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A Road through the Past: Douglas Road / In-SHUCK-Ch Trail

By Amy Clausen
 

My family is a bit of an adventurous bunch. In the last two years, we have covered a lot of ground; from the Island to the East Kootenays and many stops in between. There is one road trip, however, that never fails to impress even our most adventurous friends, and the memories will last us a lifetime (or at least until our next visit). No ordinary Sunday drive, the Douglas Road traces the Lillooet river from Pemberton/Mount Currie all the way to Port Douglas, at the north end of  Harrison Lake.

The route is accessible by any vehicle in the summer as far south as the hot springs. Beyond that, and certainly in other seasons, a 4WD with sufficient ground clearance is required. Always check road conditions, be prepared with food and warm clothes in case of an unplanned delay, and let people know where you are traveling  and when you intend to return. The road is gravel most of the way, and susceptible to pot holes, etc. The west side of Harrison Lake is a notoriously rough road.

My partner, a BC history buff, as long been eager to see this historic wagon road. In the 1850s, it served as an early gold rush trail for a handful of years only, until the new route through the Fraser Canyon was completed. By the late 1850s, the Douglas Road was largely abandoned, and the town of Yale grew instead of Port Douglas.

A Road through the Past

Amy enjoying the Hot Springs

Now called the In-SHUCK-Ch Trail, this route passes a number of fascinating and beautiful spots ripe for exploration, if you have the right vehicle for the conditions.  The easiest access is from the north end, especially the dusty hour or so south from Pemberton / Mt Currie to the Tsek Hot Springs (alternately known as the Skookumchuk Hot Springs and St. Agnes Well – see photo).  These hot springs offer a number of hot pools for weary travelers, and scenic camping spots right on the river front. If you come on a weekend, be prepared for crowded conditions, and the camaraderie of friendly hot-springs visitors.

South of the hot springs, the road brings you to the Church of the Holy Cross, completed in 1905, in the village of Skatin. The gothic architecture and hand-carved wooden features of the church are especially striking in this quiet reserve village and its wild and beautiful surrounding landscape. Beyond Skatin, there are a few tiny, haunting roadside graveyards, sections of the road that are all but washed out, and finally the historic town of Port Douglas.

Port Douglas itself is almost completely devoid of evidence of the bustle of the early gold rush years. Nonetheless it’s a fascinating and mysterious place for an adventurous traveler; The barracks of an abandoned mining operation take you within yards of Judge Begbie’s famous “hanging tree”.  This is sure to please any BC history buff.

Make sure to check conditions on the road before you try this trip, especially south of Port Douglas where the road follows the west side of Harrison Lake. There are no services on this road, and it is impassable for most vehicles in winter weather.

Have you visited Port Douglas or another off-the-beaten-track destination recently? Tell us about it in the comments!

About the Author

Amy Clausen is an avid camper and the blogger behind ladycamping.com. She is an arts and outdoor educator, and a UBC student. She hikes and kayaks with her family, and enjoys road trips to historic BC towns. She lives in beautiful Port Coquitlam with her partner and young child.

 

14 responses to “A Road through the Past: Douglas Road / In-SHUCK-Ch Trail”

  1. Tom Williams says:

    Hi Amy,
    Enjoyed the article very much as I was wondering if there was a road from the north in Port Douglas which is a place we would very much like to visit.
    We are planning a trip on this road within,hopefully before the snow flies. we will be traveling it with a Ford Escape 4X4. I am a little concerned about clearance and was wondering if you could provide me with any suggestions of areas you might remember as too hazardous for travel for a our vehicle?
    Thanks Tom

  2. Amy says:

    Hi Tom,
    By far the most hazardous stretches of the road are coming down the west side of Harrison Lake, south of Port Douglas. I suspect you will have no trouble getting to Port Douglas in a 4×4 (before the snows!) from Pemberton. It is much easier to turn back and return the way you came! If you do decide to attempt the Harrison Lake West Forest Service Road, consult up-to-date sources for road conditions (start here: http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/dck/engineering/dck_engineering.htm) and make sure to bring extra blankets and plenty of food and water in case you get stuck. Always tell someone where you are going and when they should expect to see you again!

