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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.

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Cataline documentary

Sylvie Pelltier of Red Letter Films did a documentary on Cataline a few years ago. It’s a delight to watch, and has has a terrific interview with Irene Bjerky who wrote the introduction to the book “Cataline: The Life of BC’s Legendary Packer” and whose research contributed so much to the background and depth of the book.

If you’d like to check out the documentary “The Legend of Cataline,” here it is:

It is also available in French:

To order a copy of the book, visit Caitlin Press or get it from your favourite local bookstore.

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Upcoming book: 1914 Union Bank robbery

dead robber
(left) Dead bank robber in the back of a cart, Hazelton, British Columbia, 1914
“Image B-01393 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives”

On April 7, 1914, the Union Bank in New Hazelton, British Columbia was held up by seven Russian robbers. The robbers, some of whom were hardened criminals and some of whom were just desperately unemployed, had timed the robbery carefully. Because on that same April day, the last spike of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was being hammered in 300 kilometres to the east in Fort Fraser. It was likely that the ringleader expected the Union Bank to hold the final payroll for the workers on the railway.

Within minutes of the robbery, citizens had opened fire and with an hour or so more than 500 rounds had been shot, and two bank robbers were dead on the boardwalk. One more bank robber was taken to hospital, where he later died of his wounds. The ringleader took off and headed into the bush and was never found. The three remaining robbers were tried and sent to jail.

This book traces the history of the robbers from their origins in the Caucasus mountains in South Ossetia, Russia, to their immigration to Canada as labourers, and finally, to their fateful trip to Hazelton, and then to either their deaths or to jail.

Using archival sources, historical newspapers, and numerous first-hand accounts of the robbery, this book presents a new and in-depth look at an intriguing historical story.

I’m pleased to say I have a first draft of the book done, and I’m doing the first read-through edit now. I had such an exciting find last week when doing some research. The oldest of the robbers, Adeku Smaijloff, left a small note in his medical file with the name and address of his brother. The note was handwritten in Russian and I finally got around to getting it translated. In my next blog post I’ll tell you what I found!