John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, was made Governor General of Canada on March 27, 1935 and took office Nov. 2, 1935.
He explored the Mackenzie River in 1937 and then toured the park of 5,400 square miles, named in his honour, in 1938 with his wife and youngest son Alistair. Lord Tweedsmuir was an admirer of Alexander Mackenzie.
It was a major event for Canada and more so for British Columbia. Work crews prepared the route from the northern end south of Burns Lake, to the Bella Coola valley. A major camp site was set up at Intata Lake, where four R.C.A.F. float planes were stationed and several other camps set up on the overland portion of their trip south of Ulgatcho Village, then west to Bella Coola Valley.
On the latter leg of the journey, ancient grease trails were cleared of windfall, bridges built and corduroy were laid. When we hiked the grease trail in 1977 we found many of the artifacts such as a bridge.
The group explored by plane and river boat for seven days on the Great Circle chain of lakes which is now flooded for Alcan. Then they rode horses for seven days south to Ulgatcho, over the coastal mountains to Bella Coola valley.
Finally, they went by boat and plane to Mackenzie’s rock in Dean Channel.
Louis Labourdais, MLA, of Quesnel was one of the dignitaries on that trip.
First Nations people were visited in their villages and they made Lord Tweedsmuir a chief of their band in several places.
Lady Tweedsmuir wrote a detailed account of the trip. She suffered from vertigo, especially while flying and held up her scarf to obscure the window while reading a book. Lord Tweedsmuir loved flying and she describes him as being “light minded” while in the air. Lady Tweedsmuir, coming from the English countryside, was very taken by the magnificent scenery of mountains and lakes and with the abundance of wildlife from moose, to birds and almost limitless fish. The rugged horse back part was a huge challenge for her.
In 1988, I took part, on behalf of the Mackenzie Trail Association, at the 50th anniversary of the park’s creation, at a ceremony at Burnt Bridge Creek in the Bella Coola Valley, when a reenactment was held by B.C. Parks. Lord Tweedsmuir’s son was there from England as well as Neil Vant, from Wells (just appointed Minister of Highways.)
I had borrowed a buckskin vest and a muzzle loader for the affair.
While driving home, a game warden stopped us. We had to explain the outfit. I did not have a hunting license and the gun was visible in the rear seat – but he let us leave and my wife and I were spared an awkward scene.
Lord Tweedsmuir said Mackenzie’s performance was one of the outstanding feats in the history of exploration.
Much has changed since those regal times but the park is still a magnificent place, full of history and natural beauty.
For those who have every copy of the National Geography Magazine, can find the full story in detail in the April 1938, vo.xx111, no.4 issue, written by Lady Tweedsmuir. I have given a copy of the story to the Quesnel museum.
Andy Motherwell is an amateur historian and regular Observer columnist.