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A Twelve-month Transprovincial Road Route
Travelling by Lake and River

Harrison Lake-Lillooet to Interior is Advised

What L.A. Agassiz, Old Pioneer, Says of Prospect

By Percy Gomery
Member Vancouver Automobile Club and Trans-Canada Pathfinder

   In August, 1869, Lord Granville, Secretary for the Colonies, wrote the Governor of British Columbia the proposed terms of union with the Dominion of Canada.  After providing for “a railway across the mountains,” the need for a connecting highway for the Colony was also recognized, and this clause followed:
  “The Dominion shall, within three years from the date of union, construct and open for traffic such Coach Road from some point on the line of the Main Trunk Road (Cariboo Trail in Fraser Canyon) of this Colony (B.C.) to Fort Garry.”

It is not clear why no mention is made of the Coach Road in the finally accepted terms, but in point of fact it eventuated that “said railway” definitely destroyed “said Main Trunk Road” as far east as it followed the west side of the Fraser, and in very recent years another Fraser Canyon railway built by another Dominion Government finished the job.


   Mr. Lewis Arthur Agassiz, who settled in the valley bearing his name in 1862, says, however, that the destroyed road was not the original “Cariboo Trail” at all.  The gold discovery was made about 1858 and for some years the “Cariboo Trail” carried its numerous passengers and freight from New Westminster by boat through the Harrison River and Harrison Lake to the Indian village of Douglas; thence over a road built by the Royal Engineers (and still a good road) to the southern end of Lillooet Lake.  By barge to Pemberton was the next relay, thence twenty miles by another road and two more barge hauls into Lillooet town, crossing a five-mile portage between Anderson and Seaton Lakes.  This old trail then proceeded northward by the Fraser to Quesnel by a road that is still the main travelled thoroughfare of that country.

This route into the interior was abandoned after various efforts of the engineers to overcome a rapids in the Harrison River which, except for three months in the summer, became too shallow to permit the boats to ascend.  In 1863 the road was constructed through the canyon from Hope or Yale towns which fought bitterly as claimants for the title of head-of-navigation port.  Some years later the Cariboo delivered up the last of its easy-getting gold, and twenty years later there seems to have been no serious opposition to the C.P.R. appropriating the grades.


   I spent a day discussing the question of a transprovincial highway with Mr. Agassiz.  He is an unusually conservative, hard-thinking man of far-seeing vision, as is of course evidenced by the history of the Agassiz Valley.  His fifty-eight years’ experience of British Columbia, from bare-foot boy of a first lone settler to his position today as a provincial figure and landmark, render his discussions profoundly authoritative and of entrancing interest.

   A man who in days far forgotten, canoed a hundred miles down the Fraser, around Point Grey and into Burrard Inlet to market a tub of butter to the mill hands of Gastown, knows well the value of transportation.  And if any man should know the correct and shortest route to travel in a new country it is likely to be he who, his arm cut off in a threshing machine, knows that his life depends on arrival at the nearest doctor’s seventy-five miles away, with no means of transportation except a weekly boat and a canoe.


   Mr. Agassiz believes that the logical highway and motor route to connect our coast with the interior is via Coquitlam, Mission, Harrison Mills, a new road to Harrison Hot Springs, then over the old Cariboo Trail by the shores of four of the most beautiful lakes imaginable and their connecting rivers to the town of Lillooet, from which road communication now exists to all points of the interior.  His reasons in support of this road are:
    1.       It would open up rich mineral and agricultural sections now isolated.  For example Agassiz and Pemberton Meadows are without motor connection, although the former has an outlet by ferry.
    2.       It is easy of construction as compared with any other of the routes proposed, there being few rock bluffs or swift large streams and no railway crossings.  It will also be free from snow slides that used to wreck the Fraser Canyon route every winter.
    3.       It has easy grades.  One hundred miles of water level (or from Vancouver 140 miles practically water level) and the balance a water grade.  Situation is for the most part in the dry belt where snowfall is light.
    4.       The route can be kept open all the year round.
    5.       It is probably the most beautiful route.  One hundred miles of lake shore with fishing and hunting beyond compare.
    6.       Would give access to the Harrison Hot Springs and the 20-Mile Hot Springs famous on the old Cariboo Trail in 1860.
    7.       Could be utilized at once for motor tourist travel, in the same way it was used in 1860, by means of motor launches and scows.  Thousands of tons of goods were transported over the route in the early sixties by ox-team and steam ferry.
    8.       The stretches around the lakes could be built as time goes on, and as use, development and finances permitted.


   Cross-examination in the Harrison Lake-Lillooet route enquiry commences near Harrison Mills, where the present through road from Vancouver terminates, and ends at Lillooet Town, from which communication is now an established fact.  This distance is 160 miles, of which slightly over forty miles are new road to be built, although fifteen to twenty of even this distance, from Pemberton to Anderson Lake, is at present, I am informed by the government, “passable for wagons, but would not be considered a motor road.”  Seemingly the expenditure necessary to make it a motor road would not be great.  The most difficult road-building would probably be that from Harrison Mills on the east side of Harrison River to the Hot Springs, twelve miles as the crow flies, and probably twenty by road.  This stretch, however, has already been surveyed by the government, and was frequently promised to be built in Sir Richard McBride’s day.

