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BC Archives # A-03519, Port Douglas
BC Archives # A-03519
BC Archives # NA-12693, Douglas Road Remnant, Photo BC Forests Mensuration Survey 1951
BC Archives # NA-12693

The Douglas Road
BC's first "highway"

Also variously called "the Lakes Route", "the Douglas-Lillooet Trail" or "the Lillooet Trail"

The Douglas Road no longer exists, although it was the first road built on the Mainland Colony.  The territory through which its route ran is today one of the lesser-known in the whole province and its economy and communities are among the most remote and the most neglected. 

Yet the importance of this area to the history of BC cannot be underestimated, even though later routes such as the Cariboo Road and the Dewdney Trail get all the glory - even the obscure and short-lived Brigade Trail gets more press!

Yet this once-vital route followed a connecting series of lakes and portages that led into the heart of the Fraser Canyon, many miles above its impassable lower stretches nearer Yale.  Men were already starting to throng the route, hacking their way through the brush of its southern overland segment and braving the Indian-controlled country between there and the Canyon. 

As part of his efforts to exert British authority on the Mainland, which was at risk of being officially overrun by American "Manifest Destiny" (in a possible overturning of the 1846 Oregon Treaty, which had set the boundary at the 49th Parallel), Gov. Douglas chartered contracts on the building of a wagon road from the head of Harrison Lake, henceforth known as Port Douglas, through to Cayoosh Flat (which didn't get its modern name of Lillooet until a few years later). 
HBC explorer A.C. Anderson, who had inspected the route in 1846, advised that it was [quoting Mrs. Edwards] "only feasible except in emergency.  [but] A great emergency had arrived - a life-line must be built to the men on the Upper Fraser, who were in dire need.  Also below, at the coast, a motley horde of adventurers were detrmined to reach the goldfields by an means or at any cost.  [Gov.] Douglas had no extra money to spend, so he called a meeting with a group of miners at Victoria and explained the situation.  They agreed to build the trail themselves without pay."  Normally people who work on road-building enterprises get paid at least slave wages for their hard labour, but in this case 500 men signed up and agreed to pay $25 each for the privilege of working on the road, perhaps in the knowledge that they would get to the goldfields a lot sooner than others, and also would stand a good chance of discovering any goldstrikes along the route (there weren't any of note, other than some that were found until much later, notably the Cayoosh Creek strike of 1884-1898 near the Trail's terminus by the Fraser).  Mrs. Edwards notes that the crews who worked on the Douglas Road were "composed of many nations, British, Americans, French, Germans, Danes, Chinese, Africans and Mexicans" and that they were organized in crews of 25 men, each with their own elected "captain". 
The first group of 250 were deposited by the steamer Umatilla near the native village of Xa'xtsa at the head of Harrison Lake in mid-July of 1858,which they promptly named "Port Douglas", a name that survives on the map to this day; the other 250 followed later in the summer.  Work was slow and often fights broke out between the men, and the lower Lillooet River's persistent rain and rocky, swampy terrain didn't help things out, but the first rough makings of the road were finished by October.  Even before it was done, men were moving through the route on their way to the rich bars on the Fraser around Lillooet; once it was completed tens of thousands of men poured through it, using everything from rafts to whaleboats to native canoes to get to Port Douglas, hauling some of these to Lillooet Lake where they were abandoned at the shores of the Long Portage.  At D'arcy, called Port Anderson then, there was "no lack of Indian canoes" to carry them across to Short Portage, and from there again to the foot of Seton Lake, where the last bit of the Douglas Trail connected to the shores of the Fraser and the booming settlements at Cayoosh Flat and Bridge River. 
Over the next few years, improvements to the Douglas-Lillooet route were made by the Royal Engineers, but even as they finished the route had begun to be disused in preference to the newer routes the Engineers had built through the Fraser Canyon.  Port Douglas was nearly forgotten by 1880 although traffic along the route continued, especially along the stretch from the Pemberton Valley through to Lillooet, and steamer service was continued on the last two lakes of the route, Anderson and Seton, well into the mid-20th Century to service those communities.
The lore of the Douglas Trail is too rich to even begin telling tales from here, and I must refer you to the histories of the region, and to early histories of BC that discuss it, for some of the colourful details of the route and the many adventures had along it by travellers in frontier times.  The route was never popular - as explained in Judge Howay's commemorative essay on the Royal Engineers "The road had never been popular with the travelling public owing to the delays in making connection with the steamers on Lillooet, Anderson and Seton Lakes", despite the first eager wave of uncounted thousands who used it to get to the upper Fraser and beyond to the Cariboo.  Pressure mounted on the government for a shorter and less water-logged route to the Interior, resulting at first in work on detours around the Fraser but much closer to it, ultimately resulting in "the eighth wonder of the world", the better-known but second Cariboo Road from Yale via Lytton and Spences Bridge to connect with the first Cariboo Road, also known as the Lillooet Road (not to be confused with the Lillooet Trail...) which began at Cayoosh Flat (now Lillooet).
The 150th Anniversary of the Douglas Road approaches in 2008, along with the 150th Anniversary of the Mainland Colony.  The route has begun to gain attention from mountainbikers and 4x4 enthusiasts because of the connection to Port Douglas from the Fraser Valley made by logging roads from the Chehalis area near the Harrison River.  Only a few stretches of the original wagon road remain, and none are formally protected or surveyed or marked, and there are no longer commercial ferry services on any of the lakes concerned although recreational boat travel on Anderson and Seton Lakes is common enough.  The story of the route's original contract has me wondering about re-using this road-financing today - if 500 people can be signed up to pay $25 each towards restoration and promotional work on the road - that's $12,500, which maybe could get matching funds from one of the heritage branches of the federal or provincial governments.  Not that similar sums aren't needed by other heritage projects needed in the same region, but it's an interesting idea and one befitting a quincentenary recognition and recommemoration of the route.  It's worth mentioning also that in 1858 $12,500 was a small fortune - in the hundreds of thousands in today's terms - and that the history of the road's budget was that, like so many other government contracts in BC's sordid political history, fraught with scandal, graft and corruption........the province's first road contract, in other words, was also one of its first scandals......
The rest of this page is a visual journey up the route used by travellers on the Douglas Road.  Pictures are arranged more or less in sequence, with illustrative scenics where appropriate and as available.  The links below are to sections on this page; there are links within each section to full pages on some subjects.

