The Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) First Nation has traveled this trail through the Fraser Canyon for thousands of years. It was used for hunting, trapping, plant gathering, and as a safe travel route that bypassed the sheer canyon walls at Hell’s Gate. Dramatic evidence of First Nations’ traditional use can still be seen along the trail today.
The trail’s other name — “First Brigade” — refers to the trail’s brief history as an early fur trade route. The Nlaka’pamux shared their trail with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), who used it to transport furs from Fort Kamloops to Fort Langley. “Brigades” of up to 400 horses and 50 men traveled this trail in 1848 and 1849 – the HBC’s first attempt at crossing the Cascade Mountains.
Today, a 10-kilometer portion of the original trail is being restored, giving hikers and overnight backpackers spectacular views of the historic Fraser Canyon. The trail climbs steeply from Highway-1 to the summit of Lake Mountain, where you can camp overnight. Cumulative elevation gain: 968 metres. Round-trip distance: 13 km.
The Tikwalus Heritage Trail is just one of many that once laced through the Fraser Canyon, connecting villages and fishing sites and also providing access to important food and medicine in the high mountains. The Nlaka’pamux traveled widely through a very large territory. This particular route headed directly from their village of Kequeloose up to Lake Mountain. From there, they could pass east to Nicola Lake (Merritt) and Kamloops, or north along mountain ridges to Boston Bar and Lytton. Along the trail, you can still find some of the traditional plants they gathered for food, medicine, clothing, and building materials.
Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs) are visible along the trail, showing evidence that Redcedar bark was harvested here by First Nations many years ago.
1847 – Arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company
In 1847, a Nlaka’pamux chief named Pahallok met an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company named Alexander Caulfied Anderson. Anderson needed help finding a route over the Cascades, to bring his fur-laden horse brigades to the Fraser River from Fort Kamloops. Pahallok met Anderson near Kequeloose and showed him one of his hunting trails, guiding him east over the top of Lake Mountain, and connecting with a long-established Indian horse trail along the Anderson River to Merritt and Fort Kamloops. Chief Pahallok and some of his men were later hired by Anderson to improve the Lake Mountain trail for horses, by building switchbacks and removing fallen timber.
Anderson was the HBC Chief Trader tasked with finding a new route to the Pacific, and he succeeded with the help of Chief Pahallok and the Nlaka’pamux. The Hudson’s Bay Company was desperate to rescue their fur business in Western North America. For the previous 20 years, the HBC had been transporting valuable furs from their northern forts south to Fort Kamloops, then down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean and world markets beyond. However, the creation of the Canada/U.S. border in 1846 put the lower Columbia River into American hands. The HBC desperately needed a new, all-British route from Fort Kamloops to the Pacific Ocean.
The Fur Brigade of 1848
The trail was ready to receive its first “Brigade” in the spring of 1848. In May, 400 horses left Fort Kamloops under the supervision of 50 men. This “outgoing brigade” carried furs destined for Fort Langley on the Fraser.
The route over the Cascade Mountains proved to be very stressful for both horses and men. In the mountain sections, there was little forage for the horses besides pine needles and cedar branches. The horses were weak and starving by the time they reached the Fraser River at Kequeloose (Alexandra Lodge).
The brigade continued down the east bank of the Fraser, swam across the river at Spuzzum, then continued down to Fort Yale via the Douglas Portage. At Yale, the brigade was met by four 30-foot bateaux (flat-bottomed cargo boats) sent up from Fort Langley. The exhausted brigadiers and their precious cargo of furs were able to travel the rest of the journey by boat, arriving at Fort Langley on June 8th. They were given a month to rest and re-organize before returning on the “incoming brigade” to re-supply the forts before winter.
By the time the incoming brigade returned to Fort Kamloops on August 23rd, the HBC had lost 70 horses to malnutrition and injury. In addition, 25 pieces of valuable cargo had been lost and one HBC employee had committed suicide. Not surprisingly, the HBC abandoned the route.
The 1848 route was only used by the fur brigades one more time in the spring of 1849, but by then, an easier route over the Cascade Mountains had been found.
1849 — A Better Route Over the Cascades
Following the disastrous brigade of 1848, the HBC considered another First Nations trail that had been shown to A.C. Anderson back in 1846. Called “Blackeye’s Trail”, the route was used by Similkameen Chief Blackeye for hunting and trade. The trail crossed the Cascades from Blackeye’s village at Otter Lake to the Stó:lo village of Ts’qó:ls (Hope).
During the winter of 1848, the HBC’s Chief Factor in Fort Victoria, James Douglas, ordered James Yale (the Chief Trader at Fort Langley) to build a new fort beside the Stó:lo village of Ts’qó:ls, at the confluence of the Fraser and Coquihalla rivers. Yale sent Henry Newsham Peers and a crew of 10 men to build a trading post there, and to build a trail connecting the new fort to Blackeye’s Trail. The fort’s name reflected the company’s desperate need to find a safer brigade route over the mountains. Thus, Fort Hope was established in 1848, and the new trail was completed by Peers and his men in time for the incoming brigade of 1849.
The 1849 trail was a success, serving as the HBC’s main transport route over the mountains until the early 1860’s.
The Tikwalus Trail Lives On
Although the 1848 trail was rejected by the HBC, it continued to be used by First Nations for hunting and plant gathering, and later by gold seekers who traveled the canyon in the 1850’s and 60’s. The trail continued to be a convenient way to avoid the cliffs of the Black Canyon and Hell’s Gate, on the way to Boston Bar and Lytton.
Hope Mountain Centre is working to restore the trail in collaboration with Spuzzum First Nation, New Pathways to Gold Society, the Ministry of Transport, and Recreation Sites & Trails BC.
Follow the link to pictures of our Tikwalus Heritage Trail restoration work
DIRECTIONS & MAPS
The Tikwalus Heritage Trail can be reached from Highway-1 in the Fraser Canyon. Drive 50 km north of Hope on Highway-1. Shortly after passing Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park, look for the Alexandra Lodge on your right and continue on another 400 metres to trailhead parking and trail information kiosk. If stopping at Alexandra Lodge, please note that the lodge is private property and should be treated with respect.
Update: Trail tread restoration, signs, camp facilities and bridge work have been accomplished as of October 2011. Additional work has been done on the trail early in 2012. The official opening ceremony of the improved trail and facilities was held on April 20, 2012. Thanks to www.travelthecanyon.com for recording the opening ceremony on video.
* Link to map of Tikwalus Heritage Trail