Monday, February 25, 2013

Hot Spring House 1859-1866

    In 1848 news the a gold discovery in California raced around the world, and a William Stein left Ireland to seek his fortune in the new land. From the wild and woolly port of San Fransisco he made his way to the foothills and up the San Joaquin River.  He did better than some, and was reported to have holdings on the tributary named Stanislaus, beyond Sonora, and near an area known as the Mormon Diggings. Gold rushes are always short lived, and by 1855 things were winding down in California.
   In 1858 a Hudson's Bay trader far up the west coast in what would soon be Canada made the mistake of shipping several hundred oz. of placer gold to the San Fransisco mint for refining, and the news raced through the region like wildfire. The first flotilla of miners began arriving in the new colony of British Columbia that summer. William Stein arrived early on, making his way up the lower Fraser River and up Harrison Lake by paddle-wheeler to Port Douglas during the early stages of the trail construction.
   He made it as far as what was known as 'the hot spring', and stopped in his tracks.  The locals out here had been using the traditional site for centuries no doubt, but it still would have been in a natural state pretty much, and I've often wondered what it looked like back then. While others continued up the newly cut Douglas Portage route to the discovery on the upper Fraser, Mr. Stein just camped out there at the hot spring for the Winter taking possession of the place and starting on some 'improvements'.
And the old place has never been the same since.
   In April the next year he made a proposal for his venture to the Justice of the Peace for British Columbia, Charles S. Nicol, 20 miles down the wagon road at the bustling tent city of Port Douglas.  Nicol wrote a letter April 22 1859 to Col. Moody of the Royal Engineers, out lining Stein's roadhouse proposal, "... to rent, or lease the site of the hot spring."
Nicol called it  "...a natural curiosity", and recommended Stein's proposal, " it would be a great advantage to have a bath house", and added Stein had already commenced building a rough sort of bath house.
   Stein had  engaged the services of an Irish handyman, Goodwin Purcell, to assist him, and a rough roadhouse had been in operation since the previous season.
Stein's guests used the hot spring for free, others paid 1 shilling, soap and towel included.
I don't know what the deal was for the locals, anything they had to say at the time about the taking over of their traditional hot spring has gone for the most part, unrecorded.
   The Hot Springs was a popular stopping place at mile 20 of the Portage route during the early days of the gold rush. Judge Begbie rode in one day with his assistant, Arthur Bushby. The junior Bushby had a romantic, or otherwise attraction to one of Governor Douglas's daughters, Agnes.
Judge Begbie, not aware the place had a name already,  proclaimed the hot spring St. Agnes Well.  
I'm pretty certain the local inhabitant's eyes were rolling around a whole lot with that one too.
    A later survey showed two bath houses at the spring, and an 'L' shaped cabin serving as a roadhouse, and an orchard on the other side of the wagon-road that passes through. No known images exist of the roadhouse or baths. An Italian photographer, Carlos, or Charles Gentile, came through with a government survey of the route in 1860.
He took this shot of Port Douglas, and another of the 29 Mile House roadhouse where they got on the paddle wheeler to the north end of Lillooett Lake and I find it hard to believe he did not set up his camera at the hot spring. Perhaps out there somewhere is a box of glass negatives containing an image of a rough bath house.
  Anyone heading to the upper Fraser gold fields in the early period of the rush would have passed this way, including the first batch of camels they brought into the country. They got off a barge towed by the stern wheeler Flying Dutchman at Port Douglas in May 1862, then led up the Douglas Portage for packing further north in the Cariboo.

   An English tourist, W Champness, mentioned stopping overnight at the hot spring in his 1862 book, To The Cariboo And Back, " the inn we enjoyed what our Yankee companions called a 'square meal' of the characteristic fare of the colony of bacon and beans, the latter are imported in barrels from the States. Here, also after our toilsome march, we indulged in a good wash, the only really cheap comfort obtainable in British Columbia."

In November 1862 William Stein married Frances (Fanny) Morey (1843-1928). The young Miss Morey was the daughter of Sgt. Jonathon Morey of the Royal Engineers.    

Also in 1862 it appears Hot Spring House was sold to Mr.J.L Smith, whom owned a string of roadhouses on the original route, including the Douglas Hotel, 29 Mile House, and Pemberton House.

In 1863 welsh miner Harry Jones stopped at Hot Spring House,"...we headed for the hot springs where a stopping place was kept by a man named Smith. We layed our blankets on the floor of Mr. Smith's barroom and slept comfortably."