Harrison Mills
& Harrison Lake

Port Douglas & Xa'xtsa The First Leg
(Douglas Portage)
Skookumchuck Hot Springs
(18 Mile House)
29 Mile House
(Port Lillooet)
Lillooet Lake
& Port Pemberton
The Long Portage & Birken
(Birkenhead Portage)
Port Anderson
The Lakes
& The Short Portage

Seton Lake to Cayoosh Flat

Harrison Mills

Aerial pic from Photos by Kat
Our visual journey starts where steamboat traffic left the Fraser at Harrison Bay (Harrison Mills-Chehalis) and up Harrison Lake to Port Douglas, the head of navigation from Victoria, at least theoretically.  Sandbars at the mouth of the Harrison River prevented passage by steamers except during the spring freshet, which is in part why Harrison Mills was for a short time one of those transient "largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco" gold rush encampments, as goldfields-bound miners had to camp while finding watercraft or otherwise awaiting passage to get them up past the sandbars and up Harrison Lake to Port Douglas.  The sand bars in question are out of sight to the right, where the river leaves a small canyon that is its outlet from Harrison Lake and enters Harrison Bay, which is the main body of water visible here.  The Harrison's final outlet into the Fraser is in the foreground, where the divide with the muddy waters of the Fraser is clearly visible.

Aerial pic from Photos by Kat
Harrison Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in BC and despite the calm day shown here is also one of its windiest.  Those bound for the goldfields had to fight the strong current and light rapids of the Harrison River's short canyon, entering the lake at lower left here and bypassing the site of Harrison Hot Springs, in the foreground here.  The springs were not discovered until a boat capsized just south of the small point at lower left, and passengers found themselves paddling about in bathwater-warm waters, the source of which was soon found and developed into a small resort, which was at first called St. Alice's Well.  The jade-green lagoon on the lakeshore is of recent creation, and makes public swimming a little less frigid than it was in years before the lagoon was built.  The lake is about sixty miles long and ends out of sight, beyond a bend hidden in the distance, just beyond the mountain massif at left, which is Mt. Breakenridge (7881' - 2402m). 
It was in the period of goldfield-bound travel that the ranges visible here acquired the name "Lillooet Ranges"; these being the ranges encountered on the way to the Lillooet Country, and pretty well forming the wall between the gold-rich Canyon and the coastal areas of the Mainland.  The ranges to the west of Harrison Lake (left in this photo) are the Douglas Ranges.

