Brunette River Expedition

April 2004 (1859)

This wasn't as much an event as it was a discovery of just how tough the original 6 men who explored the Brunette River were.  

Historically, in April of 1859, 4 Royal Marine Light Infantry and two Aboriginal men paddled  up a slow brown river to see where it went. 

In April of 2004, 6 re-enactors in two canoes entered the Brunette River where it empties into the Fraser River and paddled, pulled, and carried their canoes up to Burnaby Lake.  What no one had bothered to tell our Expedition is that there were some cement fish weirs between the Fraser and Burnaby Lake.  By the time they reached the shore of Burnaby Lake, they were soaked to the skin and all their rations had spent the day marinating in Brunette river water.  Yummm.

The following is the original report of the 1859 Expedition:

Royal Marine Camp, Queenborough, 25 April, 1859

To His Excellency
Colonel Moody
Royal Engineers


            I have the honour to inform you that according to your order, I proceeded last Monday in charge of an exploration expedition consisting of Captain Bazalgette, RM, one Private, RM, and three Indians with rations for five days for the purpose of ascertaining the relative position of Burrard Inlet with regard to Queenborough.

            The route I pursued for the purpose of affecting this was by the small River Brunette to Burnaby Lake, making the latter my Head Quarters.

The distance from Queenborough to the lake I ascertained to be by the River about 6 miles. The river is exceedingly tortuous in its course, and its stage at the time that I proceeded up it was very low, but perfectly navigable for small canoes the portages owing to the fallen timber are numerous; but these obstacles might easily be removed. 

The Lake is two miles and a half in length by one in breadth and the deepest part that I could find, I sounded at two fathoms, its entire shores are also very swampy its bearing is N.70 W. from where the Brunette running to the Fraser flows out of it and is about N.70 W. of Queenborough. On the Second day I despatched Captain Bazalgette R.M., to reconnoiter the head of the lake and he discovered a river which he followed up on a Westerly course for 3 miles (Still Creek). 

This river runs into a lake but with an almost imperceptible motion, it is also much deeper than any other part of the latter that I sounded. Its average depth being three fathoms, it also winds in small turns of every fifty of sixty yards but its general bearing is West, its shores are swampy and covered with alder, its general appearance might be likened to a Canal. 

On the same day I started with an Indian and two days provisions and took a course due North from the eastern point of the lake over a Mountain 600 feet above the level of the sea covered with dense forest on reaching the summit I found Burrards Inlet to be immediately beneath it on the opposite side branching off into two arms the Southern most one of which bore to the eastward and appeared to terminate within a short distance. The Northern most one hugging the base of the opposite high range of mountains was shut out from any observation. The mountain I ascended had an exceedingly steep descent to the Northward the breadth of the inlet was at the broadest part two miles: observing on this occasion that the mountain a short distance from where I had crossed it terminated abruptly to the Eastward and that a comparatively cleared valley about a mile in width skirted it in the direction of the Inlet, I devoted my third day to endeavouring to find out the nearest and most direct point from the latter to Queenborough and by returning about a mile and a quarter down the river Brunette from the Lake, I entered the valley and found it lead over a perfectly level and nearly cleared Country direct to the termination of the Southernmost branch of the inlet the distance from River to the latter being about two and a half miles and I compute the distance that exists between that part of the river and Queenborough to be about three miles in a direct line this would make the nearest point of the Inlet five and a half miles from Queenborough.

On the fourth day I tried to get up the River at the head of the Lake further than Captain Bazalgette had been but after three miles the snags were so numerous from the fallen trees that I found the labour of getting the Canoe over

Too great to proceed much further than he had already been the depth of the River continued the same at this point it also flows through a perfectly unbroken valley which heads due West to Burrard Inlet. From the head of the lake and the distance across the former I should  say to be about eight miles. 

I have the Honour to be
Your Most Obedient Servant
G.S. Blake,

Using the letter as a guide to where to go, what to attempt to accomplish and how to proceed, or group tried to follow their actions as closely as possible, leaving on the same day as their 1859 Expedition.

This is one of the reports that we wrote having completed the Re-enactment of the 1859 Expedition.

