Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Sternwheelers and Canyon Cats: Whitewater Freighting on the Upper Fraser

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Sternwheelers and Canyon Cats: Whitewater Freighting on the Upper Fraser

Article excerpt

Jack Boudreau, Sternwheelers and Canyon Cats: Whitewater Freighting on the Upper Fraser (Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing (Caitlin), 2006), 256pp. Paper. $18.95. ISBN 1-8947-5920-6.

The author specialises in local histories set in the upper reaches of the Fraser River, where he grew up, worked and met some of the characters around which most of his books are built. The best examples of his genre make extensive use of personal stories recounted directly to the author by pioneering woodsmen, trappers and others who lived off the land. This volume focuses principally on the second decade of the past century, when the Upper Fraser was being opened up by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP).

Unlike its politically-routed predecessors, the track of the GTP follows the natural gorge the Fraser carves from the Rockies north-west into British Columbia and on to Prince George. Then it heads west along the Nechako and the Skeena to the port of Prince Rupert. Before its construction, the 500 kilometres of dangerous waterway between the head of navigation at Tête Jaune Cache and Prince George offered the only practicable means of supplying the northern interior of BC.

The pinch point in this part of the Fraser is its Grand Canyon, some 170 kilometres upstream from Prince George. At the time, a series of rapids and gorges riddled with sandbars, rocks and islands surrounded by unpredictable eddies and a major whirlpool made even paddle steamers disembark their passengers along portage trails before risking passage. Canyon 'cats' made a thriving but risky living as pilots for the river traffic navigating these hazards. The build-up of traffic along the Upper Fraser with the construction of the railway produced record losses of shipments and drownings. …

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