Port Douglas & Xa'xtsa

BC Archives # PDP 01889, Port Douglas on Douglas Lake (Little Harrison Lake), London Illustrated News 1864
BC Archives # PDP01889
BC Archives # A-03519, Port Douglas. 1865 Photo Charles Gentile
BC Archives # A-03519
These images of Port Douglas are from within a year of each other - 1864 and 1865 respectively - and show Douglas towards the end of its useful life;  by the end of the decade it would be near-completely a backwater within the about-to-be province, as nearly all traffic bound for the Interior was now routed through Yale.  The engraving at left is from the London Illustrated News, which sent a reporter and artist through the route to the Cariboo goldfields - a few other engravings in the same series follow below.  Douglas at this time had settled down some, but descriptions of it make it out to have been a "lusty, brawling Gold Rush settlement", apparently even a little more on the down and dirty side than Yale, which is saying something, considering that Yale had earned the description "the wickedest little settlement in British Columbia".  Despite its rough-and-tumble social life, Douglas had an impressive business register during its heyday, and land prospects had been so good lands down the west side of Harrison Lake from here were allocated for a new townsite, Tipella City, which never amounted to much, being forgotten nearly as quickly as Port Douglas itself disappeared. 

BC Archives # NA-12690, View of Port Douglas, Little Harrison Lake, from hillside above, 1926
BC Archives # NA-12690
BC Archives # NA-12692, View of Xa'xtsa native village from old Port Douglas, Little Harrison Lake, 1951
BC Archives # NA-12692
Port Douglas is located on Little Harrison Lake, a sheltered bay at the north end of Harrison Lake proper.  The 1926 view on the left is of the old Port Douglas townsite, of which nothing at all is left today; the last traces were bulldozed in 1984(or was it 1974?) as part of land clearing in connection with local logging operations.  Xa'xtsa is still there today, and also goes by the name of Port Douglas (other pictures and stories of Xa'xtsa can be found on a separate page).
BC Archives # A-00684, the SS Transfer at Port Douglas, Jun 2 1895
BC Archives # A-00684
Actual steamboats on the lakes were extremely few in the days of the Gold Rush, although steamer traffic continued to Port Douglas for many years.  In the earliest years of the Fraser Gold Rush, steam engines had to be ordered from England or the Atlantic parts of the US and be shipped around the Horn or across the Central American isthmus.  Other than blister-making paddling or rowing, boat traffic on Harrison Lake's inland sea was wind-powered, with steamboat-designed vessels using sail power to get up the lake, as recounted in "Gastown's Gassy Jack" by Olga Ruskin and Raymond Hull.  This excellent biography of Vancouver's founder, who married a daughter of the chief of Xa'xtsa (Port Douglas), recounts how by the time steam engines made it to BC, it was well after the route had fallen into disuse because of the opening of the newer route from Yale.  This disembarking from the SS Transfer at Port Douglas was on June 2, 1895 and with a little digging I may actually find out why.....

BC Archives # A-00683, Buildings at Port Douglas, 1895
BC Archives # A-00683
This is the view of Port Douglas that greeted the SS Transfer's passengers and crew as they approached shore in 1895 - there doesn't seem to have been a wharf at that time.  Short of more information on what was going on in Port Douglas in 1895, I can only guess at the buildings in the background by their design.  The one in front appears to be a barn, probably with a smithy, although there is a fenced orchard in behind suggesting it is also a home; the one behind it some kind of commercial building, at one time a store, perhaps still in use as a warehouse.  In the bank of till at left there appears to be the entrance to a root cellar, maybe considering the heavy till it's a dynamite shed, though.  The large canoe in the boatshed is of Indian design, but of a large style for use on the heavy waters of Harrison Lake, much lighter than the slim river canoes common farther upcountry.

BC Archives # PDP01650, Church near Douglas, Douglas Road, Thomas Greycroft 1862
BC Archives # PDP 01650
I'm not certain of the location of this 1862 view "above Douglas".  This may be the native church at Xa'xtsa, or another one farther up the Douglas Road - Semahquam maybe (pron. shaMAHkwam).

