In 1978, back in the day before ATVs were invented, or at least in common use, and four-wheel drive trucks weren’t even close to the proliferation they are today, a buddy and I spent seven days on horseback exploring the back country north of Lillooet.
We marveled at the places we could get to and the vistas revealed, accessible only on horseback. And throughout that adventure we encountered not another soul, despite crossing an occasional and rarely used track created primarily as an access route for fire suppression. Eroded in many places, and certainly only really traversable by a 4×4, we remarked at the ease our horses could use it and the many game and cattle trails that led to places few people had ever seen.
At the end of the adventure, horses and gear in the trailer, we enthusiastically praised ourselves on going where few had gone before. On arrival home we impressed upon all who would listen what a great and remote adventure we had experienced.
Then, not a week after arriving back in the Fraser Valley, there on a section front of the Vancouver Sun was a photo of a Datsun 510 sedan parked on the side of one of the China Heads, three small mounds dominating a large level expanse of mountain at about 7,000 feet elevation, and about 200 yards or so off what we had assumed was a virtually impassable forest access road.
Dismayed that someone had just burst our bubble of exclusivity and the image of horse-borne travel being the only feasible mode of transport in that country, I read the story accompanying the photo.
Sure enough it was written by Paul St. Pierre, the man who in many ways brought the Cariboo/Chilcotin to the world.
Paul was a long-time columnist for the Vancouver Sun, and back in 1960 wrote a captivating CBC television series Cariboo Country that convinced a kid like me to one day explore that fascinating and then very remote area of British Columbia. Paul’s columns and many books detailed the lives of common, hardworking folks eking out a living in the bush with horses and cows. He meticulously described the lives and beliefs of the native Indians who dominated the population of that area, and through his Cariboo Country TV series, made a major Hollywood star of First Nations icon Chief Dan George.
In the mid-1980s Paul St. Pierre walked into my office at The News, and proposed writing a column for community newspapers in place of his works being published in the Vancouver daily. I jumped at the chance, and for a number of years his “Wry and Ginger” graced the pages of this and several other community newspapers.
Paul and I became friends over the years, even inviting me on a number of occasions to join him at his place at Big Creek to bird hunt. Regrettably, I never took him up on the opportunity, as I’m certain such an incredible storyteller would have provided me with column fodder for years to come.
I last had lunch with Paul in Squamish in 1992. We talked about his column writing, his winters in Mexico, his few years as a Member of Parliament for Coast Chilcotin, his wife’s horse, and why I really should take a week in the fall to join him hunting sharptails.
On Sunday, at 90 years old in his home at Fort Langley, Paul St. Pierre left us and his visions of B.C.’s central interior forever.
He was a man who chose to spend most of his life honouring and exposing a simple and mostly silent part of British Columbia that he loved with his soul, and described so wonderfully in his writings.
For introducing me to that part of the world, I am forever in his debt and will, on my next visit upcountry, raise a glass of Scotch in his memory.