10 Facts – Cascade City

The town of Cascade City was constructed as a Canadian Pacific Railway boom town located in the Boundary Country which was alternatively known as the ‘Gateway to the Boundary Country’ due to its close proximity to the Canada-U.S. border in the West Kootenay region.

The original site of the town of Cascade City.

The original site of the town of Cascade City.

On this day, in 1899, a fire swept through the area, destroying a large percentage of the town and so here are ten facts about Cascade City:

  1. It was founded in 1896 and named after the nearby Cascade Falls which occurred on the Kettle River.
  2. The property in this area was originally owned by Aaron Chandler, an American from North Dakota who, on seeing financial possibility in the area, began to divide the land and sell it off to businessmen.

    The tents used by inhabitants in the early years of the town.

    The tents used by inhabitants in the early years of the town. Image from Wikipedia.

  3. The original industries of the town were mining and the construction of rail in the region but the prosperity of the town was further elevated in 1897 when the Cascade Water and Power Company formed an electric dam on the Kettle River in 1897; this supplied electricity to Grand Forks, Phoenix, and Greenwood.
  4. In its early days, the town only had two buildings which were a general store and a restaurant while its inhabitants stayed in tents.
  5. However, by 1898, there were 15 hotels along with numerous brothels which were worked by women with remarkable names including ‘Scrap Iron Minnie’ and ‘Rough Lock Nell’.

    The Cascade Hotel; one of many that sprung up in the town. Image from wikipedia.

    The Cascade Hotel; one of many that sprung up in the town. Image from Wikipedia.

  6. It wasn’t until the Doon Gang Tobacco Robbery in 1897, when the gang broke into the general store and made off with 150 pounds of tobacco, that the need for a police force and a jail became evident. In this case, the shop book-keeper had to make the arrest himself and detain the leader in a local carpenter’s home.
  7. August 12, 1899; the CPR arrived in the town from the Kettle River Bridge to a town-wide celebration complete with $25 worth of refreshments for the railway laborours.
  8. Unfortunately, only 6 weeks after the arrival of the CPR, a fire swept through the town burning down 6 hotels and several other structures in under an hour.  At this time, the town had no fire department and so a firebreak was created by using dynamite on some of the threatened buildings.
  9. This bad luck continued in 1901 when the rebuilding of the town was disrupted by the outbreak of a second fire.
  10. After this, all but 75 inhabitants of the town moved on to other locations and the town quickly faded into obscurity.

    The town of Cascade at the height of its occupation before it was destroyed by fires. Image from Wikipedia.

    The town of Cascade at the height of its occupation before it was destroyed by fires. Image from Wikipedia.

The town , surprisingly, continued in its reduced capacity for a number of years where it was used as a customs port where, in 1920, it was inhabited by somewhere around 150 residents and consisted of one public building in the form of a store.  Today, much of the original town-site is covered by the Christina Lake Gold Club’s course and the only remaining memento of the town itself is the cemetery located on the opposite bank of the river.



A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

The beautiful Cloud People of Peru are positioned at the point where the first rays of sun will appear over the Utcubamba Valley. Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/58828338854713124/

The beautiful Cloud People of Peru are positioned at the point where the first rays of sun will appear over the Utcubamba Valley. Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/58828338854713124/

Weekly Web Links:

Historical Book Review for the Week:

India: A History by John Keay

India: A History by John Keay

While it hasn’t been an intentional decision on my part, my historical education has, for the most part, been contained to three major sections:

  1. Pre-history
  2. North American
  3. Western European

As a result of this, I am really quite ignorant about even the basic history of countries in other parts of the world and so I decided that I needed to expand my knowledge in order to have at least a general understanding.  John Keay’s book covering the whole of Indian history from its pre-historic origins to its modern incarnation is my first reading of Indian history for its own sake rather than this bits that I have previously encountered through its interactions with the histories of more familiar countries (in India’s case this was typically Britain).  While the author is clearly highly knowledgeable of his topic and the text itself is laid out in as straight a form and chronology as is possible I do have to admit that I did have some difficulty with this history.  Now, I will fully acknowledge that this is guaranteed to be more of a fault of my own rather than the authors; my lack of experience with the history of the country meant that I often struggled with keeping regions, places, people, and dates straight in my head and there was so much unfamiliar information presented that I’m not sure if I’ve actually retained anything read.

