Johnston Creek (flowing into Windermere Lake)
“Put a winged helmet and ring-mail harness on Ed Johnston and he would be a veritable viking; put him in trimmed beaver and jack-boots, and he could ruffle it with the boldest buccaneer that ever walked deck.”57
This is the first of two posts about the Johnston family, this one about Edmund Thomas Johnston. The next post will go into more detail about his cousin, James Stewart Johnston, after whom different geographical features have been named.
As Edmund Johnston is typically remembered as the first “settler” to arrive in the Windermere Valley (sort of), this post also seemed like a good place to compare the experiences of white settlers with those of Indigenous residents in the Valley. There’s an extended discussion about this at the end of the post, so this is certainly a longer entry, but it’s also an important perspective on Valley history. Still, might want to set aside some time to read this one (or return a few times).
Edmund Thomas Johnston
Edmund Thomas Johnston was born in Moore County in Lambton, Ontario on 2 September 1843, to parents George Hope Johnston and Emily Sophia Donnelly.1
Johnston had seven siblings (three brothers and four sisters), and there isn’t much in the way of primary source records about his early years. According to later remembrances, Johnston left home at age seventeen to spend four years working on a steamship between Buffalo and Duluth. He then worked for a time for a New York mining company in Thunder Bay, then left in 1870 to visit Minnesota then Louisiana.2 In 1872 Johnston was briefly in California before going to work in the lumber industry in Puget Sound. “Still bent on mining,” he left in the fall of 1873 to Montana, “where for the next eight years he engaged in placer mining.”3
Confirmation of this story is difficult to find. In 1871 Edmund is listed on the Canadian Census as a farmer living with his father in Lambton, Ontario,4 and in 1880 his name appears on the United States Census, again as a farmer, living in Missoula, Montana.5
Johnston arrived in the Windermere district (before the name “Windermere” was attached to it), on 4 October 1882.6 (The name “Windermere” was given, according to Johnston, by Gilbert Malcolm Sproat on 4 September 1883.7)
E.T. Johnston was the first white settler to pre-empt land in the Windermere Valley, recording 80 acres along what is now Windermere Creek on 9 April 1883.8 He was the second white settler in the area: Francois Morigeau and family were living in the area in 1845, and he and his descendants had a farm adjoining where Johnston staked his claim.
The story of Johnston’s arrival in the valley, as told by his cousin James’ daughter, Joy Bond (née Johnston), is:
“The local Indians objected to Ed’s intrusion. They put on their war paint and with threatening gestures, rode around his tent, pulling up stakes and throwing them at his feet.
“Not being easily intimidated, Ed calmly replaced the stakes and then sat in front of his tent, rifle across his knees and dared them to pull the stakes out again.
“After more circling and threatening, the Indians finally rode off and he was allowed to stay.”9
This piece of family lore is almost certainly intended to be an entertaining story, but it does raise questions about how Johnston’s arrival was perceived by people living in the area. Johnston’s arrival and staking of land was followed later that year by three further pre-emptions (Frederick Whitworth Aylmer on 2 June for 320 acres, and Francis Patrick Armstrong and David Bellhouse on 9 July for 320 acres and 80 acres). According to a report written at the end of 1883, these land pre-emptions were looked at by the locals with “disfavour… [as] these Indians have been anxiously awaiting, year after year, the arrival of the “Commissioner”, and are particularly angry and disappointed at no action having been taken during the past season towards defining their reserves.10
Government officials were not rushing to set land aside for those already living in the Valley, and in the meantime settlers were given priority to stake land, including land that was already being used. When Johnston rode into the valley and set out those stakes, he was making a legal claim that was subsequently given precedence above any hereditary claim. As I said at the top, we’ll discuss this in more detail at the end of the post.