   The serious problem of the whole route is, of course, the expense of maintaining ferry services on the four lakes.  The longest service, that of 35 miles on Harrison Lake, would probably prove the simplest, as a considerable passenger traffic from the Hot Springs Hotel colony would contribute to its support.  Without doubt very many tourists would be attracted to the springs from Vancouver (over a road twenty miles shorter than at present and with no possibility of ferry delay) for the Lake trip as passengers only.  Harrison is described as one of the most beautiful lakes accessible.  Opinion in Agassiz indicates that the government expenses at present incurred in the Rosedale-Agassiz ferry would be eliminated, as there would be little further use for it.


   The cost of maintaining a launch and barge on each of Lillooet, Anderson and Seaton lakes would nevertheless be very much to be reckoned with, although motorists could assist in meeting it by the levy of substantial tolls.  The Fraser Canyon Cariboo road had toll gates at Yale, Spuzzum, and one other, and it was popularly reported during the ‘60s that the bulk of provincial revenue was derived through them.  On the other hand, much provincial expenditure was needed to rebuild cribbing and grades every spring on that road.

   The Harrison-Lillooet route, according to Mr. Agassiz, will be easy and economical to keep in repair.  The undisputed statement that one may, today, with no road construction and no boats, go from Douglas, at the head of Harrison Lake, right into Lillooet town speaks volumes for the basic points in favor of the route.  “Imagine,” said Mr. Agassiz, “trying to find a horse path up the Canyon today, or up Silver Creek on the former government’s mad attempt to get over the Hope Mountains to Princeton!”  It is stated that about $200,000 was spent a few years ago on this Hope-Princeton road, and the contractors at both ends are reported to have stated that only succeeded in reaching the difficult sections.

   Personally, I am an enquirer only, and have no wish to favor one route over another.  But so many authorities have said that a Hope-Princeton road could not possibly be kept open more than four months, that the million dollars suggested could not complete it, and that the annual re-building cost would be high, that one needs reassurance.


   To the anxious onlooker there are three proposals, one which had never been tried, and which necessitates from fifty to seventy-five miles of straight mountain road-building, and two roads which have in the past been used, and therefore, to some extent, at least, proved.  Of the two which have actually been trunk routes the one is no longer available in the same way except by relatively very large cost or very great danger.  The third route presents all its advantages of old except the partial destruction of twenty miles of road north of Pemberton by the building of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.

   The Minister of Public Works told us at Nelson that the chief barrier to the Canyon rote s more than twenty level railway crossings to overcome.  Many of us see another very prominent objection.  Mr. Agassiz puts his finger on the chief when he says, “The Canyon Cariboo Trail was always a ‘hair-raiser’.”  Motorists brag of how they negotiated a certain hazardous (or hazardous appearing) road, and they have audiences!  Why?  Because the majority of drivers have not done it, and will not do it.  We are building a road partly to attract tourists; it is well to consider whether the road will do this, or the reverse.  If the Canyon route embraced a complete panorama of B.C. scenery we and our visiting tourists might endure the nervous strain, but rock precipices and a seething stream do not constitute scenery.  They are just a picture, and a picture a hundred miles long is a maddening bore.  So far as I can Gather information, the Harrison Lake-Lillooet route is really characteristic in every way of the province; delta, farm, mountain, stream and lake.


   A glaring shortcoming of the proposed road will be its lack of political support; the lines of greater population lie elsewhere.  The question, “Why build a road through a new country?” is anticipated by Mr. Agassiz.  Modern road-building is done that way.  He points out that, in 1875, the Yale road was built from New Westminster to Hope to eliminate the difficult water haul to the latter point; and the road was entirely unused for years.  But witness the prosperous Fraser Valley of today.

   A possible development of a few years hence must be considered in conjunction with this Harrison Lake-Lillooet route to overcome the Cascades.  Prophets are not lacking who see the P.G.E. Railway coming down from the north short-cut at Clinton thirty-five miles across to Ashcroft, there to link up with a well-established government railway to Burrard Inlet.  In this case it is highly probable that the whole P.G.E. grade from Clinton to Squamish would be abandoned.  The economy of widening this grade into a highway, by steam power and before the rails are removed, would be so obvious as to tempt a government even so far away as Victoria.  But with such happy eventuality (and departure from that big interest cry, “Millions for railways but not one cent for highways”) Vancouver is still fifty to sixty terrible miles from the terminus of the transprovincial road.

   Meantime the Harrison Lake-Lillooet route is up for discussion, and according to Mr. Agassiz and others, will require more than politics to discuss it off the map.  

Reprinted from The Daily Province, December 31, 1920.