27th April 1859
    Having had the honour to complete the exploration, as per your orders of the 22nd Instant, I beg to report to you the findings of the same.
    The party consisted of Captain Bazalgette, RMLI, Colour Serjeant Prettyjohns, RMLI, Pvt. Miles, RMLI, Seaman Duncan, carpenter's crew, HMS Bacchante, Presse an old Voyageur and myself.
    We set off from the wharf at the RE Camp in the morning of the 23rd in a steady rain. By the time that the 2 canoes were fully loaded we had an inch of water in them to shift and 3 to 4 inches of freeboard. I am pleased that we packed Light Marching Order otherwise we would have required larger canoes.
    We travelled against the current of the Fraser for about a mile to discover the entrance of Brunette Creek, as the brunette River mouth was effectively blocked by logs. We saw much local game and were paced by sea otters.
    We passed into the mouth of the creek and followed the right hand channel into Brunette River proper. It was very brown and very meandering.
    As the party missed coming into the river on the rising tide, we soon discovered that we were not only contending with the existing current but the out-flowing tide as well. We found ourselves unable to make headway either paddling nor poling and were forced to pull the canoes upstream.
    At a distinct clearing, we noted, with some surprise that the shoreline was covered with thick bamboo as many of us had experienced recently whilst in China. It was also at this point that the banks became increasingly overgrown and thus impracticable for towing along the shore. The party then advanced upstream bodily in the river. The river, though shall in spots, was usually between 2 and 5 feet deep and the bottom rocky, with large stones near the East bank.
    At the Cedar Grove where the previous party took respite, we dined upon cold pork, hardtack, rum and a pipe.  Bazalgette and I used our telescopes to determine the extent of the upcoming rapids and decided to forge on, in the river, rather than attempt an overland portage. At this junction some of the kit was re-arranged to give greater facility to the vessels for the upcoming part of the expedition.
    The remainder of the trip up the Brunette was accomplished by alternately dragging or towing the boats.
    At the mouth of the Lake we encountered the river too blocked to continue and so unloaded the baggage and portaged to the entrance of the mouth. After re-embarking, we landed at a spot chosen by Presse as a suitable camp site. The men soon had a slant up, with a bed of cedar boughs covered with a tarpaulin, as a floor. A roaring fire soon had us drying out and tea was soon on the boil. The trip, to this point, had taken over 5 1/2 hours.
    The party rested here for the night. We noted a great deal of beaver activity, as well as flocks of Canada Geese, woodpeckers and teal. Evening rations of pork and split pea soup were prepared and eaten with hard tack. The party went to sleep early and faired the night well.
    In the morning, awoken by the tap of the woodpecker and the cry of the raccoon, we prepared a meal of burgoo, bacon and hard bread sandwiches, washed down with tea and coffee rations. After ablutions, the party set to work breaking camp and loading the baggage onto the canoes.
    We set off down the Lake and noted a great deal of water-fowl and beaver lodges. At the approach of the largest of these, Presse pointed out a spot for us to set up our headquarters camp for the day. The lake bottom is of a thick dead foliage in which one sinks to mid calf. The water level was less than 1 foot for a considerable distance and thus we resorted to towing once more.
    The campsite, at the junction of a small penninsula and a creek flowing into the Lake, was an ideal spot to observe the lake as a whole and do our survey. The weather was threatening all day but rainfall did not occur. The men, fatigued for their exertion the day before, took turns sleeping under the slant. Skillagee was prepared and the tea and coffee ration put to good effect. By day's end, half the map was complete and we broke headquarters are returned to the first camp for the evening.
    Hoping to improve our lot, the party re-arranged the slant and prepared a meal of pork and dahl with the addition of Press' garlic! The new accomidations proved warmer than the evening before and the party was soon fast asleep.
    As the sun burned off the morning mists on the lake, the party set to work on preparing breakfast and clearing the campsite. Bacon and burgoo, tea and coffee made their appearance once more and we set off to the headquarters camp by 9 am.
    We noted a great deal more natives on the Sunday than the day previous and we exchanged a great deal of information with them, learning much in the process.
    By mid-afternoon, the party began making preparations to return to Queenborough and by 4pm we were on our way.
    In conclusion, though a strenuous expedition, it was a most informative one. We have all discovered what kit and rations are preferred, here in British Columbia, as opposed to what we learned in China. The lessons will not be forgotten the next time we are on the march.
    I remain,
Your Most humble and Obedient Servant,
Lt. G.L Blake, RMA

Below are some of the images taken of the party as it went through its Second day of the re-created 1859 Expedition.

Burnaby Lake camp

A hot meal

Genuine burgoo, with a side of river-soaked salt pork

Looks tasty, doesn't it.

What a voyageur carried.

A chuck of smoked pork with its historically accurate oiled paper wrap.

Kicked back and relaxing

Same picture only in black and white.

Officers' Mess

Burnaby Lake Camp as seen from the observation platform

An Officer's work is never done.

A pocket transist


The Brunette River Expedition

Old Presse looks on