This book provides a fantastic overview along with a ton of detail but rather than it be a a good starting place for information about India’s history, I think its something that would definitely read better for someone who already had at least a little bit of prior knowledge about the region.  I had a much easier time with the first sections which covered the ancient pre-history of the region which would go on to become India and the latter parts of the book which focuses on more modern event as I had some background with this through news articles, current events, and the interaction between India and other countries in its more recent periods.


Not the Booze!!! Prohibition in British Columbia

In 1916 a referendum was released in the province which asked for the opinion of British Colombians on two important questions:

  1. Should women be allowed to vote?
  2. Should alcohol be illegal in the province of British Columbia?

I think that in the opinion of today’s society the answers to those two questions would be a resounding ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively but, back in 1916, the result wasn’t quite so clear.  In regards to the question of selling alcohol, those in favor of prohibition won by a margin of 56.5% to 43.5% but, unlike the referendums that took place across the rest of the country, British Columbia gave the 20,000 soldiers of the province serving overseas the chance to vote and these weren’t calculated until months after the initial results were tallied from within B.C..  Now, this in itself wasn’t really a problem aside from dragging the process out for longer than was probably necessary; no, the problem was that the man who was given charge of counting the votes of these soldier was one Richard McBride who was a highly outspoken opponent of prohibition. Therefore, it was absolutely no surprise that the soldier votes were tallied strongly in opposition to the province going dry, however, to bow to this new development would mean that B.C. would go against the national trend and be the only province remaining ‘wet’.  Potentially due to McBride’s personal beliefs, this development was viewed with suspicion by the government, especially in light of the fact that soldiers stationed within the province had voted roughly 50-50 with their vote; could their overseas contemporaries really have such a different view?  Once this was investigated more thoroughly, it was determined that many of the overseas votes were invalid as some individuals had voted multiple times while other votes had been cast by ‘voters’ who were actually deceased, in prison camps, or not actually residents of B.C. at all.

Prepare for Prohibition! Image from www.herbmuseum.ca

Prepare for Prohibition! Image from http://www.herbmuseum.ca

The political scandal which followed this investigation saw the referendum overturned and prohibition was brought into effect.  However, this was to be short lived as a thriving black market, arbitrary enforcement, and rampant corruption rapidly became the norm. Within just four short year, in place of this total ban, the government unveiled a plan which would regulated and tax alcohol (the same as we know it today) and this was enforced instead.

They look far calmer about this than I would. Image from www.mhs.mb.ca

They look far calmer about this than I would. Image from http://www.mhs.mb.ca

Following this, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when the United States began its own era of prohibition, a thriving business erupted in British Columbia as the production and smuggling of alcohol into the U.S. became a prominent economic activity.  In fact, many of the province’s richest families (particularly in Vancouver) obtained a significant amount of their wealth through their positions as rum-runners for their southern neighbour and there are some who compare the actions of this period to the cannabis growing and selling activities of the province today.

*Fun fact; although most Canadian provinces realized that prohibition wasn’t working within a few years, PEI remained a ‘dry’ province until 1948.


A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

Prehistoric footprints preserved in the wake of volcanic activity. Image from Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/pin/21884748161583647/)

Prehistoric footprints preserved in the wake of volcanic activity. Image from Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/pin/21884748161583647/)

Weekly Web Links:

Historical Book Review for the Week:

Spooks: The Unofficial History of MI-5 From ‘M’ to Miss X 1909-39 by Thomas Hennessey and Claire Thomas

Spooks: the History of MI-5 by Thomas Hennessey


I would love to be a spy; seriously, how cool would that be? But like the type of spy who got to play with all the cool gadgets but not actually be put into any sort of dangerous situation because, quite frankly, I’d probably be pretty useless under that type of pressure. Honestly though, I would be an absolutely rubbish spy.  The first thing I would probably do is go running down the street shouting ‘I’m a spy! I’m a spy!’ which (shockingly) wouldn’t be the most useful action for a spy…
But even though I’d love to be a spy I actually didn’t know a whole lot about the various secret service organizations other than what various TV shows, movies, and books tell me about them. Which, you know, totally authentic and accurate all the time; no exaggeration whatsoever; all spies look that good all the time (I hope all spies look that good all the time…)

This particular book is the first one in a series three and covers the years from the very beginnings of MI-5 up until the beginning of the second world war with focus on the establishment of the organization, the uncovering of German espionage during WWI in England, the emergence of communism following 1918, and the preparations that were made as it became clear that the world was moving towards WWII.  In addition to this, it also introduces many of the figures who were central to the organization from its founders, including Maxwell Knight and Vernon Kell, up to the mysterious characters of ‘M’, Miss X, Joan Miller, and Miss Z.