Johnston did not stay and ranch the Windermere Creek property and, by July 1884, he was living elsewhere (we’ll get to that). He reports having sold the property to Frederick Aylmer in 1884,11 although Johnston himself had the land formally surveyed in October 1885,12 and in August 1885 he reported that he had 20 acres under cultivation, a house, a mile of fencing, and a half mile irrigation ditch.13 Johnston was issued a Crown Grant on the property (Lot 19) on 4 January 1887.14 The lot later became part of the Elkhorn Ranch.
Meanwhile, by July 1884, Johnston had moved to a point about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Golden and established, in partnership with George Starke, a stopping house that became known as Hog Ranch.15 The Canadian Pacific Railway was then being constructed, and the season of 1884 through to 1885 was a very busy one in the Golden area. During the construction of the railway, it was illegal to sell alcohol at a licensed establishment within 20 miles of the rail line, so Hog Ranch was built just outside of that boundary. Alcohol was brought up from the United States, and “Hog Ranch” would have been a popular destination for some proportion of the thousands of men working on the line.
The name “Hog Ranch”, according to Johnston, was given by him to the property in jest. As Johnston recalls, “It was the order of the times to give fanciful names to land properties. One day, several suggestions of the kind having been offered me, in wrath at conditions and in contempt of custom, I said ironically, let it be known as the “hog ranch”. The name stuck.”16 Hog Ranch went through a number of iterations, but the location is known today as Parsons.
Once the railway excitement had died down, Johnston moved back up the Valley to start, “a capital ranche on the west side of the Lower Lake [Windermere Lake].”17 This property (Lot 107) became known as Sunshine Ranch, and consisted of 243 acres located just south of James Brady’s Ranch. According to an 1888 Letter to the Editor written by a Valley resident, “it is the nicest place in the valley for a ranch. It is well stocked with nice sleek cattle, horses, hogs and chickens… He [Johnston] raised a good crop of oats last year.”18
Johnston pre-empted the property in August 1886,19and received a Crown Grant for it, owning it outright, in December 1889.20 The property was made larger, in May 1899, with another pre-emption just to the north (Lot 5118), which Johnston had surveyed in 1905,21 just months before William Walter Taynton pre-empted the same lot in August 1905.22 Johnston also owned, in 1904, a portion of land on the west side of Lot 346, located just south of Sunshine Ranch.23
Copper City Ranch
Just a month after being awarded a Crown Grant to Sunshine Ranch, Johnston registered another pre-emption, on January 1890,24 this one located up towards the head of Windermere Lake, and encompassing what would later become downtown Invermere (Lot 216). This pre-emption was augmented with two further adjacent lots (1007 and 1008), also pre-empted by Johnston in 1890, with the three encompassing an area of 333 acres.25
A further 320 acre lot directly west of Johnston’s (Lot 1092), was pre-empted in 1895 by Mary Freeman,26 who was Johnston’s housekeeper.27 This last property acquisition, by Freeman, was likely made with some influence from Johnston. InJuly 1897 it is reported that Johnston, “has a valuable ranching property of about 600 acres on the western shore of Lake Windermere near the junction of Toby Creek with Columbia River. He goes in mainly for cattle-raising, … [and] has 40 to 50 acres under crop this season.”28 If Johnston’s property was 600 acres, it would have had to have included Freeman’s land grant as well, so it seems likely that Johnston controlled the property in practice if not in name.
In the autumn of 1898, Johnston “made a splendid deal” with the Mines Development Co of Rossland (who owned the Swansea Mine) to sell this Lake Windermere property for “$6000 spot cash.”29 The company named the former ranch the Copper City townsite, and had it surveyed in the autumn of 1898.30 It was renamed Canterbury in September 1899,31 and later Invermere, in 1910.
