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John Goodfellow - Granite Creek

Rev. John Goodfellow's writings are well respected for their accuracy and attention to detail. The Story of the Similkameen was published in 1958 and is probably the first really authoratative work on the history of this area. Here is the part in chapter 5 about Granite Creek. You can read the rest of the book on the Mozey-On-Inn web site.


We have already noted the community of gold seekers at Blackfoot. The only other “rush” in Similkameen was to Granite Creek. Here, in 1885, a large community sprang up. This was at the mouth of the creek, where it enters the right bank of the Tulameen, twelve miles west of Princeton. W.H. Holmes, recalling his arrival there soon after the rush began, said that the place was full of life, and at every hundred feet on the river was a water wheel, all turning to a different tune.

The rush was started by the discovery of a gold nugget by cowboy John Chance. The date of the discovery is given as 5 July, 1885 – a red-letter day in Similkameen history. According to S.R. Gibson, Chance was driving a band of horses from Washington state to New Westminster. For some unaccountable reason, after he reached Princeton he did not follow the Dewdney Trail, but went up the Tulameen, passed Aspen Grove, and followed the old Coquihalla Trail. News of the discovery soon leaked out, and the rush was on.

Within a few months a tent town covered the flat near the mouth of the creek. By the end of October, 62 companies had creek claims averaging 300 feet each. From 5 July to 31 October gold to the value of $90,000 was reported. In December, Henry Nicholson, the mining recorder, estimated the population at 600 whites and 300 Chinese. Tents were soon replaced by log buildings. In January, 1886, G.C. Tunstall, gold commissioner, reported forty houses, six saloons and hotels, and seven stores. The peak production was in 1886, when gold and platinum to the value of $193,000 were taken, chiefly from Granite Creek. By 1900 Granite Creek was just another ghost town. Hugh Hunter, who had been appointed mining recorder in August, 1899, was in March, 1900, moved to Princeton as government agent.

Gold officially reported at Granite Creek represented only a percentage of what was actually taken. Chinese were regarded as the worst offenders in this connection. If government agents were unable to report correct returns, others were able to overstate them. The truth lies somewhere between what was actually reported and what was stated in “The Similkameen Star” for 10 September, 1915: “F.P. Cook, the pioneer merchant of Granite Creek was to Princeton last Friday. In 1885 when Mr. Cook walked into Granite Creek carrying his blankets it was with difficulty that he made his way along the crowded main street. Twelve saloons did a flourishing business and closing hours were unknown. The town had a population of about 2000 inhabitants, and was third largest city in B.C., being only exceeded by Victoria and New Westminster. Kamloops then would probably come next in size. Placer miners in 1885-1886 took probably $800,000 in gold and platinum out of Granite Creek.”

In connection with reporting incorrectly amounts of gold taken, one Chinaman was called “Not Enough” because this was his invariable answer when asked how much he had taken. “Not Enough” was a well-known character in early Tulameen and Granite Creek history.

There is little today to suggest the former glory of what was possibly the third largest town in the province in 1886. Coal superceded gold as the main source of industry in the Tulameen Valley. Early in the 20th century coal was discovered near the site of Blakeburn, and in 1909 at Collin’s Gulch. Coalmont was so named because of the belief that there was a mountain of coal which could be stripped and operated by steam shovels.

Bert Irwin had intimate knowledge of life in Granite Creek during the “rush,” and today our best-informed citizen on its early history. In 1900 Frank Bailey, remembered as “stuttering Bailey,” issued a map and forty-paged pamphlet in which he tells of nuggets of exceptional size: two from Bear Creek worth $400 and $415 respectively. “In 1887 a Chinaman found a nugget worth $900, which was exhibited at Wells, Fargo & Co’s bank in Victoria.”

The site of the Granite Creek gold rush is one of the historic spots in Similkameen, and is well-worthy of a marker to indicate its past importance in our history.

Following the discovery of rich placers in 1885, Dr. G.M. Dawson visited the Tulameen and Granite Creek in 1888, and a short summary of his work appears in the annual report for that year. Preliminary examinations were made by Charles Camsell in 1906 and 1908, and geological work continued during 1909 and 1910. Important work had been done by J.F. Kemp in 1900, and W.F. Robertson in 1901. In his second Report on the district, Camsell writes: “The topographic work in this district begun by L. Reinecke, in August, 1908, and was carried to completion in the summer of 1909. The methods employed were partly photographic, and partly plane-table and sketching from traverses run between fixed points.

“The geological work was begun by the author in July, 1909, and continued until the end of September of the same year, the assistants being W.J. Wright and W.G.S. Agassiz. In the following year the months of June and July were spent in this field, and the work was carried on with the assistance of J.D. Galloway and W.S. McCann. Altogether five months was required to complete the geological mapping and to collect the necessary information for the report.”


