opened especially for our group, and served us the traditional beans and bannock fare for lunch. The great-granddaughter of Chief HBC Factor Sir James Douglas spoke to our group, and explained how she traced her Black ancestry back to Sir James Douglas’ mother who was Creole, and her Metis ancestry to his wife Amelia.
As Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Sir James enabled hundreds of Black Americans to settle in the colony, and publicly denounced the practice of slavery. He signed treaties and established reserves for some of the First Nations on Vancouver Island, but his successors such as Joseph Trutch didn’t carry through on these.
After visiting another church with stained glass windows from France, I suggested to our bus driver that some of us would like to see the Russ Baker Memorial at Fort St. James, named for Frank Russell Baker, one of the first bush pilots in the region. After World War II, Baker’s small local airline helped to give Pacific Western Airlines its start. Other fabled bush pilots included Sheldon Luck, who Millie and Geoff Noden in Riondel rated as their favourite pilot. (Geoff, a long time Cominco employee, had been flown in to many isolated mines.)
I had inadvertently mentioned to our driver that our Greyhound driver had turned his bus around on the highway. So he drove us toward where he thought the memorial was, but not being as skilled a driver, he somehow got the coach stuck on some rocks when he attempted to turn the bus around. However he managed to get the bus free and returned us safely to Prince George.
Driving home we took Highway 16 through McBride, past the spectacular Mount Robson, then down the Icefields Parkway to end a super trip.