In May, the 75 kilometre HBC (1849) Heritage Trail will join the ranks of B.C.’s epic, multi-day, bucket-list hikes.
The historic route once served as the primary passage of the HBC horse brigades through the Cascades during the fur trade, linking B.C.’s coast and interior region. Prior to HBC use, First Nations had been gathering, hunting and trading along the Tulameen Plateau for centuries.
Thanks to nearly six years of work by Hope Mountain Centre volunteers and staff, as well as provincial and federal funding, the trail has been re-opened for public recreational use.
Section by section, devoted historical and outdoor enthusiasts retraced the route, restored and cleared the trail, and installed all the necessary markers, signage, access points, foot bridges and steps.
They’ve made the trail a camping destination by building tent pads, fire rings, outhouses, benches and installing bear-proof food caches at campsites along the route. Some of the campsites are specifically built in the very plots where explorers camped back in 1849.
They’ll be celebrating the grand re-opening of this lush trail on May long weekend (May 21-23).
Historians and historical re-enactors, like Chilliwack’s Rick Herfst, will be on-site to immerse visitors in life during the days of the fur trade.
Herfst has frequented the trail many times, with volunteer working groups and with his wife for some sensational hiking.
“Even without knowing the history of it, it’s fantastic, beautiful back-country,” Herfst enthused.
Visitors experience a greater appreciation by knowing the incredible historical significance of the route for the history of British Columbia and Canada at large.
HBC employee Alexander Anderson was tasked to find a trail to allow British fur traders to transport furs to the coast. Thanks to the help of First Nations guides, including Similkameen Chief Blackeye, Anderson succeeded.
Completed in 1849, the trail linked key fur forts from Hope to Tulameen, to Kamloops, and beyond to Fort Alexandria and Fort St. James. The HBC Brigade Trail played a significant role in keeping this part of the continent out of the control of the United States.
Each time that Herfst is on the trail, he makes his way to the highest point, and fire’s his black powder gun in the air as a tribute to those who worked, travelled, and died on this trail.
“It was a hard trip,” he said. “But it was also an incredible adventure, and a magnificent accomplishment.”
“Some of these guys were real characters. They performed great feats of bravery,” Herfst explained. He and fellow re-enactors are motivated to share those stories with the locals who attend the annual Brigade Days events. He’s seen a renewed interest in Canadian history as we approach the 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017.
Learn more about the history of the trail and the work to re-open it online at hopemountain.org. Find maps of the trail’s access points and information for hikers online as well.
Celebrate history on May long weekend at the HBC 1849 Brigade Trail. On Saturday, May 21 the events will take place at the eastern end of the trail near Tulameen. Sunday’s festivities continue at Peers Creek, the western trailhead.
Both events are free and open to all ages, with vehicle access to both sites. Watch hopemountain.org for more details about the event.