Introduction

After years of wrangling between the new Province of British Columbia and the Canadian government, work commenced on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) on May 14, 1880.

A photograph of a construction camp for the Canadian Pacific Railway near Wardner.Click to enlarge,
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CPR construction camp, Wardner. D-03518 – Courtesy of Royal British Columbia Museum

The route which had been chosen for the long-awaited railway was via the Kicking Horse Pass and through Kamloops along the Thompson River to the Fraser -- through the heart of the bunchgrass ranges. The first stretch of the railway to be contracted was only from Yale to Savona. However, the contractor, Andrew Onderdonk, had strong financial backing from an American syndicate and a reputation for pushing ahead with great engineering projects.

The ranchers who had hung on grimly through the difficult years of the 1870s had good reason to be optimistic. The CPR expected to employ 5000 men during the summer of 1881 and, in June, invited tenders for a large and steady supply of fresh beef for the work crews. Their requirements were so great that only the largest ranches could hope to fulfill their needs. Not surprisingly, Thaddeus Harper of the Gang Ranch won the contract. He sold off the surplus cattle that had accumulated on his ranges through the 1870s and purchased all the cattle he could from Cariboo and Chilcotin ranchers. Prices for cattle began to move upward to over $20 a head, and the market for 1882 looked even more promising as railway construction reached its peak.

A photograph of Canadian Pacific Railway construction near Yale. Click to enlarge,
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CPR construction at Yale. D-07828 – Courtesy of Royal British Columbia Museum

By 1917, two trans-continental railway lines and a provincial railway had been completed. In addition, the invention and spread of motorized transportation influenced the construction and improvement of roads throughout the Cariboo and Chilcotin areas. At the beginning of the railway era, settlement was still largely oriented to the major routes of travel, but towards the turn of the century, settlers pushed beyond the established routes and occupied the more remote areas where smaller grasslands and meadows were used for grazing cattle.

Angora “Wooly” Chaps (1900s)

A type of chaps made with the fur still on the hide became very popular in the harsh northern climates like British Columbia. They offered warmth as well as protection when a rider bumped against a fence or tree. By the turn of the century, cowboys in British Columbia almost universally wore “woollies,” most often made from long, thick-haired Angora goatskins.

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