The Douglas Portage
(the first portage from Harrison Lake to Tenass Lake)

People unfamiliar with BC's geography might puzzle over why a mere 29 mile stretch of river valley would have been such a daunting obstacle to travel.  But it was - the pictures that follow give a hint of the thick brush and rocky terrain that lines the valley of the Lower Lillooet River.  The going was very tough, and not just for the original roadbuilders - the Royal Engineers had to rebuild parts of the road a few years later to make it more passable - only to see it abandoned shortly thereafter.  One stretch became known as Gibraltar Hill because of its steep grade and rocky ground, built to avoid a small canyon on the river; I think this is where "Moody's look-out" is on the map at right (clicking on the map will open an enlarged version).  Just downstream from it, St Agnes Well, 18 Mile House and the "Falls of Lillooet"  are the area today known as Skookumchuck Hot Springs, or Ska'tin
closeup of Douglas Portage from Royal Engineers Map
The road grades shown in the following pictures were photographed in 1951 and are most likely no longer extant, as logging road construction in more recent times has probably had to use the same route through this narrow part of the Lillooet River Valley.  Only very small segments of any stretch of the Douglas Trail remain today, here and there along the route; few, if any, are protected by heritage designation.
BC Archives # NA-12693, Douglas Road Remnant, Photo BC Forests Mensuration Survey 1951
BC Archives # NA-12693
BC Archives # NA-12700, Douglas Road Survey Marker Photo: BC Forest Service Mensuration Survey 1951
BC Archives # NA-12700
BC Archives # NA-12697, Douglas Road Remnant, Photo: BC Forests Mensuration Survey 1951
BC Archives # NA-12697
BC Archives # NA-12704, Douglas Road Remnant, Photo BC Forest Service Mensuration Survey 1951
BC Archives # NA-12704

BC Archives # I-20557, Bridge over the Lillooet River, 1946, photog. Boucher
BC Archives # I-20557

Aerial pic from Photos by Kat
Again, I'm not sure of the location of this point-of-view, which may be over the shoulder of the Lillooet Ranges looking into the valley of the Lower Lillooet River, appears to be, in the foreground, Tenass Lake, or Little Lillooet Lake (Tenass means "little" in the Chinook Jargon), with the first waters of Lillooet Lake farther on; in between was Decker's Portage, at the northern end of which was 29 Mile House. The other possibility for this view is that this is Nahatlatch Lake, between Douglas and Kanaka Bar; anyone familiar with the route please contact me (replace "_at_" in address with @ symbol) so I can correct this vagueness!

Skookumchuck R. (Lillooet R.) looking E. 18 Mi. Douglas Wagon Rd. nr. Pemberton, 1913, BC Forest Service Photo
BC Archives # NA-04380

BC Archives # C-00911, St. Agnes Well Hot Springs (Skookumchuck Hot Springs) nr. Pemberton, 1958
BC Archives # C-00911

Skookumchuck Hot Springs
(St. Agnes' Well - 18 Mile House - Ska'tin)

Note: there are three places in BC called Skookumchuck, the others being near Radium Hot Springs in the East Kootenay and at the outlet of Sechelt Inlet at the northern end of the Sunshine Coast - (the latter is a saltwater rapid and by far the most "'skookum" of the three.  The Kootenay location is also sometimes called Skookumchuck Hot Springs.

Skookumchuck means "rapids" in the Chinook Jargon - literally "strong water" or "powerful water"; I believe "rapids" (or "hot spring") is also the meaning of the St'at'imcets name Ska'tin.  This hot springs takes its name from the rapids shown at left above, but the name might just as well refer to the hotsprings near this site, which have spiritual potency in local native culture, which in part helps account for why the Oblate missionaries coopted the site for religious purposes and there remains today here a "ghost town" which does in fact have inhabitants, members of the In-SHUCK-ch Nation.  The triple-spired Church of the Holy Cross at lower left is a classic of native Catholic church design, reflective of the Franco-Belgian origin of many of the Oblate fathers; surrounding this church are many vintage houses, many abandoned.  The cemetery gate at lower right - also at Skookumchuck, I think - also displays French influences.  18 Mile House was not quite at the same site, but was slightly downstream and nothing is left of it, but both sites went by the name St. Agnes' Well (St. Alice's Well was Harrison Hot Springs, although it was discovered a few years later).  The Lillooet River Valley has several hot springs, getting progressively more and more sulfurous southwards from Meager Creek, the northernmost about 60 miles upstream from Pemberton, which has hardly any sulfur smell at all, down to Harrison Hot Springs which is very sulfurous. 

