Marianne - Author and Historian

An excerpt from Along The Clearwater Trail

A Young Man's Journey

Young men have always yearned for adventure, the chance to explore, to experience something new.
In the early 1900's Canada was still a young man's country. Over the next mountain could be a field of tall grass, or a natural meadow just waiting for a herd of cattle. Around the next bend in a river could be a perfect spot for a trading post, in the heart of a country rich with game. Perhaps gold lies just ahead in that stream chuckling its way downhill between boulders and over sandy bars.

Everett Lee Greenlee was one of hundreds of young men who heard about the unsettled areas in the Interior of British Columbia. His search was for a place where he could set up a new life for himself, his wife Opal and their four little girls, Edna, Bessie, Vivian and Stella.

Everett's daughter Toody (Vivian) said her father "wanted to get to some new land so he came up from the States to have a look around. That first time he was heading for the Peace River country. Someone told him there was good farmland available there. But he met a man somewhere along the line when he was just setting out, who advised him to try the Cariboo and not go on to the Peace Country."

Everett met a land settlement man in Vancouver who suggested that before going on to the Peace River, he buy a half-price ticket on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway to Exeter, a stop along the line in the Cariboo. The man knew the McNeil family who had settled there earlier and knew they were interested in bringing more homesteaders into the country around 100 Mile House, where the Exeter station was located. He would send word ahead to Lester McNeil to meet Everett at the station.

When Everett arrived Lester was waiting with a horse and wagon. They headed in a northerly direction from 100 Mile House. At first the dusty road, little more than a trail, wandered through fields dotted with firs. Before long it swung down to Bridge Creek. The nature of the creek changed often as it meandered along toward Canim Lake. At times it pushed through windfalls and behind boulders. At times it wandered quietly through willows.

The road passed through Forest Grove, a settlement of loggers and farmers. The men stopped at a small general store and then continued down a hill. The road swung through a grove of trees to the Auld farm at the edge of a cliff on the right. Below the cliff, Bridge Creek hurried over shallow rapids at a sharp bend in the creek. They could see a large wooden water wheel turning in the rapids. Logs floated in a mill pond. Men were piling fresh-sawn boards on a wagon.

Farther on a narrow bridge crossed the creek. A tree-covered hill climbed straight up on one side. Ahead were high, grass-covered hills, a soft, smooth green, dotted with evergreens. Here and there outcroppings of tall rocks formed shelves on the hillsides. At the bottom of the hills a native village spread along the creek, centered by a church steeple. Past the village, the road turned toward buildings visible through the trees. Everett had arrived at the Canim Lake farm owned by Lester McNeil and his wife Emma. Lester and his brother Ben had settled at Canim Lake in 1905, Lester at the head of the lake and Ben further down the lake at Jim Creek.

The McNeil farm was in a beautiful setting, at the west side of an almost circular bay on Canim Lake. The buildings were set on a low rise in the land. McNeil had cleared the rich bottomland that lay between the rise and the willow-bordered lake. Bridge Creek wandered past near the barn and on to the lake.

Canim Lake is twenty-seven miles in length. Tree-covered mountains rise up from its shores along one side. Sandy beaches, gravel-skirted coves and low hills line the other shores. In the background are the peaks of the Cariboo Mountains, snow-capped for much of the year. The lake itself is deep and cold, the fish plentiful, with lake trout of great size. Toody insists that in those days it was called Cinim Lake, no matter how it was spelled.

"Cinim is the Native word for canoe and that's what the lake was named after long ago," she declared. "It was always Cinim. I don't know when it was changed."

Other old timers also referred to the lake as Cinim. In an interview done in the 1970's Florence McNeil, Lester and Emma's daughter-in-law, used the same words as Toody to express her displeasure that the word Cinim had somehow become Canim. Noveta Higgins Leavitt referred to the lake as Cinim when she told about her parents' visits there in the mid-thirties.

Everett liked what he saw at Canim Lake.

"Lester and I got in his boat and took a good look at the land sur- rounding the lake," Everett said. "I walked on this trail called the Clear- water Trail to a place down the end of the lake they called Eagle Creek. It was beautiful country with lots of possibilities."

After a short stay with the McNeils, he returned home to Washington. He had found exactly what he had been looking for and it was time to move his family north.

The Clearwater Trail

The Clearwater Trail followed the north side of Canim Lake to Pendleton Lake and on to the Cariboo Mountains. On the south side of Canim Lake it went to the Canim River and from there to Mahood Lake. At the far end of Mahood, the trail went to the Clearwater River and on to the North Thompson.

During the summer, the First Nations people would travel on the trail above the Greenlee homestead on their way to hunting and berry picking camps. They returned at the end of the summer with loaded packhorses led by the women in small groups, with children and dogs rambling alongside. Hunting guides took their clients on the trail to get to the backcountry.

