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New blog post: My Writing Day

Writers often get asked about their writing routines and schedules. I do only have one steadfast rule, and that is to write something every day.

That being said, when writer and editor Rob McLennan asked me a few months ago to be a part of his ‘my (smallpress) writingday’ blog I was happy to contribute and participate.

My desk. Note the whiteboard calendar, which I stopped writing on in March 2020. I haven’t scheduled anything since then! The handsome gentleman in the front of the calendar is my grandad, Thomas Farrow Smith. The dog is Penny. Yes, that is snow outside.

If you know a writer who would like to submit his/her/their “writing day” description, contact Rob at rob_mclennan@hotmail.com

To check out my submission, click here.

One thing I’ve changed about my writing day is the introduction of an ongoing notebook of things I’ve done and stuff I have to do. One the left-hand side of the page I write the date and everything I did that day for my writing, whether it be contacting someone, researching a topic, transcribing notes, ordering books, reading on my subject, editing something, or working on book promotion. Everything gets written down because it helps me keep track of my activities and, if I have a slow day (I have many!), I can flip back and look at what I’ve done. It encourages me and keeps me motivated. Plus, it generates new ideas.

Then, on the right-hand side of the page I have a To Do list, and I add to it whenever something comes up. And when I finish a task, I cross it out and write DONE. Very satisfying.

I’m not the most organized person, so I have to find ways that work for me. Researching and writing a book isn’t done just by one person, it takes a team of people. Granted, the author is the one coordinating everything, and, initially spending time and money getting the project off the ground. So, with all the different aspects that need to be wrangled, I find that keeping a record of my activities in the notebook really helps.

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New Blog Post: Cataline’s Last Days

Jean ‘Cataline’ Caux lived a full and varied life in the new province of British Columbia. After running pack trains up and down the province for more than 50 years, Cataline retired to Hazelton to live out his days.

He had many friends there, and they looked after him. These were the days before pensions and universal health care. However, Cataline was lucky to be in Hazelton because there was a subscription service (a form of health insurance) to the Hazelton Hospital.

A new book, ‘Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician’ by Geoff Mynett mentions Cataline (page 250):

“The old packer Cataline died in 1922. He had always said that he did not like hospitals and that people only went there to die. Despite such talk, though, he had in fact contributed to the hospital’s appeals for donations over the years. He had resisted going there for as long as he could. His friend Sperry Cline took him eventually, grumbling, and groaning an, and there he did die.”

“They buried him in the cemetery on top of the bluff. Horace and Cataline were hardly friends, but Cataline was a link to the distant pass, to the days when Hazelton was cut off from the outside world for four or five months of the year. H was, moreover, a link to the gold rush days of the middle of the previous century.”

Find A Grave, an online collection of gravesites and cemeteries, has a listing for Cataline. He is buried in Gitanmaax Cemetery in Hazelton, British Columbia.

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New blog posts: Cataline books in hand!

After looking longingly of pictures of the cover of “Cataline: The Life of BC’s Legendary Packer” online, I was happy to receive a box of my books last month. It’s been really fun to sell them to friends and family and to people who have been following me on social media for a while and waiting patiently for the book to be ready.

If you are in the Quesnel area and want a personalized copy, let me know. I can also mail signed copies within Canada for $24 (includes tax) plus postage. Your favourite local bookstore can also order the book for you. Canadian customers can also order the book directly from Caitlin Press. For international customers, the book can be purchased from the usual online retailers.

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New blog post: Frank Sylvester on the trail

In the book “Cataline: The Life of BC’s Legendary Packer” I used a portion of packer Frank Sylvester’s journal to illustrate how the packers and their animals moved through the day and how they used already existing trails. As Jean “Cataline” Caux left no journals, we look to others who trod in the same paths as he to increase our understanding of the packer’s life. We are fortunate to have this account from Sylvester, who at that time had a shop in Lillooet.

Road to Bridge River near Lillooet

So in the early part of the year, I purchased a new stock of goods, went in with Snyder & Linny in their pack train, and started for Fort Alexander [Alexandria], at that time the head of mule navigation on the Fraser. I left Lillooet on March 12 and we were the second train of the year to leave.… Our train consisted of 42 mules, none carrying less than 300 pounds [136 kilograms], and a few as high as 400 pounds
[181 kilograms].… The rule of pack trains was
two men to every ten mules, and we had consequently eight Mexicans as packers, besides the Indian who rode ahead and led the bell mare.…
These animals come for two purposes: while travelling, [the bell mare carries] the precious “kitchen,” usually two boxes containing all the camp silver-ware, namely the tin cups, tin plates and iron spoons. We had no knives and fork
s as forks were not needed… as the menu consisted daily of bacon & beans.… All the men of the train rode mules or horses, but we had about 20 miners who were going north with us who walked the entire way, although we packed their blankets, etc., on top of one pack, free.
When we left Lillooet, the Fraser was still frozen over solid, and we crossed the river on
the ice with the loaded train. We left in the earl
y morning but only went as far as the Fountain.
(Frank Sylvester, address to the Board of Trade in Victoria circa 1907-1908 quoted in Lloyd Jeck, British Columbia Trails Heading North (Clearwater, BC: Maieck Publishing, 2011) 170-78). For more information on Frank Sylvester, the University of Victoria Archives is a repository for the family papers.

Marble Canyon–Cataline often wintered near here

After they left Fountain, they went around Pavilion Mountain, then through Marble Canyon (where Cataline sometimes wintered his horses), to Hat Creek, then to the Bonaparte river and finally headed north on his way to Alexandria.

Hat Creek Ranch

My friend and fellow author Nancy Marguerite Anderson has an excellent blog where she writes about “the people who worked in the Territory West of the Rocky Mountains before 1858.” In a well-researched blog post on he examines Frank Sylvester’s journey to determine whether the packers were accurate when they say they used the Hudson’s Bay Company Brigade trails. It’s definitely worth a read to see where we know the trails overlapped and where we don’t.

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New blog post: The landscape of Cataline

A big part of researching a book for me is getting out into the world of the person or people I’m writing about. Jean ‘Cataline’ Caux travelled on many trails through his long and interesting life, many of which were made long ago and used by the Indigenous people in the different locales that the pack trains later worked. In my own travels on the backroads of British Columbia, I’ve been lucky enough to see and experience the beautiful surroundings and the historic landscapes that surround us and which gave so much inspiration to me with the Cataline book.

When I’m out exploring the backroads and the history of British Columbia, I try and take some photos that will reflect the feelings that I get when I’m immersed in the beauty of our surroundings. Here are a few that I particularly like and I hope you will like them, too.

Cataline would have spent time in all of these places as he travelled around the province. Irene Bjerky, whose research gave such a basis to the family background of Jean ‘Cataline’ Caux, and who wrote such a lovely introduction to the book, has compiled lots of information about Cataline’s travel routes on her ‘Packtrails‘ website and I urge you to check it out.

To purchase ‘Cataline: The Life of BC’s Legendary Packer’ go to Caitlin Press’s website, or buy it from your favourite bookseller.