  3. Ernie Barnum says:

    Hi Amy. I enjoyed your article. My Dad and his brother walked overland from the head of Stave Lake to Lillooet in 1935 and may have used part of the In-Shuk-Ch trail. Do you think that the Lillooet River could be crossed on foot in that area? Thanks. Ernie Barnum

  4. Sharon Runolfsson says:

    I was interested to find this blog; but a couple of inaccuracies. The gold rush trail, often referred to as the Douglas Route, was actually open from 1858 when then-Governor Sir James Douglas’recruited’ prospectors and the Royal Engineers to widen an existing trail. It was the main route to the Cariboo till 1864, gradually replaced by the newer route through Hope & Yale. The famous “hanging tree” referred to is actually in Lillooet, which was the northern end of the Douglas Route, and became Mile 0 on the famous Cariboo Road. Yes, a wonderful area for anyone interested in history.

    Road conditions change, with frequent road work and repairs along the Lillooet Lake portion (south from Mt. Currie), so be sure to check first if you don’t want to wait for a closure. The hotsprings and the Church of the Holy Cross, a national historic site, are both worth a visit. Please respect the area, the local residents, and travel with care – this is still an active logging area, and you may meet loaded log trucks. Have fun!

  5. Bill McLaughlin says:

    Hi Amy — a very interesting read — thank you for sharing! While researching BC’s Stop of Interest signs, i found another blog entry a few years ago that included a photo of a “Port Douglas” Stop of Interest sign. You can find the article and the photo at http://runnermag.ca/2010/11/vanishing-british-columbia-port-douglas/

    It seems that you may have traveled to Port Douglas more recently than the other writer. Can you tell me if you remember seeing the sign? By email, the photographer told me this:

    “The marker in the photo is close to the old, dilapidated wharf in
    front of the town site. It should be fairly visible, especially if you
    are coming in by road. From what I remember from hiking up the road
    out of town, when you come into the town along the road on the right
    hand side you should see an old graveyard up a steep slope (a few
    minutes outa town, depending how fast you drive), as you continue
    toward the old townsite you will notice some old wooden buildings –
    many may not even be standing anymore. Now once you come out of the
    trees and down toward Little Harrison Lake you should see the marker
    on your left, near the caretakers house (if a caretaker still resides
    there even).”

    My wife and i live in West Kelowna and we have long been on a quest to find every one of the BC Stop of Interest signs, and this one may well be among the most remote for us. There are others that are further away, but this one has got to be one of the most difficult to get to. Your article strongly suggests the route south from Pemberton is the best option — that is a 437 km / 7 hr one-way trip! Clearly we would need to spend a couple of nights in Pemberton to safely complete the journey. Knowing that the sign might still be there would be an encouragement.

    Thanks.

  6. Sharon says:

    Bill, I will be travelling up to Port Douglas later in November, so will check for the Stop of Interest sign (I’m pretty sure it is no longer there), will ask local residents, and take a photo of the area – whether with or without the sign.

    • Bill McLaughlin says:

      Sharon: That would be fantastic!

      I hope you’re wrong about it not being there anymore, but even if it’s gone, and you can get GPS points and photos of the area where you think it might have been, that would be great! Sadly, the photo on the page i link to above doesn’t offer much in the way of context — only that it appears the sign was mounted to a concrete block or cairn of some kind, possibly low to the ground.

      I have started to build a website devoted to BC Stops of Interest at bcstopsofinterest.com — it’s not quite ready for prime-time yet, but i would love to include whatever details you’re able to find there on the site.

      I’m looking forward to hearing more from you! Safe travels to you! Watch out for sasquatches!