Toody spoke about the trail and its proximity to their farm. "When we lived on the home place that old, old Clearwater Trail was the only real trail around. It was about a quarter mile up above us. It was travelled a lot both by Natives and white people so it was in good shape. It came toward our place from the Reserve. In a few minutes you came to a fork. One branch of the trail went to Lester McNeil's and the lake. The other branch came our way.

"If we wanted to go to the McNeils on the trail we would climb up to it and head toward the Reserve. When we got to the fork we turned to the left and went down to the ranch.

"If we wanted to go to Eagle Creek we'd go up from the house on the trail to the right. It went along that sidehill. It came down to the lake at what we called the Watering Place, this side of Eagle Creek. From there it went through the trees close to the lake and came out at Eagle Creek. Ladoucers were on one side of the creek and the Pinkhams were on the other. The trail went through the Pinkham place close to their house. "We had to ford the creek since there was no bridge. You could cross higher up, when the creek was low. If you wanted to cross at the mouth of the creek it was pretty deep. So we'd walk out in the lake before the creek itself as it was shallower out there and we could cross to the other side.

"There was another trail, a tiny one that went along the lakeshore from Sand Point and connected with the Clearwater Trail at The Watering Place but it wasn't used very much. I wonder how much of the old Clearwater Trail can still be found and if it is still used now and then."

As a child Toody was entranced by the wilderness and the creatures that lived there.

"I liked to play along the trail up above our house all by myself when I was a little kid. I would wander around just looking. I loved being alone and the look of the trees and the open sidehills. I'd climb up higher in some places and I could see the lake far below.

"I would find these little doodle bugs on the trail. They made little cone-shaped holes in the dirt. They had an odd way of moving, they scuttled backwards. I wonder if they're still up there.

"Everyone travelling on the trail knew they would be welcomed at our farm. Native men out hunting would stop by the house. But the women were very shy and very quiet and they never stopped by. In those days, none of them could speak English. They dressed in long, warm skirts and carried their babies in carriers on their backs.

"When the McNeils had a party or we did at the old place, one or two of the men from the Reserve would come and bring their instruments. The women never came to a party. The men'd bring violins. Violins were a big thing with them. They're very musical people and we loved to hear them play."

One day when Toody was a young girl she had a chance to follow her father's teachings about welcoming everyone who passed by.

"Once when I was about fourteen, I was all alone at the old house and some Natives came down from the trail. I guess they had been hunting up there in the hills and had tough luck. They had been traveling a long time so they were hungry.

"Mother happened to have a great big pot of potatoes boiled up, just plain boiled potatoes that had cooled off. I fried up those potatoes and we had eggs so I cooked a whole bunch of eggs and made them some coffee. And of course Mother had bread. I gave them that and oh! they were so glad to get fed!"

Toody recalled a couple of well-known First Nations visitors. "I remember this one fellow Alfie Roper. He was always friendly. And oh! Did he know how to rope! He showed us some of the things he could do. He entertained people at rodeos all over the country. He worked for Lester McNeil and he trapped down on Benje's property. He worked for people all over, got along great with everyone. I believe he was a policeman on the Reserve for a few years. "And Modest Boyce, what a great little guy he was! He worked for us up at the farm. So he was around a lot.

"Another person that often came here was English Decker. He lived at the Reserve when I was just a small kid. Apparently he was raised by the Ben McNeils, at least for a time. He was educated. He could read and write. He and my dad would talk for hours, standing out in the yard. He had wonderful stories about people all over the country. We kids would listen for a while. Then Mother'd call them in for coffee." Deka Lake and English Lake in the Bridge Lake country were named for English Decker. Deka was the common pronunciation for Decker. There are several variations in the spelling. Decker trapped through the Interlakes District and was a popular visitor at homesteads.

Toody and Tink say that First Nations people, living close to nature, have a better understanding of nature's ways than white people have. They recalled a tradition carried out every spring along the Clearwater Trail.

"It was the Natives' practice to ride along and light matches and throw them down on the ground along the trail. The fires that started here and there would burn off the underbrush. They did this at times of the year when the fires wouldn't get out of control. Everything benefited from these small fires. Some cones would open and the seeds would fall out, underbrush would burn off and bugs such as ticks were cleared out some.

"And this really kept the fire hazard down. As time went on some outfit like the Forestry Department stopped them from doing that. So now you see what happens! Uncontrolled wildfires! I'm sure a lot of good was done by those fires.

"Years ago the Natives told my dad that the whole country was never heavily timbered," Toody continued, "so the underbrush wasn't thick like it is now. Lester McNeil would tell us that too. He said you could ride a horse under the trees wherever you wanted to go. In those days it was like a park with huge trees and little under- growth."

Toody and Tink remember seeing First Nations people paddling dugout canoes on the lake. The canoes were kept at certain places around the lake such as at the mouth of Bridge Creek. They were pulled up into the bulrushes there. In the early days people passing would borrow the canoes. They were always returned. But when tourists began to use them later on they were not returned or were left on the shore, half floating in the water. Understandably, the First Nations people decided not to retrieve or repair them. They gradually disappeared into the past.
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