Although the sale by Johnston of the future Copper City townsite certainly included Lot 216, and likely Lots 1007/1008, it’s unclear if it also included Freeman’s Lot 1092 (Lot 1092 became part of the townsite, but it’s unclear when). There also seems to have been some delay in the sale itself, which was first announced in September 1898 before Crown Grants for these properties had been acquired. Johnston was issued his Crown Grant in March 1899, and Freeman hers in July of that same year.32 There is an additional newspaper announcement of Copper City being purchased from Johnston in August 1899 – this may refer to the Crown Granted land deeds actually being transferred and everything made official.33
Meanwhile, Johnston continued to busy himself with activities beyond that of farming and ranching. He was appointed to be a Justice of the Peace, out of Windermere, in November 1891,34 a position that he held until at least 1897.35
Johnston dabbled in prospecting as well, staking properties on Horsethief and Bruce creeks,36 and including reasonably well known properties such as the Sitting Bull, which he bonded to a syndicate in 1898 for some $40,000, and the Delos Group, relocated by Johnston in 1895 and sold soon after.37
A Return to Ranching
In 1901, Johnston returned to ranching, moving out to Sunshine Ranch and “taking all his stock with him.”40 He engaged in mixed farming, aiming to plant fifteen acres of vegetables that year.41 Johnston largely stayed out on Sunshine Ranch for the next handful of years, although he had recurring health troubles through 1903.42 In 1906 he sold some 28 tons of potatoes, “at a good price.”43
In 1912, at age 69, Johnston was married to Rose May Brown, “lately arrived from England.”46 The two settled out at Findlay Creek,47 where their second daughter was born in August 1914.48 Rose May passed away shortly after,49 and their two daughters, Edith May and Leona Frances, were sent to live elsewhere (scant evidence suggests that the children were separated following Johnston’s death in 1922).50
Death and Memorials
Johnston passed away “about July 31, 1922” in the woods about ten miles out from Canal Flats. The official cause of death was from starvation or exhaustion after being “accidentally lost in woods.”53 Johnston had left Fairmont by train to Canal Flats, on a very hot and smokey day, and from there he travelled on foot towards the hot springs on Sheep Creek. He did not return, and a search party found his body not far from the pack trail.54
Memorials to Johnston were generous, noting his “tall, stately figure,” and that his “ability to tell stories of the early days made him a well liked and distinguished person whom every one rejoiced to meet.”55 Less than a year before his passing, an anonymous writer to the Calgary Herald bemoaned the “name changers” in the valley, suggesting that “something more substantial [be named] after the Father of the Columbia Valley Edmund Johnston, than one little two-bit creek.”56
This moniker, the “Father of the Columbia Valley,” is also used in an extended article published in The Province shortly before Johnston’s death. Writer B.R. Atkins relates having talked to Johnston while he was in the hospital. Preceding an account of his life, Atkins describes Johnston as having a, “thin, aquiline nose, … [an] eagle-like glance and features, [a] gaunt frame and patriarchal beard…. Put a winged helmet and ring-mail harness on Ed Johnston and he would be a veritable viking; put him in trimmed beaver and jack-boots, and he could ruffle it with the boldest buccaneer that ever walked deck. He is of the old free West, typical, the West of buggaloes and bronchoes, placer camps and pack trains, of horses and herds and unfenced ranges. One look into those steady, steely old eyes, and you recognize what men say to be true, that Johnston never knew what it was to be afraid of man, beast or spirit.57
For all of Johnston’s long residence in the Windermere Valley, there remains only one small creek named after him. Johnston Creek flows into Windermere Lake just north of his Sunshine Ranch property.
Johnston was the first white settler to stake land in the Valley (Morigeau was present before, but I’ve no record of him officially staking land), and so Johnston’s story makes for an interesting case study in contrasting his experiences in the area with the experiences of those people already living in the valley when he arrived in 1882.
On the first page of the Indian Act, the legislation governing Indigenous people in Canada, a “person” is defined as “an individual other than an Indian.”58 In both a legal and practical sense, then, neither the Provincial or Dominion governments recognized Indians as Persons, and one way in which this two-tiered system manifested is that “Indians” were not considered settlers in British Columbia.59
Meanwhile, British Columbia land legislation was framed to encourage settlement.60 As “settlers” were understood to be white persons, the legal framework of the province gave preference to “persons” such as Johnston over any rights or privileges of Indigenous “non-persons.” Unsurprisingly, that framework also gave settlers such as Johnston access to opportunities that Indigenous residents of the Valley did not have.
