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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 47

Nasse-Skena District

Nasse-Skena District.

Steam vessels from Nanaimo now ascend the River Skena. It is one of the routes selected by miners in order to reach the district of Omineca (Peace River). This river is acquiring importance, and will probably require some lighthouses and buoys.

The River Nasse is a little further to the north than the Skena, and derives a certain amount of importance from its giving access to a more northern region than that nearer the Skena, and from there being reason to believe that that region is also rich in gold mines. Both are valuable also for their fisheries. They receive the waters from or near the Lake Alal, which is on the high lands. The River Nasse is quite close to the frontier of Alaska, which by no means detracts from its importance. The steamer 'Union' ascended it in 1865 to a distance of more than 25 miles from its mouth.

The following account is taken from the 'British Colonist,' Victoria, 17th September, 1872:—

"Messrs. Steele and Shorts, who went to Omineca by the Nasse River route and returned by the way of Fort St. James and Fraser River, are loud in their praise of the magnificent tracts of farming land over which they passed in going and coming. On the Nasse for forty miles above its mouth large grassy flats spread out like tables on either side. They were not dissimilar to the delta lands of the Fraser, except that they will not require dyking to be brought under cultivation. From the mouth to the Falls of Nasse River is forty miles. To this point, and above it again, the river may be navigated by steamers of light draught. On either side of the river are immense tracts of prairie-land; but the finest tracts in the province lie between the Nasse and Skena. The distance between the rivers is about a hundred and forty miles, and the country is a natural garden, covered with wild timothy knee high (it was in June when the travellers crossed), well watered by small brooks, and here and there belts of timber or Indian potato-patches. Thousands of acres adapted for stock-raising or farming were seen. The virgin soil is like the rich black loam of the famous Sacramento Valley, where sixty bushels of wheat used to be grown to an acre. The valley is from four to fifteen miles wide, and so level that a buggy may be driven the entire distance—the Indians having there maintained a good wide road for centuries. At several points the native suspension bridges across gulches and rivers are among the most marvellous objects yet discovered in the country. One of these bridges is four feet wide and a hundred and twenty-five feet long, and spans a ravine seventy feet above a running stream. It bears the appearance of great antiquity, but is perfectly safe and strong. At this bridge there is a wonderful spring of sweet soda-water, of which the party drank with great relish. Its medicinal qualities, as mentioned by the Indians, are astonishing. In June, Nasse River was full of oolachans and salmon. The 'catch' was simply enormous, and as evidence of the equable character of the climate and the capabilities of the country to support a large population, we may mention that the Indian tribes inhabiting this section are more numerous than in any other section of the province, and that game is very plentiful. Between Fort St. James and Nation River another magnificent country was crossed. At the Hudson Bay Company's stations acres of wheat, oats, barley, beans, &c., were thriving in the open air, while the tables were graced with white fish and Arctic trout and game."

Another writer says:—

"There is a nice little prairie between Babine and the Forks of Skena where a hundred settlers could easily find room to locate. The soil is black vegetable loam, with red top grass, and a stream page 52 runs through it. This creek is a branch of the Aquilgate (named after a tribe of Indians who dwell in the neighbourhood, who are very peaceable and well-disposed to the whites). They are mostly Roman Catholics. Babine is, from all accounts, the best fishing station in the country; the Indians catch salmon and salmon-trout the whole year round. The timber in this section of the country is mostly spruce and black pine."

Some years ago Major Downie made similar statements in his report of an exploration of the Skena River and country. He says that, after passing the coast range, the valleys present extensive tracts of good land well suited for settlement. He took two days to traverse one of them, which he says is as fine a farming country as one could wish to see. On a large tributary on the north side, within this territory, the land is described as good and well adapted for farming; and there the Indians grow plenty of potatoes. He describes fine flats running back to the mountains, which recede four or five miles from the river; speaks of the Skena country being in parts the best-looking mineral country he had seen in British Columbia; alludes to gold which he found there; mentions that the river Skena passes through an extensive coal country, the seams cut through by the river varying from three to thirty-five feet in thickness; superior to any that he had seen in Vancouver's Island (where the mines at Nanaimo and elsewhere are already of value commercially), or in British Columbia; and in other reports he says salmon and other fish are in inconceivable abundance.

Major Pope, chief Engineer of an American Telegraph Company, who surveyed this portion of British Columbia, stated in his Reports that open, grassy plains, with trees interspersed as in a park, appeared near the Skena, particularly as its head-waters were approached.

Again, in the Victoria 'Standard,' towards the end of 1872, a writer, describing the passage from Victoria to Skena, said:—

"The entire voyage is very little different from river navigation, except in one or two places that have to be crossed; to those who think that the portion of country extending up to Stekin River is of little value, allow me to say such will soon be proved to be otherwise; that amidst the apparent desolation will spring up towns, villages, hamlets, &c., which the unthinking traveller will smile upon when you call his attention to such a possibility. Yet such will be amidst those mountain fastnesses; many a rich mineral deposit lies hidden for the present, but will be discovered and developed as man's requirements call for them Further, I am informed that north of the Omineca country will be found land for farming purposes second to none in the province, so that in a few years you will have a district even of more importance to us here than in Cariboo."

It is possible that a practical farmer might find drawbacks to settlement in this Nasse-Skena country which were not apparent to travellers passing through it at a favourable season. A part of it may be like the beautiful swampy interior of Newfoundland. The Indians might at present be troublesome. The moisture might interfere with harvesting. I must, however, add that statements of the same kind as the above were made to me in California last year by an American scientific gentleman who had spent a considerable time in that portion of British Columbia, studying the character and language of the natives. He was well acquainted with the whole Pacific coast, and appeared to think that not the least promising part of British Columbia was in the neighbourhood of the Nasse and Skena rivers—a gold-bearing territory with moderate climate, good land, fine salmon rivers, valuable timber, also beds of coal, the whole situated close to the continually open navigation of the Pacific Ocean. The climate of the district near the coast resembles that of the New Westminster district, with considerably more moisture.