Author Tags: Cariboo, History, Outdoors

“As a young boy after the Second World War,” writes John Schreiber in Stranger Wycott’s Place: Stories from the Cariboo-Chilcotin (New Star $19), “I lived with my family up the North Thompson River, north of Kamloops near a post office stop on the highway called Darfield.” Since then, having walked, rode on horseback and driven the backroads for many years, Schreiber has gathered a lifetime of stories and a richly personal sense of history, culminating in a title story about William Wycott’s homestead above Wycott Flats off Churn Creek, on the west side of the Fraser River. Wycott was also featured in Harry Marriott’s Cariboo Cowboy and Tales of the Ranches. According to his publisher's literature, the core question of Stranger Wycott's Place is "can humans learn to coexist with the wild, and even to recognize it within ourselves?"

His second collection of stories, Old Lives: In the Chilcotin Backcountry (Harbour, 2011), is about the region's 'enigmatic old-timers' - both aboriginal and settler.

The title story of John Schreiber’s third story collection, The Junction: Stories of Land and Place in the BC Interior (Caitlin 2013), refers to the place where the great Fraser and Chilcotin Rivers come together south of Williams Lake. Other Cariboo-Chilcotin locales include Big Bar Mountain, Empire Valley, Churn Creek and Ts'yl-os [Mt. Tatlow] south of the Nemaiah Valley. There also two stories set in the lower Similkameen (“one of B.C.'s magic places,” according to Schreiber) and two focused on the Stein Valley and Writing-on-Stone in southern Alberta.

Schreiber is a retired elementary school counsellor, who has also worked in logging camps, an iron mine, a pulp mill and a fishing boat. He now lives in Victoria.

Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
Old Lives in the Chilcotin Backcountry


Stranger Wycott's Place: Stories from the Cariboo-Chilcotin (New Star Books, 2008) $19 978-1-55420-037-5

Old Lives: In the Chilcotin Backcountry (Caitlin, 2011) 978-1-894759-55-7 $22.95

The Junction: Stories of Land and Place in the BC Interior (Caitlin 2013)

[BCBW 2013] "Outdoors" "Cariboo"

Old Lives
Review (2011)

Victoria author John Schreiber takes you on a walk through the Chilcotin to meet old friends, in his latest nonfiction book, Old Lives: In the Chilcotin Backcountry, published this month by Caitlin Press of Halfmoon Bay.

Schreiber offers a glimpse into the history and mythology of the rugged Chilcotin country and introduces you to some of the people who live there.

You come away with a new appreciation of this vast high plateau country west of Williams Lake and some of the mysteries that abound in its out-of-the-way places.

Schreiber sets a place for the reader at the kitchen table of 93-year-old Joe Schuk, and his wife, Katie, 85, who still operate their ranch beside Crazy Creek in Tatlayoko Valley. Joe confesses he can’t lift a quarter of beef like he once could and Katie smiles wryly at the comment that ranching is a habit they can’t seem to quit.

Then slip over into neighbouring West Branch Valley and meet Lee and Bev Butler at their ranch next to Bluff Lake. Lee’s dad Leonard took up the land there in the 1920s after emigrating from the United States, and married his part-Tsilhqot’in wife, Hilda McKill. Hilda’s grandmother, Susan Swanson, was the partner of Williams Manning, the first settler at Puntzi Lake, who died during the Chilcotin War uprising.

Standing at the graveyard on the ridge above the historic Graham Inn in Tatla Lake, Schreiber launches into an historical account of the mountainous region south of there.

You meet an array of historic figures in the ten essays that make up Old Lives, including the infamous Theodor “BS” Valleau, Eagle Lake Henry, and the notorious Donald McLean among others.

Perhaps my favourite chapter is Larry Emile’s Drum, where you get a strong sense of how John moves through the countryside and sees the world.

Schreiber describes the Chilcotin through mythological eyes. The old stories have an element of “myth time” that make them profound. His walks and experiences touch on that too.

“There’s power in myth. It’s more than just telling a story.”

Schreiber concludes that mystery, like mythology, can only ever be wild.

“We shouldn’t turn off mythologizing. In the world of mythology everything is alive. If we embraced that more, maybe we’d be more respectful.”

Schreiber credits anthropologist, James Teit for preserving the mythological record of the Interior First Nations people. He says the last chapter, This Land We Pass Through, sums up nicely the passion that has drawn him to the Chilcotin.

Tonight Schreiber will be a guest of the Quesnel Museum participating in the Museum’s Heritage Speakers series at 7 p.m. in the Quesnel City Council Chambers. The following day signs books at Books & Company in Prince George.

May 18, John heads west to the Chilcotin to sign books and give a reading at Tatla Lake Library, 1 p.m. His tour concludes May 20 at Nuthatch Books in 100 Mile House, 1 p.m.

Old Lives is John Schreiber’s second book of local nonfiction. He published Stranger Wycott’s Place with New Star Books in 2008.

-- Quesnel Observer, 2011

Sage Birchwater is a free lance writer from Williams Lake.