BC Archives # NA-12694, Church at Skookumchuck Hot Springs (18 Mile House), Douglas Road, Photo BC Forests Mensuration Survey 1951
BC Archives # NA-12694
BC Archives # NA-12701, Cemetery along Douglas Road, Photo: BC Forest Service Mensuration Survey 1951
BC Archives # NA-12701

29 Mile House
(Port Lillooet)

BC Archives G-00793, Kettrell's Inn on the Douglas Road, photo Charles Gentile 1865
BC Archives # G-00793
BC Archives # D-07905, 29 Mile House (Port Lillooet) on the Douglas Road, s. end of Lillooet Lake
BC Archives # D-07905
I'm tempted to speculate that Kettrell's Inn, the Douglas Road roadhouse photographed at left by Gentile in 1865, was one of the businesses depicted in the London Illustrated News engraving of 29 Mile House at right, but I'd have to research the business registers to be sure.   There were about 15 roadhouses in total between Douglas and Lillooet, with 29 Mile House, sometimes called 28 Mile House, being the largest, and also going by the name Port Lillooet, as it was at the southern end of Lillooet Lake and got its old name because it was "the port for the Lillooet Country".  Note the steamship in the lower left of the engraving, which would have carried travellers to Port Pemberton, at the north end of Lillooet Lake, near today's Mt. Currie, to connect with the Long Portage to Port Anderson.  The 1957 photograph at lower right shows what was thought to be the remains of one of the vanished steamship fleet, the SS Prince of Wales; the view at lower left is of the outlet of Lillooet Lake; the location of 29 Mile House would have been on the hidden side of the headland at right foreground.
BC Archives # C-00917, South End of Lillooet Lake, nr. Pemberton, 1957, photog. unknown
BC Archives # C-00917
BC Archives # C-00916, Possible Remains of SS Prince of Wales, Lillooet Lake nr. Pemberton, photo unknown, March 1957
BC Archives # C-00916

Aerial pic from Photos by Kat
The view at left is of Lillooet Lake looking south from above Joffre Creek, the route of today's Highway 99 via Duffy Lake to Lillooet.  The location of 29 Mile House would be at the last visible shore of the lake here, or just beyond.  The location of Port Pemberton, the next waypoint of the Douglas Road, was out of sight at lower right, a few more miles on.

Port Pemberton
& "Old Lillooet" (Lil'wat)

BC Archives # C-00912, N. End of Lillooet Lake, 1957
BC Archives # C-00912

BC Archives # G-00803, Port Pemberton, Lillooet Lake, 1865, photo Charles Gentile
BC Archives # G-00803

Aerial pic from Photos by Kat

Photo by Kat
Aerial pic from Photos by Kat




BC Archives # C-01003, group at John Jack's cabin
BC Archives # C-01003

Birken & The Gates Valley
(The Long Portage - Mosquito Pass)

BCArchives # I-57563, Summit Lake (Gates Lake, Birken Lake), Long Portage
BC Archives # I-57563

BC Archives # NA-04636, "Scenes from the PGE Cruise" - the Pemberton Portage (via Birken to D'arcy), 1923
BC Archives # NA-04636

BC Archives # C-01147, Harry Judd's Stage on Pemberton Trail, 1910s
BC Archives # C-01147

BC Archives # C-01030, Ray Elliott on the Pemberton Trail, 1910s, photog. unknown
BC Archives # C-01030

BC Archives # C-00994, W. Hamill's Team on Pemberton Road Construction, 1910s, photog. unknown
BC Archives # C-00994

BC Archives # C-01161, Remains of Second Halfway House, nr. Pemberton 1957
BC Archives # C-01161
BC Archives # C-01163, Remains of Second Halfway House (rear) nr. Pemberton, 1957
BC Archives # C-01163

Port Anderson (D'arcy)

BC Archives # PDP00065 - View of Port Anderson (D'arcy) from London Illustrated News, 1864
BC Archives # PDP00065

BC Archives # G-00809: View of D'arcy and D'arcy Range from South Shroe of Anderson Lake
BC Archives # G-00809

The Lakes & The Short Portage

BC Archives # I-22293: View East on Anderson Lake from above D'arcy
BC Archives #I-22293
E. Cleven Photo: view of Seton Portage & Anderson Lake from Mission Pass
Photo: E. (Andy) Cleven

Aerial pic from Photos by Kat

BC Archives # G-00808: View of Skimka/Seton Beach from Seton Lake
BC Archives # G-00808  (Photo: Charles Gentile, 1865)

Seton Beach to Cayoosh Flat

BC Archives # I-33338, Wagon Road to Seton Lake from Lillooet, June 1910, photo Frank C. Swannell
BC Archives # I-33338
BC Archives # NA-03818, 1913, photo BC Forest Service
BC Archives # NA-03818
View of Seton Lake, Photo E. "Andy" Cleven 
Photo: E. "Andy" Cleven

BC Archives # F-04478, Memorial Plaque & Cairn for the Cariboo Wagon Road, Port Douglas, Sept 21, 1958
BC Archives # F-04478

Related pages:

Little Ships of the Lakes
The Portage
Seton Lake & area