Christina Lake - Sunken Hudson's Bay Company Supplies

by

C.D. Nicholson


 

Christina lake is located slightly north of the International boarder a few miles east of Grand Forks, British Columbia.  Named after Christina MacDonald, the murky depths of this beautiful lake holds a small fortune in sunken Hudson's Bay Company supplies.

 

Christina MacDonald was born on September 20th 1847, on Big Camas Prairie, near Boise Idaho.  Her father was Angus MacDonald, Chief Trader in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company post at Fort Colville, Washington.  Christina's mother Catherine Baptiste was the niece of Nez Perce chief "Eagle of the Light".  Christina was the eldest in a family of 13 and was given duties and responsibilities at a very early age.  Being the eldest daughter, she was especially close to her father and often went with him on his trips to other H.B.C. posts where she also learned the fur trading business. 

During the early 1850's, the Hudson's Bay Company's fur brigade trail ran north from Fort Colville to Fort Kamloops, crossing what is now known as Christina lake.  Four times a year a supply party would leave Fort Colville and head north with goods for the traders in Kamloops.  On their return trip these parties would bring back the three months supply of furs accumulated at the H.B.C. post in Kamloops.

On one of their trips from Fort Colville to Fort Kamloops the H.B.C. party accompanied by Angus and Christina MacDonald reached a lake crossing near Grand Forks.  Rather than travel around the lake the party decided to build a makeshift raft to ferry their supplies across.  Halfway across the lake their flimsy raft struck a submerged log and broke apart dumping its passengers and cargo into the icy water.  Angus MacDonald lost his leather pouch containing important papers in the disaster.  While everyone else was swimming for their lives, Christina, without hesitation risked her own life to rescue her fathers important H.B.C. documents.  The Hudson's Bay Company was so impressed with Christina's bravery that they named the lake 'Christina Lake' in her honor.

The British Columbia Geographical Names Branch provides the following information on the origins of the name:  "Named after Christina McDonald (1847 - 1926), daughter of Chief Factor Angus McDonald, Hudson's Bay Company headquarters at Colville, who used to accompany her father and the brigade to Kamloops each year.  The brigade travelled the east bank of the Kettle River to Christina Creek, which was crossed 1/2 mile below Christina Lake.  She aced as book-keeper for her father, carrying the records in a buckskin sack; the horses would be swum across the river and a raft built to carry the goods.  One trip (June 1870 ?), the raft on which Christina was crossing the creek went to pieces and she was thrown into the rushing water along with the buckskin sack containing her father's HBC books and papers.  She was carried down for some distance before being rescued, but when finally dragged ashore she still had hold of the satchel of books, thereby saving the precious contents.  For this deed the Council of Chiefs of the Colville Indians gave her and her heirs the sole right to trap and fish in the country tributary to this lake, hence her name for the creek and lake. (Rupert W. Haggen, BCLS, Origin of Place Names in Boundary District.  1945 manuscript). 

Alternately documented by the British Columbia Geological Names Branch; "Named after an Indian girl, born on its shore, and baptized Christina by a priest; later drowned in the same lake."   (Canadian Geographical Names Database, Ottawa - no information in B.C. files to substantiate this version of the name's origin.)

Old time residents of the Boundary area interviewed during the 1980's adamantly maintained that the rafting mishap and loss of HBC supplies happened while the HBC brigade was crossing Christina Lake during a storm.

It would appear more likely that the HBC supplies were lost in Christina Lake rather than at the Christina Creek crossing.  Given the relatively shallow and mellow nature of both the Kettle River and Christina Creek, after the spring freshet, a substantial portion of the valuable cargo would  have been recovered.  However, the HBC would not have had the resources to attempt a recovery from the depths of Christina Lake. 

Somewhere on the bottom of Christina Lake lays the cargo of that ill-fated makeshift raft.  The Hudson's Bay Company's lost cargo includes: 65 muskets, 37 hand forged trade axes, 150 trade knives, 12 kegs of newly minted Hudson's Bay Company tokens and several kegs of Hudson's Bay Company Rum.

In 1865, Angus MacDonald was sent to Portland, Oregon, to attend meetings to settle the American indemnity for the H.B.C.'s losses south of the 49th parallel. Not long after the settlement was reached, the last H.B.C. post on American soil was closed and the MacDonald's left Fort Colville for good.

Before she left Fort Colville Christina had married her fathers clerk James McKenzie. As Angus MacDonald had retired from the H.B.C. it was Christina and James McKenzie who made the long journey from Fort Colville to Clinton, then by stage coach down the Caribou Wagon Road and on to Victoria to deliver Fort Colville's final records to the Hudson's Bay Company's Pacific headquarters.

The first part of Christina and James McKenzie's route took them past Christina Lake, where she reported having a chilling experience which she describes in her own words; “We took Joe LaFlure one of the old Hudson's Bay men with us. When we came to Christina Lake, LaFlure said in French, 'Here is your creek, Christina.' Christina Lake and Creek are named after me. The water was high. LaFlure swam across with the horses. Then a tree was felled from each side crossing in the middle making an improvised bridge. McKenzie crossed first with the gold dust. LaFlure tied a rope of braided buffalo hair to me and taking up his pack and one end of the rope crossed ahead, I followed. In some way LaFlure forgot and dropped the rope and when he got across nearly fainted to find that he had not kept hold of the other end of the rope he had so carefully tied to me. At Clinton LaFlure turned back to Colville with the horses and we proceeded to Victoria.”

Shortly after they arrived in Victoria Christina gave birth to her first child. Before long the McKenzie's were sent to take over the H.B.C. post in Kamloops. After two years in Kamloops James resigned from the H.B.C. and went into business for himself. A year later James died, leaving Christina with three small children.

As a widow, Christina's courage and tenacity once again came to the forefront. Her achievements are again better described in her own words;
“On Mr. McKenzie's death I was appointed administrator of his estate and took charge of and ran the trading post in Kamloops in competition with the Hudson's Bay Company and the independent traders and although I was a woman and with limited capital, I more than held my own with them, for I was raised in the fur-trade and had been a companion of my father so long that I knew the business thoroughly.”

The story of this incredible woman and the beautiful lake that bears her name is a tribute to the steadfast determination of all pioneer women who struggled to forge chapters in British Columbia's rich and colorful history.

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