Some of my readers may know that in August of 2022, I am making the move to Strathmore, Alberta, just east of Calgary. This move had been a number of years in the making, and it enables me to be closer to my family, and especially to be a greater presence in the lives of my four granddaughters.
Leaving the Williams Lake area, my home for the past 53 years, was a very difficult thing to do. For most of that time I was heavily involved in a good number of community activities, and it seems as if I know everyone, or at least they know me. I love Williams Lake – it is a place that has been very good to me, a place where I had a great career in education, where my children grew up, where they attended and graduated from school, and where I still have many good friends. But, time has a way of catching up with all of us, and the time had come for me to move on.
I did not set out to write a history column for the newspaper. To tell the truth, I have no training or course work in history. My majors in university were biology and math. So, I was quite surprised and more than a little reticent when Kathy McLean approached me in March of 2012 with the idea of writing a small monthly history article for the proposed new Smart 55 section in the Advisor. My first thought was “Why me?” – for although I had a real interest in Cariboo history, I had no experience in writing formal articles and I couldn’t even type. Kathy, however, was quite persistent and she convinced me to try it for six months or so just to see if it might work out.
So, I began with a few columns centered around the early history of Williams Lake, submitting handwritten pages which were then typed up by the newspaper staff. (By the way, I still do it that way today – I never did learn to type or to use more than the two finer hunt and peck method on the keyboard) To my great surprise the columns were well received. People seemed to enjoy these monthly glimpses into the past. Gradually, the six months stretched into a year, then into five years, and then, over 10 years. Over this time, I have had many people mention how much they like these columns and how much they appreciate the stories I tell. It has been a truly rewarding experience for me.
I have been asked how I select the topics that I write about. Sometimes someone might suggest “Why don’t you write about ____?”, and I do, but most often the stories seem to find me. I’ll be driving somewhere and pass an old homestead or see some structure and think to myself “I wonder what the history is around that place.” Or, I’ll be writing about one thing and I’ll come across one or two more associated topics. Whatever the source, there is certainly no lack of history in our area, and for over 10 years, I’ve never run out of stories to write down. No doubt some have been more interesting to readers than others, but history itself is like that – some of it is dull and plodding, while some of it is improbable and exciting.
Over the years, two questions have come up consistently. The first one is “Why don’t you write a book?” The honest answer to that is time and effort. Writing a book is so much different and more complicated than writing a column. It’s a costly, time consuming process (especially for someone who cannot type) which requires several edits, careful annotations of sources, gaining permission from authors or their estates, printing and publishing costs, marketing, and contracts. I’m just happy sharing short history snapshots in my columns without the added work and stress of revising them and releasing them in a book format.
The second question is “Why don’t you write more columns about First Nation History.” I have tried to recognize in my articles the unselfish support freely offered to the white fur traders, gold seekers, and settlers by the local Indigenous peoples. Unfortunately this assistance was not reciprocated and the attitudes and relationships of our colonial development were usually negative and hurtful to those who have lived in this region for eons. I do not think it is my place, as a non First Nations person, to tell the rich, colourful, and interesting stories of their past. They are not my tales to tell, and it would be presumptuous of me to try to document them or to accord them the justice they deserve. I have often thought that it would be a good thing if someone with Indigenous roots could present historical pieces from the unique First Nations perspective.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the past and present local history authors and those interested in history who preceded me. I’d especially like to recognize those who maintain the museums in Williams Lake, Horsefly, Likely, and Quesnel for their support; the Williams Lake Library; Mrs. Anna Roberts for her late husband John’s notes and records; and all of the local old timers who have helped me with their recollections, notes, and personal photographs. There is a wealth of historical materials out there, and I truly hope that they are kept safe and not discarded.
I also hope that someone will step up and take on the rewarding task of documenting and sharing stories about our history. History is interesting, full of twists and turns, and it gives us great insight into who we are how our society has changed and developed. Finally, I want to thank you, the reader, for your continuing support and encouragement. It’s been a great privilege to deliver your monthly dose of historical anecdotes and vignettes.
Editor’s note: For all you Haphazard History fans, Barry has not left us empty-handed. In fact, Barry has left us enough new columns to last the next two years. The column above is the 150th final Haphazard History column, but we chose to run in now before Barry leaves the Cariboo, in case you’d like to say goodbye.