~~~ excerpt from Gates Ajar, Summer 1993, Fifth Anniversary Edition
When Ranald MacDonald died in 1894, whispering “Sayonara”, the Japanese word for farewell, he had spent less than 10 months of his life within the bristling island fortress that was mid-19th century Japan. Consideration should therefore be given the other 822 months which made up Ranald’s adventure-laden 70 years. He spent his first 10 years at the rugged Pacific Northwest outposts of the Hudson’s Bay Company; then five years at school at Red River; a dozen years at sea (with time out in Japan and the Australian gold fields); and some 30 years in Canada before returning to Fort Colville, Washington Territory, in 1882.
During the three Canadian decades, Ranald ranched, mined, ran a ferry, ran pack trains, explored . . .
Ranald MacDonald also secured permission from the government of British Columbia to build a 200-mile toll road (a cent and a half a pound for all goods transported, a half-dollar per head for cattle) for pack trains from the Bella Coola inlet on North Bentinck Arm to the Fraser River, and a steamer connection to the Cariboo gold fields. Ranald’s half-brother, Benjamin, thought “capitalists of San Francisco” were involved in the project.
The sophisticated prospectus signed by Ranald and his partner, John Barnston, deserves our attention. Certainly Ranald must have played a key role in creating the prospectus, based as it was upon both a careful exploration of the proposed route and a thorough-going knowledge of the requirements of miners during a gold rush. In a report he points out that the town site at the head of the inlet had a safe harbor, superior timber, fisheries, nearby copper deposits, and agricultural potential.
In the prospectus, the technique with which hot buttons are pushed would do credit to a good marketing vice president today. It points out that, compared with contemporary Douglas and Lillooette routes, the proposed road would save 158 miles, cut almost a quarter the “transhipments (sic) and detentions” costing miners time and money, save passengers at least 12 days, land goods 10 to 15 days earlier . . .
Unfortunately, the estimated gain of $66,000 in the first six months may have failed to materialize. ” . . . Ranald’s grant was small, simply for a pack trail,” Benjamin recalled, and someone more influential persuaded the government into building a wagon road. Ranald finally built a trail but never got a steamer connection. He had a few things shipped in but the wagon road took all the business”.
It seems likely that the “wagon road” which so blighted Ranald’s hopes was the Cariboo Wagon Road (now part of the trans-Canada Highway) supported by British Columbia Governor James Douglas, who said he wanted to secure “the whole trade of the colony for Fraser’s River” and prevent “all attempts at competition from Oregon”.
~~ Barbara Peeples. Sources: Prospectus on file in the Provincial Archives of British Columbia; books: Ranald MacDonald: The Narrative of His life, 1824-1894; The Great Northwest, by Oscar Osburn-Winther; Caesars of the Wilderness, by Peter C. Newman; Benjamin’s narrative, from Jean Murray Cole’s family collection.