Let’s take a closer look.
Settlers were given Precedence
Recall that family story of Johnston’s arrival in the Valley, and the anger reportedly shown by locals when he set out stakes on the land. This was just under two years before the Dominion Government sent a representative into the area to set aside land for use by the local Akisqnuk First Nation of the Ktunaxa Nation. (In the interest of precision, I’m going to use the name of the band, the Akisqnuk, and the Ktunaxa name for its people, the Akisqnukniks, in this discussion. This discussion will also focus entirely on the Akisqnuk Reserve: a study of the Kenpesq’t (Shuswap Indian Band) will come another day.)
Within those two years between Johnston’s arrival and setting aside the Akisqnuk Reserve, other white settlers also staked land along Windermere Creek: such land was considered valuable as it was arable (it could be farmed), and the creek could be used for irrigation purposes. For the most part those who staked the land did not actually live on it, but even if this particular land was not being used by settlers, the Government was still eager to provide them with paperwork giving them ownership. That paperwork was given precedence in August 1884 when the Akisqnuk Reserve was laid out.
The jagged northern border of the Reserve reflects these Governmental priorities as it traces along the borders of these settler land claims. That border was not a coincidence. The Dominion Indian Commissioner, who set out the Reserve boundaries, assured readers of his resulting report that the Reserve, “will not materially interfere with white settlement.”61 Elsewhere, in communication with the Provincial Commission of Lands and Works, O’Reilly notes that, “in no case have the reserves encroached on lands claimed by any settler.”62
The Akisqnukniks may not have liked that Johnston set out those stakes, but such stakes, and the white settlement they represented, were given priority and preference by officials and by the law. Indeed, the Provincial Government rejected any hereditary claim to the land, maintaining that Indigenous peoples never “actually possessed” the land, and so had no right to any land beyond the bare necessities as determined by the government itself.63
Settlers were given a Choice of Land
When Johnston and other settlers arrived in the Valley, there were also very few limitations as to the land they could pre-empt (or purchase). As men of a certain age, they were legally entitled to stake out a maximum of 320 acres at a time, either through outright purchase or pre-emption. Legislation changed in detail over the years but, in general, if a pre-emptor had, “continued in permanent occupation” of the land for two years, did a certain amount of “improvement” to the land, had the land surveyed, and made the necessary payments, they were given legal title.64 Rules for purchase were even fewer as there seems to have been no residency requirement.
In practice it seems that some of these pre-emption requirements, particularly the definition of “continuous permanent occupation”, were implemented with great tolerance towards settlers: one need only make an official statement and have two other men in the area support it. A settler could also have someone else live on the land for them, and there was no oversight to these residency requirements.
In practice, land legislation in British Columbia therefore meant that Johnston had the entire Valley – in reality the entirety of the Province and the Country – at his disposal. He could, and did, cherry-pick the plots of land he wanted to stake. A piece of promising farmland there, a plot for a stopping house there, an additional piece of grazing land over there; Johnston could, and did, make choices. As seems to have been common practice at the time, no sooner did he “prove up” one pre-emption than he made another (the dates of his pre-emptions also at times seem to overlap, which may have been illegal).
For the Akisqnuk First Nation to obtain a recognized right to using the land, in contrast, they had to rely on the Dominion and Provincial governments to agree to permit them a Reserve. After 1865 Indigenous people in the province were technically permitted to pre-empt land, but they could only do so with prior consent of the governor and with a Minute in Council by the Provincial Legislature to authorize the transaction.65 In practice, this made pre-emption impossible.
