5-007: FIRST TRAVELER THROUGH DAWSON,1879

The News, Progress Edition, Friday, April 27, 1979

By Dorthea H. Calverley

 

On August 12th, 1979, Dawson Creek will pass the centennial of its discovery by the first white man who passed this way. Thanks to the firm of Watson and Stables, District Land Surveyors, we can now follow his route across country from East Pine to Riley’s Crossing almost exactly.

With a packtrain of ninety horses and mules, Dr. George Mercer Dawson camped overnight on August 10-11 on Tremblay (Buffalo) Creek less than a half-mile south of the present John Hart Highway Bridge.

On August 11, they made camp on what was later surveyed as Township 78, Section 22. They had zigzagged across the Kiskatinaw River just about where the new bridge will be, then passing very close to Ted’s Service Station and across to a point four and a half miles almost due west of the Northwest corner of Dawson Creek’s present townsite.

On August 12, after a hard morning hacking through heavy bush, they broke out onto the Beaver Plain or prairie, where "the grass and peavine grew to the horse’s bellies" and an abundance of flowers was enthusiastically described in Dr. Dawson’s notes. Their noon rest-stop must have occurred where they crossed the shallow ford of North Dawson Creek very close to where the 17th Street bridge is today. Angling across on the hilltop just north of the railway, they came to the present day Eighth Street, where they turned due north for a short distance. They then angled off in a northeasterly direction across the present Spirit River road to a night-camping spot about half a mile northwest of Riley’s Crossing. The present Pouce Coupe River was called D’Echafaud River in those days.

Dr. Dawson did not "survey" this route for mapping purposes, but he did make extremely detailed notes. Mr. Watson and Mr. Stables have checked all points, their altitude and latitude, most painstakingly.

Dr. Dawson’s job was to make a survey of the resources of the area for the Dominion Government to estimate whether it could support the proposed main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was the most brilliant Canadian scientist of his day in the fields of anthropology, geology, mineralogy, and botany. He was the most competent man of his time to assess the mining and agricultural prospects of an area. In the latter field, he wrote a most glowing account of the fertility and climate of this locality.

A day or two later, Dawson joined a part of railway surveyors a day or two’s travel east of the D’Echafaud (now Pouce Coupe) River. With Mr. H. J. Cambie’s and H. A. F. MacLeod’s aid, he prepared the map which was published along with his report in 1879-80. One of these men called our little stream "Dawson’s Brook". I have a letter from Mr. G. B. Leich, (Chief Geologist, Ottawa) to Mr. D. E. Watson, B.C.L.S. It says "I suggest that MacLeod may have named the stream for Dawson, I do not know of its appearance on any earlier map."

Dr. Dawson, in addition to being an internationally renowned scientist, was an artist, poet, traveler, and lecturer in spite of almost life-long bad health following what was probably polio or tuberculosis of the bone at age eleven, which left him less than five feet tall with a deformed spine. Before he died suddenly at age fifty-one on March 2, 1901 he had walked, canoed, ridden, or been carried over many ten of thousands of miles across Canada from east to west and also north to the Yukon where Dawson City was named, not by him, but to honour him.

His discoveries and advice profoundly influenced the whole economy of Canada in the twentieth century. Dawson Creek bears an honoured name being one of only two places to commemorate a distinguished Canadian. It has an excellent reason to revive his story.

 

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