Road and the "Chilcotin War"
Almost a century before Bella
Coola bulldozers blazed their
way into the interior, an ill-fated
scheme to build a wagon trail
across the Chilcotin Plateau ended
in confrontation and tragedy.
In 1864, members of the Plateau
area's Tsilhqot'in (Chilcotin)
First Nation learned of Victoria
entrepreneur Alfred Waddington's
plans to build a road from Bute
Inlet (just south of the Knight
Inlet, at the mouth of the Klinaklini
River), through the Homathko River
Valley to the Fraser Valley gold
fields at Barkerville. Fearing
both territorial infringement
and the further spread of smallpox
epidemics that had already ravaged
their people, a group of 8 Tsilhqot'in
men attacked one of Waddington's
work camps and killed 14 road
builders. The attackers were captured
and tried for murder in a Quesnel
court; 5 of the men, including
Klatassine, their leader, were
sentenced to death and hanged.
The deadly confrontation, which
is sometimes referred to as the
"Chilcotin War" - the
only conflict ever fought by British
Columbian natives in defense of
their territorial sovereignty
- continues to create controversy.
Later judicial inquiries questioned
the legal conduct of the Quesnel
trial, and the fairness accorded
to the convicted men, who defended
their actions as acts of war.
The Renegade Road
If you travel British Columbia's 450 kilometre
Bella Coola Highway (Highway 20) from Williams
Lake to the inland port of Bella Coola,
you will pass the upper reaches of the Klinaklini
River at the crossing of Kleena Kleene,
between Tatla Lake and Nimpo Lake on the
western edge of the Chilcotin Plateau. (The
interior route, sometimes known as the "Freedom
Highway," is the only road that passes
by the Klinaklini River.)
Take a deep breath as you begin your descent
from the uplands, just east of Bella Coola.
You are about to travel through 43 thrilling
kilometres of heart-thumping, wheel-gripping
highway known as "The Hill," filled
with sharp, hairpin turns and featuring
2 major switchbacks. One 9-kilometre stretch
will reach an ultra-steep grade of 18%.
As you travel this scenic but challenging
road, keep in mind that it would not have
existed at all without the dogged determination
and independent spirit of local residents
who donated construction equipment and volunteered
their time to complete the project.
Before the road was built in the 1950's,
steep packhorse trails were Bella Coola's
only connection to British Columbia's interior.
For years, the community's citizens pleaded
with the provincial government to construct
a road to Williams Lake, but a petition
submitted during the 1930's yielded nothing,
and hopes for a World War II road-building
project were dashed. In the early 1950's,
a Bella Coola delegate to a provincial Highway
convention listened in frustration as representatives
of other regions complained about the potholes
in their highways; for his community, he
said, a string of potholes would be better
than no road at all!
Finally, Bella Coola's Board of Trade took
the highway matter into its own hands. Town
officials notified the province that they
were going to start building a road from
Anahim Lake to Bella Coola (to connect to
an existing road between Kleena Kleene and
Anahim Lake). An intrepid construction manager
was dispatched to Tatla Lake to hire a bulldozer
and an operator on an "I.O.U."
basis. He began to lead the way through
the rocky wilderness, blazing a trail for
the bulldozer to follow.
By this time, Bella Coola's road-building
renegades had caught the attention of the
British Columbian Department of Highways,
and $50,000 in project funding was officially
approved. Bulldozers began to work from
both ends of the road, but when they were
only 920 metres apart, they were told the
provincial money had run out, and there
would be no more for at least 7 months.
The dedicated (and technically unemployed)
crews refused to give up. They worked without
pay, bulldozing, building, and pushing the
last of the rubble over the mountain to
complete the project on September 28, 1953.
The road was officially opened on July 18,
1955, a testament to the willpower and perseverance
of the builders of British Columbia's "Freedom
Phyllis Munday and the Mystery Mountain
Mention the Klinaklini River to history-minded
mountain climbers, and you are likely to
be presented with 2 facts: first, that the
highest peak in the Coast Mountains, Mount
Waddington, rises from the Franklin Glacier
on the south side of the river's trench,
and second, that the first climbers to head
for its summit were the husband-and-wife
team of Don and Phyllis Munday.
was Alfred Waddington?
The highest mountain peak in the
Klinaklini watershed is named
in honour of Alfred Waddington,
a British-born author, entrepreneur,
road and railway promoter and
educational administrator. Waddington,
who left his San Francisco grocery
business to follow the Fraser
River gold rush in 1858, was a
Victoria, British Columbia politician
and businessman when he began
to promote the gold rush wagon
trail that sparked the tragic
events of the "Chilcotin
War." Waddington abandoned
his plan for a cross-country road,
and went on to become the Superintendent
of Education for the colony of
Vancouver Island. As an educator,
he actively promoted public education,
and strongly opposed the rescinding
of government-funded schooling
on the Island during the 1860's.
In his later years, Waddington
became active in the pro-Confederation
campaign. As an advocate of the
transcontinental railway, he lobbied
for a rail connection to Vancouver
Island via the Bute Inlet - Chilcotin
Plateau route. Ironically, Alfred
Waddington died of smallpox in
1872, at the age of 71, succumbing
to the same disease that had sparked
a deadly confrontation with the
Tsilhqot'in First Nation several
years before. Victoria's Waddington
Alley, Nanaimo's Waddington Crescent,
Vancouver Island's Waddington
Regional District and the Coast
Range's Mount Waddington are all
named for one of British Columbia's
most well-known citizens.
The Mundays, who became Canadian climbing
legends in the 1920's and 1930's, were the
first to attempt an ascent of the summit
they referred to as "Mystery Mountain."
Between 1926 and 1934, they led several
expeditions to the mountain, successfully
reaching its lower northwest summit in 1928.
In 1948, Don Munday published the book The
Unknown Mountain, documenting the couple's
Mount Waddington challenges and adventures.
Together, the Mundays conquered over 100
peaks in British Columbia (many of them
first ascents), and made an invaluable contribution
to the Geographical Name Board of Canada.
In 1930, they were the first to ski to the
top of their namesake peak, Mount Munday,
located 6 kilometres south of Mount Waddington.
By the time the couple made their first
ascent of the Klinaklini's Mount Waddington,
Phyllis Munday had already achieved a major
milestone. In 1924, she became the first
woman to reach the summit of Mount Robson,
the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains.
For a woman of the early 20th century, who
was expected to wear a skirt on the trail
until she was well out of public sight,
the Robson ascent was a triumph of both
mountain climbing skill and social progress.
Phyllis Munday lost her beloved climbing
partner, Don, to his early death in 1950.
But she went on to lead an active and adventurous
life until her own death, at the age of
96, in 1990. She was well known as an award-winning
outdoor photographer, and as a tireless
volunteer. Her list of lifetime accomplishments
included the founding of British Columbia's
Girl Guide movement in 1910 and the establishment
of North Vancouver's St. John Ambulance
brigade in the 1920's. Over the years, she
encouraged many girls and young women to
follow in her adventurous footsteps.
Of all the honours accorded to Phyllis
Munday - including an Honourary Membership
in the Alpine Club of Canada (1938), the
Order of Canada (1973) and a special "Legendary
Canadians" Canadian Postage Stamp (1998)
- the pioneering mountain climber is likely
to have been particularly pleased with the
establishment of the Phyl Munday Nature
House in West Vancouver's Lighthouse Park,
maintained by volunteers in her memory.