The selection of the land given to the Akisqnuk First Nation was done by Dominion Indian Commissioner, Peter O’Reilly, in 1884. Although technically a representative of the Dominion Government, O’Reilly also had to negotiate with the Provincial Government, which refused to allocate land beyond that which it considered to be absolutely necessary.66
The selection of Reserve land in the Valley was based in part on land already being used by Aqisqnuknik families. Families had horses and cattle, had “done their best to fence and cultivate… land,” had set up gardens, and had an active and vibrant trade with the Stoney Indians across the mountains.67
But the Reserve set aside also contained less land than the Akisqnukniks asked for and, at the insistence of the Indian Commissioner, was all contained in one solid block, so that “Indians… not be brought into conflict with the whites.”68 Neither a family or the group as a whole was permitted to claim a plot of land elsewhere and separate from this main Reserve.
As already discussed, the land set aside for Akisqnukniks use did not include certain farmland along Windermere Creek, which had already been staked by settlers. The reserve also excluded valued pastureland along the east side of Columbia Lake, which had also already been staked, and was separate from the rest of the Reserve. Had the Akisqnuk First Nation been given the choice they would have included these and possibly other sections of land in the Valley,69 but the inclusion of such land would have impeded white settlement and would have caused the area of the Reserve to be split. That went against official government interests and policy.
So, although the Indian Commissioner met with the Akisqnuknik families in August 1884 to discuss what land should be set aside for their use, those families were at a disadvantage in the choices offered to them. In the end, the Reserve boundaries were determined by the Commissioner: the Commissioner uses the phrase “I decided to allot them a tract of land.”70 It should be emphasized that this was not a treaty and that the Akisqnuk First Nation did not give away their rights to the rest of the land in the valley (the Valley remains unceded territory). In practice, however, once the reserve was established settlement proceeded as if such rights had been relinquished.
Settlers were permitted a lot of Land
By the time of Johnston’s death, his obituary remarks that, “he took up and owned many of the best farms, and owned, bonded and sold many mineral claims.”71 This is hardly an exaggeration. If one totals up all of the land that Johnston is either recorded, self-reported, or is likely to have sold during his time in the Valley, it totals somewhere between 1,385 and 2,345 acres (possibly more: his exact holdings are often unclear).
|Lot 19 (Windermere Creek Ranch)||80 acres||Pre-empted April 1883, Crown Grant 4 January 188772|
|Hog Ranch (Parsons)||Unknown||1884-1886(?)|
|Lot 107 (Sunshine Ranch)||243 acres||Pre-empted August 1886, Crown Grant 18 December 188973|
|Lot 5118 (Sunshine Ranch)||120 acres||Pre-empted 15 May 1899, Crown Grant (to Taynton) 24 August 190974|
|Lot 217 (Legacy Meadows)||225 acres||Johnston self reported as original owner. Pre-empted 12 Nov 1888 by G.A. Starke, Crown Grant to J Legassy 23 Dec 190175|
|Part Lot 346||Unknown, as much as 640 acres||Johnston as owner of “West 40 chains” (800 meters) in October 190476|
|Lots 216, 1007, 1008 (Copper City Ranch)||333 acres||Pre-empted 28 Jan 1890, Crown Grant 30 March 189977|
|Lot 1092 (Copper City Ranch Extension)||320 acres||Mary Freeman: Pre-emption 15 Oct 1895, Crown Grant 27 June 189978|
|Sitting Bull/Mary G||about 94 acres||Johnston owner Oct 1898 to c.189979|
|Delos Group||about 140 acres||Located by Johnston, November 189580|
|Virginia Group||about 140 acres||1897-c.190381|
It should be noted, once again, that this land was self-selected, and consisted of properties often some distance from one another, including valuable farming and mining properties.
