Documents, websites, and people’s opinions seem to offer different views on the origin of the name ‘Burns Lake.’
But can anyone say with certainty the real origin of the village’s name?
According to Burns Lake’s latest draft of its official community plan, which is currently being reviewed by council, the origin of the name ‘Burns Lake’ comes from Robert Borland’s expedition, who traveled through Burns Lake in 1869. At that time, the area had been blackened by a large brush fire – hence ‘Burnt Lake,’ which over the years could have become ‘Burns Lake.’
This theory is also found on the tourism website www.hellobc.com, which states, “A huge forest fire had killed off and blackened most of the local forest in the 1800s; packers and cattle drivers, therefore, referred to the area as ‘Burnt Lake.’
However, many believe the lake and thus the village are named after Michael Byrnes, a surveyor for the Collins Overland Telegraph. The telegraph line, which was built in 1866, extended from north of New Westminster to as far north as Telegraph Creek on the Stikine River, passing directly through Burns Lake.
A few years ago, Kerry Guenter, a resident of Smithers and past resident of Burns Lake, researched the history of Burns Lake and Michael Byrnes, for whom he says Burns Lake is named.
While researching the telegraph line, Guenter discovered the existence of an 1866 map, which is now located in the Bancroft Library at the University of California. The map shows ‘Byrnes Lake’ and ‘Deckers Lake’ with telegraph stations near the areas now known as Burns Lake and Decker Lake.
Guenter said that although Borland’s expedition noted an extensive forest fire and called the area ‘Burnt Lake’ in 1869, the area had already been named before his expedition.
“It may be true that Borland either knew the lake was called Burns Lake, not knowing for whom it was named, or called it Burnt Lake, but ‘Byrnes Lake’ had already been named in 1866,” said Guenter.
According to the book ‘British Columbia Place Names,’ by G.P.V. and Helen B. Akrigg, which is available at the Lakes District Museum, Burns Lake is in fact named after Michael Byrnes, the explorer for the abortive Collins Telegraph scheme.
Byrnes passed through Burns Lake around 1866 while surveying a route from Fort Fraser to Hagwilget.