It’s our heritage – Russions were here ‘fur’ sure

But were the Spanish the first of the probing Europeans

We know the Haisla were the first people to live on the lands adjacent to the Douglas Channel.

We also know that the Spanish with Jacinto Camaano and the British with Colnett, Duncan and Vancouver were the first of the probing Europeans to come searching our coastlines.

But were they?

Those Europeans were seeking new wealth, territory and information for their political masters.

When they arrived in the early 1790s the principal focus of the search was for the elusive Northwest Passage connecting the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans.

But the prospect of the wealth generated by the fur trade was also a very real incentive.

Both the Hudson Bay and the North West Companies were expanding their network west from their base in Lower Canada at Quebec.

The voyageurs had not yet established forts and trading posts on the Pacific Coast.

But there is evidence that in fact the Russians were the first to ply the waters of the northwest.

It all began in 1740-41 when Vitus Bering, a Danish trained mariner in Peter the Great’s navy, charted the area in the Gulf of Alaska.

With stocks of fur-bearing animals declining in Siberia because of over-harvesting, Russian fur traders quickly followed and by 1784 the first settlement had been constructed, the first step on the way to Russia laying claim to Alaska.

But, driven by their insatiable appetite for fur, especially that of the sea otter, the Russians went further and further afield, ultimately building a fort in Northern California in 1812.

Given they got that far south, it isn’t a huge leap to assume they explored the trapping potential of the lands in between, including the Douglas Channel.

And that, said Haisla Gordon Robinson in a 1963 article in Kitimat’s Northern Sentinel newspaper, is exactly what happened.

As evidence he points out that the small creek north of the oolichan camp is known as Loosun – Haisla for “Russian”- where a party of Russian fur traders camped in the early days.

There is even evidence that the Russians’ search for fur took them into the Skeena Valley.

Terrace pioneer Bill McRae, now in his 90s, says the Russians built structures in the area of Kalum Canyon on the Kitsumkalum River. (The Kitselas people wouldn’t let them through their territory, so they set up shop at Kitsumkalum.)

Bill says when he worked on the road at Kalum Canyon he saw the remains of house timbers and fire pits that were not of First Nations’ design. He also found other artifacts including a steel axe-like adze, a California gold scale and a lot of early beads that he maintains were of a different sort than the ones later available through the Hudson Bay traders. Bill still has those beads.

He and others speculate that the Russian visitors at Loosun were linked to their countrymen at Kitsumkalum, likely taking the well-established Grease Trail between Kitamaat and the Skeena Valley.

The Russian colonial presence in North America ended when it sold Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million.

Perhaps in the years to come we will obtain further evidence of this Russian link in our local history.

Walter Thorne is author of the Kitimat Chronicles, Volumes 1 and 2, which are available for purchase at the Northern Sentinel office.

 

Just Posted

Thornhill Boil Water Advisory rescinded

Residents are asked to flush their water pipes, clean coffee makers and other appliances

Contractors dig into construction of union office in Terrace

Traffic has been detoured on Kalum St. by Lazelle and Park Ave. for work on the BCGEU office

Baby bear captured on Kalum St.

Bear cub had been seen in area backyards for several days

Public asked to be on lookout for bear cub

Norhtern Lights Animal Shelter on its way here to capture baby bruin in Scott Avenue area.

Searchers rush to find missing hikers with one-year-old child

Family out overnight in cold near Watson Lake

Terrace River Kings overcome Williams Lake Stampeders 6-5

It was a back-and-forth game, played into second overtime before the team secured the win

VIDEO: Oprah Winfrey and a celebrities attend ‘B.C. Miracle Concert’

Fundraiser featured Foster, Steven Tyler, The Tenors, Matteo Bocelli, Laura Bretan, Carly Rae Jepsen

Human remains found at Silver Creek property

RCMP have been searching the property in the 2200 block of Salmon River Road for the past three days

New B.C. acute care centre opens for young patients, expectant mothers

Facility aims to make B.C. Children’s Hospital visits more comfortable

Search ramps up for B.C. woman after dog, car found near Ashcroft

Jenny Lynn Larocque’s vehicle and dog were found in Venables Valley, but there is no sign of her

Police officer hit by car, stabbed in Edmonton attack back on job

Const. Mike Chernyk, 48, returned to work Thursday

UBC medical students learn to care for Indigenous people

Students in health-related studies to take course, workshop to help better serve Aboriginal people

Dorsett has 2 goals, assist in Canucks’ 4-2 win over Sabres

‘It was a real good hockey game by our group,’ Canucks coach Travis Green said.

Berry disappointed: Bear tries to eat fake fruit on woman’s door wreath

A Winnipeg woman has taken her berry-embellished wreath down, after a hungry bear visited her porch

Most Read