The Cariboo Chilcotin lost one of its most esteemed pioneers this week. Veera Bonner died on Oct. 21 at the age of 101.
During her life Veera documented and recorded stories of the Chilcotin both as a rural correspondent for the Tribune and in the writing of books, including Chilcotin:Preserving Pioneer Memories which she worked on with her sisters Irene and Hazel.
In the words of one of her close friends, Albert LaBounty, Veera was a pioneer and truly an influence in the society she grew up and lived in.
“People can be described like milk,” LaBounty said. “Some are like skim milk and most are pretty homogenized, but only a few are the cream. Veera was the cream!”
The youngest of three daughters of Hattie and Frank Witte, Veera was born a month premature at the home where her family lived above the Chilcotin River.
Growing up she was the cook at haying time while her two older sisters, Irene and Hazel, and brother Duane, worked in the field, said Veera’s daughter Trena Plummer.
The first paying job she had as a young girl was working for Walter and Beulah Bambrick at the Chilco Ranch where Walter was a cow boss.
Later she worked for Rona Church at the Church ranch.
In 1941, Veera married Jim Bonner and often continued to help Rona cooking and cleaning for the ranch crew when she was needed. She’d go with Jim and the crews if they were fencing down in the Farwell area where the crew would camp out and build the drift fences needed.
She was the cook when they were at the meadows in the summer or fall putting up hay. She was a superb cook over a campfire or stove, Trena said.
The children attended Big Creek Country School up until Grade 8.
When her marriage to Jim was ending, Jim encouraged Veera to take up property on Fletcher Lake. It was the late 50s, moose hunting was just getting big in the Chilcotin and people were asking for accommodations.
Veera acquired 10 acres on Fletcher Lake and Scotty Litterick said he’d build cabins on her land and they would share the profits. She called her resort Bin-Go-Sha which Trena said was the closest to the Tsilhqot’in word for Fletcher Lake, which translated as “Lake of Big Fish.”
Litterick was just finishing another cabin that was bigger than the others in 1959 when the Churches informed Veera that they wanted her house on their ranch for their own son and his new bride.
After a big rush to make the cabin livable, Veera moved in that November.
Veera moved to Fletcher Lake with daughter Trena and son Lynn and built a resort business for fishermen and hunters. She cooked for any patrons that wanted and also cooked for various crews working in the area.
At the time, her children were staying at the dorm in Williams Lake going to high school and just came home for weekends.
Trena remembers the cabin was small, but often full of people having a great time.
“If we got too big for the cabin we lived in, we’d move up to the other ‘big’ cabin and with the transistor record player just bouncing, we’d dance the night away,” she said.
Later in life, Veera would move in to stay with her mother in Williams Lake during the winter.
At first, she got jobs looking after people’s homes and children while they went on holidays.
That didn’t pay very much so it was great when she got a job helping in the kitchen at Cariboo Memorial Hospital.
Veera always loved to write and as a young girl she’d write on soap wrappers, the edges of newspapers or any piece of paper with a bit of space.
While she was still a young girl at home she sent a poem into the Bridge River Lillooet News.
Editor Ma Murray read it and published it in her newspaper and was so impressed she wrote a piece about Veera in her paper and encouraged Veera to continue to send news of Big Creek to her paper.
Not until 1950 when Clive and Irene Stangoe bought the Williams Lake Tribune and asked for rural correspondents, did Veera start to write for them.
“She loved to take photographs,” Trena recalled. “She had many cameras over the years and I’ve still got all her photos and some of them are beautiful.”
Veera was secretary, treasurer for the Big Creek Livestock Assoc. working alongside President Dick Church for many years and also for the Chilcotin Big Game Guides Assoc. where she was the secretary, treasurer for a lot of years working with President Cecil Henry.
Veera was also on the school board for quite a few years, representing the Chilcotin.
In 1958, under Joyce McDonald’s spearheading, Veera played a major role in a centennial project booklet called History and Legends of the Chilcotin involving the communities of Riske Creek, Alexis Creek, Big Creek and Meldrum Creek.
It was far from complete, so Veera wanted to eventually do a history book of the Chilcotin. With encouragement from her sisters and others she started in earnest to do the research and start writing.
Her sisters encouraged, proof read and helped accumulate the information and in 1995 the book — Chilcotin, Preserving Pioneer Memories — was published.
Veera would later be inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1999 for her artistic achievements, and in 2012, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal for her dedication in preserving history of the Chilcotin.
Former Chilcotin journalist, Sage Birchwater, remembered Veera fondly.
“Veera’s many decades covering the Big Creek area as a correspondent for the Tribune and the book she wrote with her two sisters provided invaluable documentation of Chilcotin history,” Birchwater said.
When Birchwater wrote his book Chiwid, about the Tsilhqot’in woman who spent most of her adult life living outside, he purchased a photograph of Chiwid taken by Bonner at Fletcher Lake to use for the book’s cover, which he felt really helped sell the book.
“One time my mother was visiting me from Victoria and Veera entertained my mom with a full tea service at her lodge on Fletcher Lake,” Birchwater added. “My mom thought that was quite civilized.”