The most remarkable part of this book is seeing just how much struggle there was in the beginning in establishing both the organization as well as the activities it would go on to carry out.  At this point in time both in the act of espionage itself as well as in the detection and prevention of enemy spying activities were incredibly rudimentary to modern ideas of espionage.  In the beginning, spies rarely had cover stories of any form other than claiming that they were visiting a region as a tourist or student.  On the occasions where there was a cover story created, there was typically little to no effort made to maintain them and they quickly fell apart with any investigation or questioning.  It is also fascinating to see how those tropes of spy fiction which are seen as obvious and lazy stereotypes today, such as writing with invisible ink (typically lemon juice) or hiding documents in the false bottom of a case, were actually incredibly innovative in their time and, in fact, gave opposing organizations a great deal of trouble.

The sheer number of times that MI-5 nearly got shut down due to a general lack of belief in its importance as well as the extremely common problem of budget cuts really drives home just how impressive it is that the organization is still operating today let alone seen as an elite and essential service.

Billy Barker – The Founder of Barkerville

William (Billy) Barker was a hugely successful prospector during the Cariboo gold rich that has been immortalized through his namesake, the town of Barkerville.  However, despite these claims to fame, the last years of his life were actually rather tragic.

William (Billy) Barker; image from www.barkerville.ca

William (Billy) Barker; image from http://www.barkerville.ca

Born in England, there is some conflict over the date and location of his birth.  1817 appears to be the most commonly agreed on year (that’s the date that has ended up on his gravestone) but there are claims to 1819 and 1820 as well with the location typically being given as Fenland or Cambridgeshire.  As a waterman, he was employed to work on small boats moving cargo around the smaller canals of England but this career path came to an end around 1845 when the introduction of railroads into the shipping business put him out of work.  The ending of his livelihood in England resulted in Barker travelling to America where he joined the Californian gold rush without having much success.  Regardless of this, he followed many of his fellow prospectors north to British Columbia where he had arrived by 1859.

Despite being one of the first to discover a large amount of gold in the Cariboo region, Billy had to work through three unsuccessful mining locations before he struck lucky.  His first stop was in the area now known as Lillooet which is roughly 400 km south of Barkerville and by 1861 he had worked his way up to what is now Quesnel.  In 1862 he arrived in the aptly and optimistically named Richfield which was only about a 30 minute walk away from what was soon to become the town of Barkerville. Not having any better luck in this area then he had had in any of the previous, Billy decided to look below the canyon of Richfield where Barkerville now lies.  This area was much harder to mine than most and the other miners reported thought he was crazy to try his luck here.  But, this is where his previous experience ended up coming in handy.  Most of the Europeans who mined in the North American gold rushes were from wealthy families and were unaccustomed to the long hours and tough working conditions of the prospector life and so Barker, with his working class background, was likely better suited to this life.

In most areas, gold lies only about 3-5 meters below ground but in the canyon chosen by Barker, he ended up having to dig down almost 20 meters before striking lucky but that clearly ended up being worthwhile.  His mine ended up producing 37,500 ounces of gold (roughly $40 million Canadian today) and the town of Barkerville quickly sprung up around him once word of his find got out.

Unfortunately, it appears that Billy Barker was unprepared for his sudden increase in wealth; reports indicate that he ended up smoking up to 30 cigarettes a day in order to deal with the stress.  He died penniless in Victoria on July 11, 1894 demonstrating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease as well as possible cancer of the jaw.  Currently, his grave is located in Victoria’s Ross Bay Cemetery although there has been talk in recent years about potentially having it moved to Barkerville.

The Grave of Billy Barker; image from www.flickr.com

The Grave of Billy Barker; image from http://www.flickr.com