Here follows notes of conversations with David Whitly, better known to oldtimers as Red Paddy. During the last few years of his life he lived on the Merritt Road, almost opposite the DeMuth sawmill, which is now operated by Jack Munsie, about six miles north of Princeton. Paddy and his collie dog Venus were inseparable. He was born in Belfast on 20 November, 1853, and came to Canada in 1882. He had a remarkable memory of the photographic kind, and was never at a loss for a date. He used to boast that he was the only man in Princeton who could prove his sanity. Apparently he had been given a “clean sheet” from Essondale and had papers to substantiate his statement. The notes which follow were taken in 1928:

“I came west in 1885, right through to Granite Creek. There was great excitement there then. Sometimes I travelled on foot, but mostly on horseback. There would be three or four of us together. Granite Creek was a busy place then. I was always able to make a little money. My partner, Fred Kelly, sold his claim to a man called Cameron – not the Dr. Cameron who was so well-known there. This one used to play the piano.

“The first government recorder was a man named Lindsay. He came from Victoria. Mr. Irwin came after him. The gold commissioner was Judge Tunstall. The place where Chance discovered gold – I’ve seen it lots of time.

“I had a garden at the mouth of Granite Creek. Two boys called Mills had taken it up, but didn’t do anything with it. Then John Smith took it up. You’ve heard O’ Widder Smith at Spences Bridge, and her apples? She sent a box to Queen Victoria, gold medal apples they were. It was this lady’s husband who brought in ploughs and started the garden. But he quit, and left it to me. Martin Strong helped me sow oats. He was a contractor and brought down some mules.

“Rev. George Murray of Nicola was the first preacher in Granite Creek. There were tents aplenty, and two cabins, but really no houses when Murray first came.”

According to Paddy, who claimed to have gone round with the hat collecting gold dust for the preacher, the first service was held in a log building under construction. It was three logs high. The place was destined for a saloon, and afterwards became knows as the Adelphi. It was by Jim Leighton, who in 1928 was living at Savona.

Mrs. A. Irwin, wife of government recorder from 1886-1889, rode into Granite Creek on horseback in 1886. Mrs. Irwin was living in Princeton in 1928, and remembered the three preachers who, periodically, represented the Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican churches at Granite Creek – George Murray, James Turner and Henry Irwin, known to oldtimers as “Father Pat.” For some time Mrs. Irwin was the only white woman in Granite Creek. Then for a time, there was Mrs. Thompson, sister of Mrs. A. E. Howse. Mrs. Irwin recalled, “There was no music at the services. I used to lead the singing especially when Mr. Murray came – he couldn’t sing at all. Services were held in a large, log building which was built for a store.”


We are fortunate in having the autosketch of Walton Hugh Holmes. He was a regular attendant at the annual supper meetings of the Similkameen Historical Association till the Second World War made such gatherings difficult. Many will remember the tales he old. Mr. Holmes died on Thursday, 21 March, 1940. Funeral services were held from Coalmont United Church, and a fitting tribute was paid to the memory of the grand, old man.

Mr. Holmes had a long and varied career. He was born in Bury, England, on 20 March 1853, and received a liberal education. After a brief apprenticeship at office work, he answered the call of the sea. Then followed four voyages in the sail-rigged ships of the last century: two to India, one to South America, and one to Portland, Oregon. Mr. Holmes always believed that there was no sight at sea comparable to a full-rigged ship, with all sail set to the wind. The memory of the sea, and the uprightness of the sailor, were part of the heritage that was his.

After his visit to Oregon he determined to leave the sea, and settle on land. Returning home, he passed his nautical examinations, came to New York, and crossed country to California and Oregon. He came to British Columbia in 1880, while the CPR was still in the making and worked on rail, and on riverboat till Canada was spiked down from sea to sea. He loved to tell about Hope and Yale and New Westminster in these early days.

In 1885 he came to Granite Creek, remaining hereabouts till his death. Holmes was one of a number who planned to run a store at Granite Creek. Coming south from Merritt, they passed Aspen Grove, then crossed Pike’s Mountain. There was no trail, and the grass was so high that on horseback one could hardly see the man in front of him. Holmes never saw the grass that high again, for it was destroyed by fire that year. After leaving Otter Flat (now Tulameen) they were only six miles distant from Granite Creek. Here Holmes tells the story:

“We began to meet people between the two places but when we came in sight of Granite Creek it looked like an anthill. Several hundred men of all sorts, saddle horses and pack animals, tents on both sides of the river. What a sight! All available space taken up for tents. Campfires everywhere. There was one small cabin built by Mr. Allison for a store, but there were no supplies in it. Only some tin plates and iron knives and forks; no provisions procurable, and they were badly needed. We found our pack trains would be welcome when they arrived. The most of Granite Creek was already staked off for claims. They were only 100 feet long from high water mark to high water mark across the creek. There was no Government office to record them, so it was not long before we had to appoint a recorder, a Mr. H. Nicholson, pro tem. till a Government Agent was sent in 1886…By that time Granite Creek was quite a town, all log houses.”


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