Compare this with the 8,320 acres given to the Akisqnuk First Nation, of which “about 100 acres is cultivable the remainder is broken, rolling and gravelly, lightly timbered with pine and fir, and more or less rocky as it approaches the base of the mountains. About 800 acres is grassy swamp on the bank of the river, covered by the water at its lowest stages.”82 Elsewhere, Commissioner O’Reilly describes that, “the larger portion of the land embraced in the proposed reserves is utterly worthless for agriculture, and very inferior for grazing purposes, being stony, rough, and broken, and covered with stunted, valueless trees.”83
Setting aside the quality of land for a moment, and focusing on the land area, from a strictly numerical perspective the Reserve allotment might be seen as generous. Indeed the Province’s Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, in 1884, accused the Indian Commissioner of giving too much land. I have been unable to determine the number of Akisqnukniks living on the land in 1884, but on the 1891 census there are twelve families (25 people total) recorded as living on the Reserve (these numbers should be taken as representative at best – there is a good chance that at least some residents were not officially recorded or were recorded as living elsewhere).84
Assuming for the sake of argument that these 1891 numbers are representative, however, the Reserve would allow for some 330 acres of land per person and 690 acres per family. These numbers are indeed generous given that the policy of the Provincial Government at the time was to allot no more than 20 acres per family of five, while the Dominion Government instructed that 80 acres “of land of average quality” be given.85
But, as we have already seen, the quality of the land was unlikely to be even of “average” quality, and taking just the cultivable (farmable) land into consideration, the Akisqnuk First Nation had been given just 4 acres per person, or 8 acres per family. This was well below the area of farmland necessary to sustain a family, never mind that such numbers did not account for population growth.
In short, the Akisqnuk Reserve did not include the “best farms”, as was the land owned by Johnston. Even focusing only on the numbers, it is telling that Johnston was permitted to single-handedly own over a quarter of the land area as had been allotted for use by the entire First Nation.
Freedom of Movement
The final factor to be considered in contrasting Johnston’s experiences with that of the Akisqnukniks was his ability to change settings. When Johnston saw an opportunity elsewhere, he was fully entitled and even encouraged to sell out and move on. He started a pub up at Hog Ranch to monopolize on the extensive traffic and capital coming in from the construction of the C.P.R., and just as easily left it when that traffic slowed down. He pre-empted a large parcel of good ranch land at the foot of Windermere Lake, then sold that property for a large profit to a mining company looking to develop a townsite. He prospected, speculated, and sold various mining claims.
The Akisqnukniks, on the other hand, were considered wards of the Dominion Government, and were therefore unable to individually own land or mineral claims off of the reserve. They were also not permitted, even if they wanted to, to move their family to a new place to set up anther ranch, sell that ranch to some other party, stake yet another property elsewhere, and use the profits of the sale to start again. They could not lease land to mine, or to use as pasture. The opening of an Industrial School near Fort Steele, in 1890, marked the beginning of an era in which children of the Ktunaxa Nation were required to attend, separating children from their families.
So, even as Johnston moved around the valley from place to place, Akisqnukniks were tied in place, making the best of what they had, but with ever decreasing options. Ever more land was staked by settlers and fenced off, while both numbers and access to game were diminished as more newcomers arrived and laws were promoted by white hunters and settlers upset that Akisqnukniks were hunting off the Reserve. Regular economic and social events were diminished, the salmon run decreased, and settlers made demands that members of the Stoney First Nation be prevented from crossing the mountains to visit and trade.86 As Johnston settled into life in the Valley, the lives of Indigenous persons living here were increasingly unsettled.
When Johnston arrived along Windermere Creek with his pack train in October 1882, then, he brought with him privileges that permitted and even encouraged his prosperity. The Provincial Government wanted land to be settled and, as Indigenous people were not considered to be settlers, a newcomer such as Johnston was given automatic preference in allowing and encouraging him to use and “improve” the land. Even as Johnston became an “old-timer” in the area, more often than not he was an old timer having recently relocated to a new property as he had sold his previous holdings at a profit.
The description of Johnston as the “Father of the Columbia Valley” should therefore be looked at with a critical eye. By virtue of his being a “settler” Johnston was given preferential treatment by Provincial law and practice, and although his actions in the Valley were certainly influential, he was also taking part in a system that very much favoured his success.
I hope this discussion was worthwhile: it will be a much shorter post next time with that on Ed’s cousin, James Stewart Johnston.