Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

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Summer Vacation

August 11, 2019

Someone asked as we motored through the Fraser Canyon: "Where did the Cariboo Road start?"

At Yale, sez I, authoritatively. The steamships could only come up the river from the coast as far as Yale before the canyon got too nasty. From there on, everyone and everything had to continue by land. So they built the wagon road all the way to Barkerville.

Sounded logical, but in that case how come a couple of hours later on in Lillooet we came across a cairn designating Mile O of the Cariboo Road? (See evidence above.) Turns out things were a little more complicated than I thought.

The "original" Cariboo Road ran from Lillooet over Pavilion Mountain to Clinton before heading on to the goldfields. It was finished by 1862. Travellers from the coast reached it via a circuitous route overland from the head of navigation at the north end of Harrison Lake. But no one liked making this hellish, expensive journey. Which is why a later Cariboo Road from Yale was built up the canyon beginning in 1862. By 1865 that road reached all the way to Barkerville and I think is what most people mean when they refer to the Cariboo Road.

Travel really does broaden the mind.

June 30, 2019

A sad start to the summer. Another BC writer passes on.

Rolf Knight, who died on June 22 at the age of 83, wrote a couple of essential books about the province and the city. I am thinking of Indians at Work, his 1978 history of Indigenous peoples' contribution to the BC economy, and Along the No. 20 Line, his entirely original 1980 memoir/history of the Vancouver waterfront. The fact that both books have been reissued over the years speaks to their continued...

June 26, 2019

I am very sorry to learn of the death of Bob McDonald on June 19 at the age of 76. Vancouver has lost one of its preeminent historians.

Bob's book on the city's early years, Making Vancouver, 1863-1913 (UBC Press, 1996), is a subtle and groundbreaking study which I return to again and again for my own work. A longtime professor of history at UBC, he was past president of the Vancouver Historical Society and a fixture at its monthly meetings, which is where I used to run into...

May 26, 2019

Speaking of Vancouver in the Fifties, as I was last time, I was struck recently by this photograph from the archives (Vancouver Public Library 81817). It shows the city's West End looking north across Burrard Inlet to the mountains. You can see that there are pretty well no tall buildings west of Burrard Street, which is the main thoroughfare running north from the bridge.

The...

May 2, 2019

One of my favourite books about Vancouver is Eva Hoffman's 1989 memoir Lost in Translation. Hoffman writes about her life growing up in Poland and emigrating to Canada with her parents and sister when she was just entering her teens at the end of the 1950s. The family settled in Vancouver and judging from her book Eva hated everything about the city, which she called "a bit of nowhere."

With the bracing certainty of adolescence, she dismissed the people as shallow and...

April 20, 2019

On a recent sunny afternoon we completed our amble south along the Arbutus Greenway from the heart of Kerrisdale to the Fraser River. (See Part One and Part Two.)

I have to admit that there is not much to interest the strolling civic historian in this...

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