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History of Squamish by Kevin McLane 

This is a shortened edition of the full 26,000 word history in "Squamish The Shining Valley", written by the same author, and published by Elaho Press.

Kevin McLane | Copyright 2006- 2014

Before the First People

If we could turn back the clock to 60,000 years ago, we would not recognize the familiar landscape of Squamish and Sea to Sky Country. It took a series of ice ages lasting many thousands of years to shape the landscape into how it appeared when the first humans arrived, and it was the nature of that newly-revealed land that determined the entire history of Squamish. Before the decline of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago, glacial ice covered Sea to Sky Country to a depth of some 2,000 metres, extending down to the Straits of Georgia, even as far south as Seattle. Only the highest craggy peaks like Tantalus Mountain and Mount Garibaldi would have jutted above the rolling sea of ice. As the climate changed and the ice began to recede, the new land which was slowly revealed was very different to that of 60,000 years earlier. The glaciers had gouged out deep valleys, depositing vast moraines of rock, the rivers were steeper and faster, and the Pacific Ocean extended into the upper Squamish River valley. Brackendale was deep in Howe Sound, the Chief would have been sparkling white granite with not a tree in sight, and small glaciers would have lingered near Squamish in places like Shannon Creek and on Mount Murchison.

The First People

As the ice slowly receded up to the alpine regions, vegetation began to flourish in the valley bottoms, and animals would have migrated northward as food became available. It is not known when the first humans entered Howe Sound in search of food and shelter, but it is reasonable to believe it was something like 5,000 years or more ago. To survive, they would have led a nomadic life, travelling wherever resources were best obtained for the time of year. As hundreds of years rolled by, they grew in number and permanent settlements began to evolve. Their society was dependent on salmon, cedar, shellfish, oolichans and their own resourcefulness, all of which were in plentiful supply. Living in the same place for thousands of years has given aboriginal people a sense of stewardship and connection to the land which is almost extinct for Europeans. They did not feel ownership as we understand it today, they felt custodial inheritance, of a land and terrain which belonged by natural right to everyone. To live in a village knowing that your family'­s ancestors had lived out their lives in the same soil for thousands of years was a bond of powerful intimacy which still exists today.

The Europeans Arrive

During the first half of the nineteenth century, relations between the first peoples and the earliest Europeans centred on trade. At this time, there were about 70,000 native people in what we now call British Columbia, but only several hundred European traders of the officer-gentleman class. The native people supplied furs and received manufactured goods in return. This brought iron pails, durable fishing nets, metal tools, copper pots and easily-acquired blankets into their culture, but it also brought a rapid loss in the skills of tool manufacture they had developed over thousands of years. This relative equilibrium was shattered by the Cariboo gold rush of 1858, and what was to become an invasion of tens of thousands of fortune-seekers. From this time forward, the new immigrants and their governments began to seek possession of the land itself from the native people, for timber extraction, mining, and agriculture. The relatively peaceful co-existence between the native people and the Europeans had come to an end. The first recorded date of a person of European origin settling in the Squamish Valley was in 1874. Over the course of the two decades that followed, the flow of people coming and going increased, and by 1892 it is said that about 35 families lived in what is now Brackendale. Others in the valley would have included the Chinese labourers who built the dykes, prospectors, itinerant loggers and trappers, of whom there must have been many scattered around the hills and the upper Valley. A small community of Sikhs lived downtown and worked in the waterfront sawmills. For everyone of them, survival was foremost in their minds.

The Farmers 

Farming was the natural economic mainstay for the Europeans settlers, and as the new century began, agriculture became steadily more diverse and prosperous in the fertile soil of the flat valley bottom. The Squamish Valley Hop Company  built a thriving business in the Brackendale area, (photo right) and their hops were sent around the world to make fine beer. The hay farms in the Estuary continued to flourish, and a twenty acre potato farm was built near the site of what is now Garibaldi Estates. Other economic activities had a life of their own, like trapping, horse logging, steam-donkey logging, mining at Britannia, and the Woodfibre Pulp Mill, but in the early years they seem to have existed as a secondary force in economic and cultural life, behind the engine of farming and community organization.

The Railroad Loggers 

Although it is recorded that horse logging existed in the Squamish area around the late 1890s, such efforts were limited by the slow grinding nature of the work and the massive trees. That gave way at the turn of the century to powerful but cumbersome steam-donkey engines extracting the fallen trees. Things changed again in 1926 when Merrill and Ring, an American company from Washington State, began full-scale operations using the latest railroad and high-lead logging techniques. High-lead techniques lifted the logs into the air, and the tough, narrow-gauge trains rolled them down to Howe Sound. Operations began in the Valleycliffe (photo right) and Crumpit Woods area, and over the next 10-15 years worked their way north to Alice Lake.

The Pacific Great Eastern Railway 

By 1910, railroad development strategies were a focal point of political life in British Columbia, and in June 1914, construction gangs began to lay steel north from Squamish up the Cheakamus Canyon, working at a breakneck pace for Prince George. Incredibly, the line reached Pemberton by that fall. The railway brought great change to the cultural life of the Squamish valley; the southern ferry corridor to Vancouver was now joined with a northern corridor to Pemberton and beyond. It was to be another 42 years before the link into Vancouver was accomplished, in 1956.

