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KlinakliniRiverHistory

Waddington's 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 Highway."

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.

Who 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.