  7. Hello Amy,
    My friend Bilol and I went up to Port,[Fort] Douglas in about 1981 by touring motorcycle. We travelled up the east side of Harrison Lake by logging roads and crossed a dangerous trestle or two. First we looked into an abandoned camp with beds tables and dishes and boots. Beside this was light grey fresh looking diesel generator left behind. Seemed valuable looking to me.
    Riding onward we came across a tiny church that seemed to be cared for yet not a dwelling around anywhere. Was that the church of the holy cross?
    There was a trestle bridge we had to cross up there after passing the top of Harrison Lake. It was mostly railway ties with a few planks for our wheels and lots of open space between ties with a long drop. I trust that has been made safe since we were there.
    We met a third touring biker who slipped off a plank and slammed his rear wheel between two ties. The wheel was no longer round and he had to creep back down to Harrison with an egg shaped rear wheel. Poor soul.
    I always wondered about that little church. Your blog helps bring the wonderful memories back.
    Brian Kipp has a gold mine of little remote churches you will enjoy. Kipp-Photo.com
    Alas this little church at Douglas was missed.
    Still looking for a photo now using Church of the holy cross. About eight rows of seats? Tony

  8. Sharon says:

    The Church of the Holy Cross is in Skatin (formerly Skookumchuck) about 35 km north of Port Douglas. It is a national historic site, so a google search should get you lots of information.

    St. Thomas Anglican Church was the first church in Port Douglas; it was moved to Chilliwack in 1873. A cemetery believed to be associated with this original Anglican Church was not identified on the original 1859 survey of the townsite, but could still be located by the provincial Heritage Branch team in the late 1976. It included seven grave markers, five located within a fenced area, and two others to the west. Legible inscriptions on the stone markers are: Francis Wade –1894, Kate Wade—1910; Albert Purcell-1935 and Tom Per Kunie, no date, on an iron cross. Three markers are of the wooden ‘colonial’ type, with inscriptions no longer visible.

    The Catholic Church at Port Douglas has been gone for decades (can’t remember the dates). The BC Archives has photographs of it, and many family members have photographs of baptisms, holy communion, and weddings performed there.

    Anyone interested in the history of the area from Mt. Currie down to Port Douglas is invited to contact me. I have many files of information, pictures, family stories, etc.

  9. Kj says:

    Hi Sharon,
    I’m curious to know if you have any information regarding the residents themselves- in particular Frank and Kate Wade? I know that they had a store at wades landing along the Fraser river on sumas mountain but have been unable to find much about that area itself. My family is currently living in that approximate area and have been trying to find more of the history.
    Thank you!

    • Sharon says:

      HI, have you checked at the Mission Archives for information on Wade’s Landing or the family? they are only open Thursday & Friday, but likely have information. I will also check my files – I did a project a few years ago on the Fraser River back in the 1880’s to 1920’s and may have some details or a photo. I’ll get back to you. But in the meantime, contact the Archives and find out what they have.

      • Carol Rae says:

        Hi Sharon – just ran across this site. I lived in Port Douglas 1966- 1969 when it was a logging camp. I have some photos of the cairn taken in 1968 and again in 2014, both include my daughter, Leanna. Also have newspaper clippings regarding Frank & Kate Wade as well as photos of their headstones. Would be happy to share and I am always interested in any info on this area.

        • Sharon Syrette says:

          HI, yes, I would love to see those photos; we have one of the dedication of the cairn (from the provincial archives collection), with a few of the people identified. We are always interested in adding to our resources, and photos are a great way of bringing back memories.

          The Aboriginal Genealogy Network, of which I’m a member, meet at the Mission library genealogy room every second Tuesday – will be there on Jan 17th, 31st, and Feb. 14th. If you are in our area, please come by, or get in touch directly. You can check out facebook/aboriginal.ancestors and message us from there if that is easier.

  10. Kevin Smith says:

    Hi Does anyone know of a route from the top of Stave lake to Sloquet Hot Springs. I can see some forest service roads north of Stave but the rest might be more difficult

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