It’s good to read all the Burns Lake history in your recent newspapers. Very well written and interesting. I have to admit it sparked me into writing the following article.
The dawn of each new day continued to transform this unique area we call the Lakes District. For centuries, the seasons came and went showing creations full beauty and stillness.
Spring with its lush green carpet, singing songbirds, and natures fragrances; The stillness of summers heat interrupted occasionally by a chattering squirrel, or the haunting cry of a loon; autumn with it’s brisk days, the beauty of gold colors through the skies, winter with it’s white landscape, the silence it brings, and the call of the raven from it’s forest.
First Nations lived amongst this beauty hunting, fishing, and gathering from the forest. They owed nothing to no one and lived a relatively simple and peaceful life.
They saw the occasional explorer, fur trader or buyer, the missionary and surveyor not knowing that this was about to develop in the transformation of this land.
One large settlement lived on the shore of Burns Lake along with several others along it’s waterways including the large lakes of Babine, Francois, and numerous others.
Researching and conducting interviews over the years, one has found there still seems to be some debate on the name Burnt Lake, or Burns Lake. I’m confident to say it was originally called Burnt by the Borland Expedition who in around 1880 traveled through the region after a forest fire ripped through the area.
Almost 20 years later, it became Burns after Pat Burns who would rest herds of cattle here on their way to the Klondike Gold Fields. Also later to the construction work camps during the building of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad.
Descendants of very early settlers, especially those who came prior to the railroad mention the telegraph cabin, later forestry cabin. It’s operator was Malcolm McKinley for the Yukon Telegraph Line on the old Bill Richmond property along Richmond Loop today.
This place is considered very historic, and was the resting place for many packers, and pack trains including Cataline who would camp there.
Decker Lake got the first town in the area with several businesses located near the west end of the lake. The town of Decker Lake has moved twice to get to it’s third location where it’s today in 2011.
The business area of Burns Lake began on Gerow Island with Bob Gerow together with Howard Laidlaw and Jack Seeley.
The first bridge was constructed in 1910 to connect the Island with the mainland. In 1919-1920, the businesses began relocation to the mainland with the development of settlement and the building of St. John’s Anglican Church in 1918.
In between 1990-1992, I spent quite a bit of time in the B.C. Archives gathering information on the area.
Many people don’t realize it, but the first hospital was in Burns Lake built in 1912. It ran for two years during the construction of the railroad, and apparently was quite a large log structure to accommodate all the injuries sustained with development.
I’ve tried to pinpoint the exact location of this facility over the years. To my nearest guess, perhaps it was at the end of what we call Pioneer Way today.
Constables were kept busy, especially during the railroad construction mainly in shutting down illegal liquor establishments, but they had to deal with their share of disputes, murders and fatal accidents.
Constable Andy Fairbairn stationed at Decker Lake, B.C., reported on May 30, 1914, the accidental death of Alberti Emiles at Mile 312 1/2 Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad. This location would be around where Deadman’s Island is located on Burns Lake. Cst. Andy Fairbairn reported Alberti was buried at Decker Lake, B.C., on June 1, 1914.
Now one wonders where the cemetery was located during this time at Decker Lake.
Two Constables were stationed at Decker Lake by the spring of 1913, their names were Murdo Monroe and M.J. MacInnes.
September 1913 saw diphtheria break out at Stewart’s Construction Camp #3. The above constables assisted Dr. Parks in quarantine.
Jan. 21, 1913 Cst. M.J. MacInnes received word from Stewart’s Camp of the accidental deaths of Mike Koh; Tony Miller; Carl Smith; In assistance of Dr. James Webb, Cst. M.J. MacInnes viewed the bodies, and on Jan. 23, 1913, they had them buried at the Burns Lake Hospital.
There was other fatalities probably interred at this site. The first British, European cemetery in Burns Lake.This now opens up the debate of all the letters, and discussion over the years on where perhaps the bodies are buried from the accidental blast on the rock cut across from Deadman’s Island. It would be my guess, one could find them at the hospital site.
However I have not uncovered anything on paper yet, to say this accidental blast occurred killing several workers.
One has to imagine what a engineering accomplishment it was in the building of this Trans Continental Railroad at the dawn of the 20 century. It was west racing against east meeting at Fort Fraser on April 7, 1914 with the driving of the Last Spike.
Thousands of men laboured hard, many from Europe and some from China and with nothing more than pick and shovel, wheelbarrow, dump cart, and dynamite.
The occasional donkey engine and steam shovel for the heavier jobs to see tis project complete.
Hundreds of horses ran like clock work including hauling freight and supplies for each region. The best advantage would have been the winter months with no mud or open water traveling to their destinations.
It would be hard to imagine on how much hay was needed to feed these animals, but it was done.
We now approach the centennial of this accomplishment. I hope the communities along the line are thinking about this and how important this railroad was to our area.
I know I’ve been thinking about this for a while and plan to be involved with idea