Posted by: Dave Neads | December 20, 2009

Chilcotin Mystery

I went out to move the solar panels this morning, and the snow was squeaking under my feet with the mountains looking so close I felt I could reach out and touch them through the crystal clear air.

As I scanned the frozen white wilderness around me, I thought about what life was like here before chainsaws, before snow machines, before satellite communications, before propane and gasoline.

Just 100 hundred years ago, none of these things existed here, but there were people living in the West Chilcotin. Horses, tiny cabins, winter travel on snowshoes, cutting firewood with axe and crosscut saw was the norm. Basic survival rations—maybe some potatoes and carrots, rice, flour, cured meats, dried fruits and berries along with whatever you could shoot, trap or snare. If they were lucky, they had pepper and salt, and maybe sugar.

If you go further back, to pre-European days, the life was even more basic. There were no rifles; just bow and arrow, spears, deadfall traps, or pits dug along the trails to bring down the big game. Fish traded from the coast also supplied protein, along with the odd rabbit or squirrel. Dried fruits, berries and roots made up the rest of the fare.

Instead of small cabins built by trappers, which were often 8 by 10 with at the most a 6 foot headroom in the middle, winter dwellings for First Peoples consisted of the much larger Pit Hut, half buried in the ground and covered over with poles and dirt with moss lining the inside for insulation. You can still see the remains of these huts in a few places in the Chilcotin.

Like the trapper’s cabin these dwellings were smoky, not all that well heated and provided just basic protection from the winter. Imagine a minus 30 December day, three or four feet of snow on the ground, huddled inside with your large extended family while two or three women were out gathering branches and small logs to keep a fire going. Think about skinning, cleaning and cooking meat over such a fire.  It would not be an easy task.

In the old trapper’s cabins, there was a crude fireplace in one corner, with a smoke hole in the roof similar to the one in the Pit Huts. I’ve spent a few days in one of these old cabins, far in the bush, during the winter. I had wood that I cut with a chainsaw, but even so it was not a fun trip, believe me.

So it is, when I hear of nostalgia for the “good old days” or of a movement to go back to the life of our ancestors, white or Indian, I have to wonder…. If they experienced the real physical reality for a few winters, would they still feel the same?

I very much doubt it.

But then all the luxury we experience here is floating on a sea of oil which will, if it does not dry up, will at least shrink considerably, forcing change. Yet, going back to yesteryear is not an option. It is just not that the skills are lost; the psychological hurdle will be insurmountable. Can anyone truly envision going back to the era before oil, or more drastic yet, going back to the stone age? So here is the mystery:

What will life be like in the Chilcotin wilderness after oil?


  1. Good blog Dave, very thought provoking – you’ve asked the right question, what will life be like anywhere, not just the Chilcotin after oil?

    I suppose somehow we will adapt, will have no choice. I believe rural folks will adapt better than urban folks, don’t you think?

  2. Sherry:

    That too is a good question. I think it is a matter of style. As you say we will all adapt, however the quality of life will become the issue. At what level will the parts of culture we cleave to survive. It may be that a time such as the dark ages will descend, however I do believe we will emerge in the long run.

    That is why I do a lot of the work I do. Not that I believe we can maintain the status quo, I don’t believe we can. The important thing is to pass along ideas, give the new emergence something to build on, the way the Irish monasteries kept alive so much in the middle ages for rediscovery in the 12 and 13 centuries which led to the renaissance.

    And ideas come from both urban and rural.


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