History of the Lower North Thompson

The history of the Lower North Thompson is as wild as you would imagine for a place deep in the heart of British Columbia’s wilderness.

From First Nations to European settlers to people in the 21st century looking to escape to a quieter life, the Lower North Thompson has been, and continues to be, home.

Old homestead

Post Contact Years

In the years after contact with the First Nations people, the Lower North Thompson went through a multitude of changes.

1800s

Back in 1817, Alexander Ross’s of the North West Company, was to find another route eastward from the North River to the Rocky Mountains. It was described as “… a large tract of wild country never trod on by the foot of any white man.”

After three days, he and his men emerged from the thick timber to the banks of a small lake. They called it Friendly Lake, known today as East Barriere Lake. The group met two First Nations families, and they hired one of the men to guide them. The group went up the Adams River and across a mountain ridge to Canoe River and back. They walked a total of 47 days and Ross estimated the distance, by the route they had taken, to be approximately 675 km (420 mi).

Old wagon train on bridge

He concluded that: “in reference to the country, generally little can be said in its favour”. No road appeared practicable and there was no water transport. It was “a barren waste well stocked in wild animals of the chase and with some few furs” so that trade might be extended there on a small scale. (The Fur Hunters of the Far West)

The fur trade boomed in the mid 1800s. The Little Fort fur trading post was established and in 1860 it became a Hudson Bay post. In 1861 gold was discovered, bring an entirely new group of people to the Lower North Thompson.

The Overlanders

The first major party of settlers were called the Overlanders. In 1862, a party of men women and children lost everything they had on the trip from Tete Jaune Cache down to the North Thompson. When they arrived at the North Thompson river, they had no way to cross with the cattle. Their only choice was to butcher them and transfer all their possessions to rafts. They finally arrived in the vicinity of Chu Chua, exhausted and starving. They were fed by the First Nations people and then sent on their way to Kamloops.

Old homestead

A few years later, Lord Milton and Dr. Cheadle, adventurers from England, followed. They opted to take a land route, through the swamp land beside the river. It took them six weeks to travel 340 km (211 mi). That trip today would take approximately 3.5 hours by car.

Golden Times

By the mid 1880s gold was on everyone’s mind. On August 12, 1886, the British Colonist mentions “… at a place above Kamloops called Barriere. They are fluming the Thompson, and expect to take out $25 per day to the hand, it is also incorporated.”

At that time, a mere $25 would get you a double-barreled shotgun, a saddle or, if you were inclined to stick around, an acre of land.

Unfortunately, the gold rush also brought smallpox to the Simpcw (link to First Nations Page) population, which significantly reduced their numbers.

As the Lower North Thompson gained popularity, settlement sprung up. In 1886 Louise Creek had its own post office and a store. They finished building the road between Louise Creek and Kamloops in 1891.

1900s

By 1907 Little Fort had a school and a post office. By 1910 it even had telephone service, as did Barriere.

In 1909, 52 km (32 mi) south of Little Fort, the town of McLure was named after John McClure, and early rancher in the Lower North Thompson.

In 1914, Barriere became a bona fide town in Lower North Thompson. It had a post office and railway station and became a hub for the Lower North Thompson.

Things got busier in 1916 when the railway began operation in the North Thompson. While the railway connected the Lower North Thompson to the rest of BC, it was the McLure ferry that held the communities of the Lower North Thompson together.

From 1914 to 1950 the Barriere River dam provided electricity for the city of Kamloops. Interestingly, Barriere didn’t get power until 1948. It was 1955 before Little Fort got electricity in and 1958 when Chu Chua and McLure received power distribution.

It was in the mid 1900s when ranching became the norm in the Lower North Thompson. One of the first ranches in the area was Little Fort Herefords. Gung Loy Jim (Loy Jim) purchased three Hereford heifers in the fall of 1943.

Today

Back in 2003, the McClure Fire, raged out of control. Over 3,000 residents evacuated the area, including the town of Barriere. They closed the  Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 5) and many people had to evacuate via ferry. The fire lasted over 75 days and burned 26, 420 Ha. Seventy-two homes burned down as well as nine businesses. The people, land and animals in and around Barriere, and the Lower North Thompson have since recovered and are more resilient than even.

Old homestead and wagon wheel

The low cost of living, mild climate and serene setting and connectivity to nature continue to attract newcomers to the Lower North Thompson. An abundance of outdoor recreation, coupled with essential services including a fire department, RCMP detachment and ambulance service, make this area very attractive for relocation. Schools run from kindergarten to Grade 12. Barriere also has a Thompson Rivers University Centre where students can take courses in personal and professional development, health and safety and forestry, to name but a few.