William Stein took over the next roadhouse a few miles up the trail at 24 Mile, at a bargain price I'm sure, as the previous owners had been jailed for stealing from freight-wagons.
He cleaned the place up and called it Stanislaus House after the river in California.
This ad appeared in the British Columbian newspaper 1863

1863 brought the opening of the Fraser Canyon route to the gold-fields of the upper Fraser and Cariboo, traffic on the Portage route dropped off over night. Smith sold the springs back to Stein, and moved on to establish the Clinton Hotel in Clinton. William and Fanny moved back to make a go of the hot spring property, despite lack of traffic on the old trail. Stein held on for a number of years, still clinging to the hope he could attract customers to the healing hot spring, offering board and lodging at $15/week.

In her memoirs, Susan Allison, the wife of an early Okanagan pioneer, recalled a trip to the hot spring as a young women  A friend, Mrs. Landvoight, had a severe case of rheumatism and her doctor had recommended a trip to the 'Hot Spring". It was quite a rough trip along the old original gold-rush trail, and the young Susan Allison was invited to come along for company.
She was just recently arrived from England, "...and nearly danced for joy I was so eager to see more of this new and strange country".
Arriving at the hot spring it appears Mrs. Landvoight had failed to notify Mrs Stein of their pending arrival, "...and the poor little woman was surprised and altogether un-prepared".
The young pioneer housewife made the best of it, cooking up trout and grouse for her unexpected guests. Susan Allison described the hot spring source, "It just gushed out of a solid rock from a round hole like an auger hole, at the source there were open ditch's that convey it to the baths, which were rough wooden affairs in a large shed partitioned off, we sampled them at once, and found them refreshing, but nasty to drink".

She described them going for walks in the area, one in particular, "...we often walked to it and sit near the pool water during the heat of the day...".

I know that spot well, it is where I reside, and I like to sit by that same pool in the heat of the day too.  She made mention of natives on horse back that gallop by the roadhouse, she said Mrs. Stein described them as, "not friendly", and I am not too surprised, after experiencing a full blown gold rush through their territory, plus getting a bath house and 'hotel' built on the spiritual  T'sek site.

Business continued to drop and William Stein left the hot spring in the care of his helper Goodwin Purcell, and moved to New Westminster, taking a lease on the Hicks Hotel, putting his hot spring holdings up for sale May 5 1866.
That's a little tough to see. The copy reads....
The hot springs property that cost me $3000 is now for sale at the low price of $1500. The springs being on the main road to the Bridge River mines (no humbug about those diggings), would be invaluable to a good physician.
Apply on the premises to G. Purcell, or to W.E Stein, Hicks Hotel, New Westminster.

The lower part of the ad reads....

W.E. Stein, formerly of the Hot Springs on the Douglas  Portage, having leased Hicks Hotel on Columbia in New Westminster, wishes to inform the travelling community in general that the above, being a large 3 story building, will be found one of the most comfortable houses in New Westminster. Meals and beds, 50 cents each, and drinks, 12 cents.

Despite what he thought was a give away price, there were no takers, and eventually abandoned the property. The original 40 acre pre-emption was taken over years later by the  former handy man, Goodwin Purcell. Goodwin had stayed in the country, married a local woman and traded out of the old abandoned town site at Port Douglas.
He had the hot spring property surveyed in 1897 and added more land.
Goodwin died in 1906 at 91, and it was from his descendants that title to the historic property passed to the Trethewey family in the 1950's.
        T'sek circa 1957  Hot spring structures, clearing above was road house site.

                                          T'sek, 2012

The area of the old road house is evident in the clearing at the south end of the hot spring campsite.
It has been washed by river flood several times but there is still the odd artifact such as old square nails, cork-screw, lock, and a winchester I assume was in the roadhouse when it burned.

 The junior clerk Arthur Bushby married Governor Douglas's daughter Agnes, and was made Register General of Deeds for the colony before eventually moving to back to England.
It is said Agnes never visited the hot spring named in her honor that Spring day in 1859.


  1. Have camel bones ever been found in the area?

  2. Hey Chris, thanks for the comment, good to have a real one, I must have had about 50+ spam comments in the past month. Someone long ago told me they knew of a camel shoe being found near here, but they didn't shoe camels, I figure it was a mule shoe. The camels just passed thru here on the way to the upper gold fields. It was a short, expensive and highly unpopular venture, the remaining camels were soon turned loose in the interior. Some froze in a blizzard. The odd one was shot for the meat, but they said once you tasted camel, you preferred hungry. There was one that survived for 30 years at a ranch in Westwold near Falkland, posing for pictures and giving rides until it finally fell over dead in 1907 I believe.
    Long time readers please forgive me for reposting this story from 2011, but I like to bring up the odd story again for the benefit of new readers.