The Truck Loggers

By the late 1940s, the woods in the Valley were beginning to echo to new sounds; chainsaws, rubber-tired logging trucks (photo right) grinding up the valley side-hills, and the dynamite blasts of roadbuilding. This dramatic new advance, spurred by more powerful internal combustion engines established logging as the major economic force in the Squamish valley for the next half-century. The railroad locomotive engineers and their dangerous lives on steep grades were now consigned to history, and when high-lead towers were added to tank-tracked log yarders, the engineers were joined by the legendary high riggers. By the end of the 1950s, the faller was left alone as the undisputed king of the woods. His job had gone through its own great change when chainsaws emerged, ironically making the job even more hazardous. In the 1950s, the provincial government took steps to restructure the issuing of timber licences, creating a system of Tree Farm Licences which fell into the hands of the largest companies and ensured a lucrative near-monopoly. In the case of Squamish, in 1958 the province gave control of the entire Ashlu, Elaho and upper Squamish Valleys to Empire Mills (eventually to become Interfor) by granting them TFL 38. This caused an uproar of protest from the many traditional small independent sawmill and logging operators. One way or the other, history was rolling on, and now it was the turn of industrial forestry to become the dominant income generator for the Valley.

Squamish Comes Together

Squamish as we know it today, a community of people with a single government and common culture, some 15 kilometres long, has evolved from a couple of farms in Brackendale. The stages of that journey began in 1892 when a road was built to join Howe Sound to Brackendale. By the turn of the twentieth century, almost everyone lived in the two small communities of "Squamish"at the water'­s edge, and "Brackendale"­ some 7 kilometres up valley, a situation which was not to change for almost fifty years. For that half-century, between Cleveland Avenue and Judd Road in Brackendale, there were only green fields and forest, linked by a quiet winding road which followed a route dictated by the river beds and sloughs of the time and the great trees which filled the valley floor. It became known as Government Road, following the familiar course of today. Downtown Squamish was incorporated as a Village in 1948, a popular action which was an important step forward in gaining local control of civic affairs, but the Valley as a whole remained essentially a collection of separate communities with no common government. The Middle valley (Garibaldi Estates of today), known simply as "Mamquam" was served by a Water Board and a Sewer Board, and the affairs of Brackendale were directed by the Farmers Institute. Each had their own priorities. For Brackendale, better river bank protection from the certain threat of repeated heavy floods and a domestic water system were pressing matters. In Squamish it was sewers, a secure base for future development, and dykes to protect the downtown area from becoming a canoe lake when really big storms arrived. In August 1958 one of the most dramatic events in Squamish history occurred, the completion of the "Seaview Highway" into Vancouver. It had taken a long time, so long in fact that the Russians had already launched Sputnik, the world'­s first satellite, into space. Within a few years it is estimated that a quarter of Squamish wage-earners were communting into the big city to work. The economy of Squamish began to change rapidly. By 1964 the future of the valley was coming to a time of great decision and major change. The legendary Pat Brennan was Mayor of the Village of Squamish (pictured right, opening the new municipal hall) at the time, and was of the opinion that the long term interests of the Valley were best served by incorporating all the communities into a District Municipality. His view was shared by the other civic leaders of the day: Izzy Boscariol of the Farmers Institute; Pat Goode of the Mamquam Sewer Board; and Art Framboni of the Mamquam Water Board. There was much heated debate among the 3,000 residents as 1964 progressed. The matter went to a vote on November 21st 1964, resulting in a strong 78 per cent in favour of incorporation as a Municipality. The stage was now set for a major upgrading of the infrastructure of the Valley.

A Century of Climbing

As Squamish enjoyed its many decades of quiet isolation from the rest of British Columbia, few people came up Howe Sound for any purpose other than to settle or earn a living. The exception were climbers of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club, with their eyes on the unclimbed high peaks which surround the Squamish Valley. So began a century of connection between climbers and the greater Squamish area. More than 100 years ago, early attempts began to reach the summit of Mount Garibaldi, and the centenary of that great achievement is in 2007. Over the following twenty years, most of the high peaks of the area, such as the Black Tusk, Serratus, Tantalus, and Sky Pilot were climbed in daring assaults by men and women who were among the elite of their day. Those high alpine climbers were also the force that helped establish Garibaldi Park in 1920. Just as it did for everyone in Squamish, the opening of the Seaview Highway from Vancouver in August 1958 marked major change and opportunity for climbers, eyes now firmly fixed on "the Chief" As far back as 1961, the Canadian national media discovered Squamish during the epic first ascent of the Grand Wall (Jim Baldwin and Ed Cooper, pictured right), and the ensuing 45 years of development on the superb granite has captured the attention of the entire climbing world.

An Era Ends, Another Begins

For the first peoples, change came hard when Europeans sought new horizons for wealth and opportunity. Then a second era, the pre-eminence by Squamish farming and the horse- and railroad loggers, lasted until World War Two when new technology brought their culture to an end. The domination of industrial forestry in Squamish'­s life was to last for the next half a century. We are now in the middle of a third great change, and in time it will also give way to something different. The Woodfibre pulpmill left in 2006 after 94 years of presence in Squamish life, and the great sawmill went after almost 50 years rooted in the heart of downtown. If it was the drive for exploration, wealth and opportunity that brought the first era to an end, and technology the second, it is the force of geopolitical change that drives the present one: distant countries undercutting our industrial economy, the rise of international tourism (picture right, Squamish Adventure Centre), and a pace like never seen before of Canadians seeking a better home. For over a century, the Squamish landscape was valued and exploited for its farming, timber, and mineral resources to benefit community life. Now, as Squamish attempts to scale back resource extraction to a long-term sustainable level, we are witnessing a different kind of demand for the land, from a worldwide interest in its natural state: the stunning mountains, the ocean proximity, the climbing, the trail network, the Chief, and Squamish as a centre and a home where a well-balanced lifestyle can be achieved. The strains of the changing order are a challenge, but as the heart of Sea to Sky Country, and one of the most vibrant centres of energy and growth in North America today, Squamish is remarkably well-placed to benefit from finding just the right balance of economic and cultural lifestyle. Why not show the world how well it can be done? Copyright 2006-2014, Kevin McLane

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