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#85 Andrew Scott

January 26th, 2016

LOCATION: Telegraph Creek, the only town on the Stikine River, about 260 km upstream from its mouth. Accessible by the Stewart-Cassiar Highway and Highway 57, via Dease Lake.

A former Western Living editor (1980-1987) and a longtime Georgia Straight travel columnist (having first contributed to the Straight in 1974), Welsh-born journalist Andrew Scott is the unparalleled expert on West Coast place names. The tiny but venerable village of Telegraph Creek is his favourite place to visit. After it arose with the discovery of gold in 1861, the community became the gateway for two gold rushes in the Cassiar (1874-76) and the Klondike (1898-99). Briefly bolstered by construction crews for the Alaska Highway, Telegraph Creek endures in Tahltan territory as a poignant reminder of B.C.’s pioneering past.


At the outset of 2010, Andrew Scott won the Lieutenant Governor’s medal for best B.C. historical book from the B.C. Historical Society for his monumental Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names: A Complete Reference to Coastal British Columbia (Harbour 2009). In April of 2010, Scott’s Encyclopedia also won the Roderick Haig-Brown Prize for best book about British Columbia. [SEE REVIEW BELOW]

Accepting the second award, Scott said, “I’m glad the Encyclopedia worked out as well as it did, because I sense that Harbour had a tough time coming up with just the right person for the job. i.e., someone willing to devote three years to writing half-a-million words and 4,000 entries. In other words, someone a little bit insane.

Andrew Scott in Dawson Creek at Mile Zero of Alaska Highway.

Andrew Scott, Dawson Creek, Mile Zero of Alaska Highway.

“When I got to ‘M’ — and its sneaky little offspring ‘Mc’ — I was definitely feeling that English had too many letters in its alphabet, but by the time I reached ‘Z’ I was wondering what I was going to do with myself after it was all finished.

“Well, the folks at Harbour had an answer for that. As Vici Johnstone, general manager at the time, said: ‘Andrew, your work has just begun.’ She was referring, of course, to the book’s production—a massive job. So I’d like to thank all the folks at Harbour for their incredible work, but three people especially: Audrey McClellan, my editor; Anna Comfort, production manager at the time; and Peter Robson, who whipped the 500 images and maps into shape.

“The whole process was like dealing with one of those giant runaway snowballs you often find in comic strips; the damn thing keeps getting larger and larger, and it’s all you can do just to keep out in front of it. At least, that’s how I felt. But the staff at Harbour were undaunted. You would think they put together an encyclopedia every week.

“I’m thrilled to win this particular award because Roderick Haig-Brown is a hero of mine. I hope that, by potentially deepening our understanding of the land, through the names we give to its places, my book can, in a curious sort of way, honour Haig-Brown’s legacy.”

Andrew Scott has been a Vancouver Sun reporter, Alaska Airlines Magazine publisher (1987-1989), a Globe & Mail editor (1989-1991) and a major contributor to the Encyclopedia of British Columbia. Andrew Scott has hundreds of credits as a freelance writer and is the recipient of eight Western and National magazine awards. His work covers a wide range of topics and often deals with environmental issues.

A monthly Georgia Straight column called Ecotourism, renamed Coastlines in January of 1988, led to two volumes about his journeys and kayaking discoveries along B.C.’s shores. His partner, artist Katherine Johnson, “was by my side (or slightly ahead of me) on most of these journeys.”

Andrew Scott’s personal essay on his travels:

There are many places dear to me in BC, for many reasons. Some are close to my heart because of the people I visited them with and the personal events that took place there. Others I’ve been drawn to because they had unusual features or pasts. A number are remote and hard-to-reach, which often seems part of their appeal. A few simply have intriguing names (think Calamity Harbour or Swindle Island).

Scott-Andrew-Riversong Cafe one of HBC oldest posts.

Scott-Andrew-Riversong Cafe one of HBC oldest posts.

Over the years, I’ve spent much time exploring the province’s geography and history—both to educate myself and to satisfy my wanderlust. I try not to get too hung up on destinations. As we’re often reminded, it’s the journey that’s important, and most good journeys end up taking you places you had never dreamed of. But having a destination can get you started on a journey. And destinations that have beckoned you strongly over long periods of time are probably worth reaching, as they’re sure to show you something unexpected.

In 1977 I hitchhiked to the Yukon to visit a friend who had scored a summer job in Dawson. At the turn-off to the Stewart-Cassiar Highway I stuck out my lucky thumb and caught a terrific ride: all the way to Whitehorse, 1,157 kilometres north. Five hundred kilometres in we passed through the one-horse hamlet of Dease Lake, where a gravel road branched off the highway and corkscrewed its way to Telegraph Creek. Now this was a road I’d always wanted to go down. It followed, I’d heard, a hair-raising but truly satisfying route that wound partly along the Grand Canyon of the Stikine River and ended just beyond one of BC’s most historic and isolated villages.

I couldn’t, of course, abandon the ride to Whitehorse; that would have been crazy. So we drove on. As the junction receded in the mirror, I wondered if I’d ever pass this way again, and if so, how many years in the future that might be.

Well, 35 years, to be precise.

My second time through Dease Lake I was driving, rather than hitching, with my wife Katherine, rather than a kind-hearted but long-forgotten stranger. We were sheltering in motels, not tents. The steep, narrow 112-km Telegraph Creek road was much the same, supposedly, as it had been before, with one-lane bridges and sheer drop-offs, but also with fabulous views of the Tanzilla, Tahltan and Stikine rivers.

This was Tahltan First Nation territory. We saw age-old fishing camps and village sites, and clambered out to the edge of the Grand Canyon, searching in vain for the mountain goats that cling to its cliffs. Three hundred metres below us the muddy, swirling river boiled between its stony walls. The canyon is one of the most difficult and dangerous river descents on the planet, and no one managed to navigate it until 1981, when a group of kayakers succeeded.

St. Aidan's Anglican Church, Telegraph Creek

St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, Telegraph Creek

Of old Telegraph Creek, little was left: an ancient church, a few decrepit miners’ log cabins. The former Hudson’s Bay trading post, transformed into a café, was closed for the summer. The silence was overwhelming, the only sound a whispering in the cottonwoods. The massive Stikine surged just a few metres away. I tried to imagine what this place might have been like in the late 1800s, when it was the limit of river navigation and a noisy customs and transfer point for miners en route to the Cassiar and Klondike gold rushes.

The only place to stay was at Glenora, 30 kilometres further on. Glenora had also been a gold rush staging spot, though no trace of this history remains. Instead, an intrepid couple, Rick and Barb McCutcheon, run a bed & breakfast there called Up the Creek. After a glass of wine and a meal of sockeye salmon and vegetables fresh from the garden, they showed us their paradisal property—the only destination they had ever needed—where they had hand-crafted a home and small farm, raised a family and become part of a tight-knit community. We slept well that night in our own little cabin, the valley holding us in a soft embrace. The summer light slowly faded. A leafy fragrance wafted us to sleep. For a few fleeting hours, at least, journey and destination became one.

CITY/TOWN: Halfmoon Bay

DATE OF BIRTH: Nov 26, 1947

PLACE OF BIRTH: Swansea, Wales





BC2000 Book Award (for Secret Coastline), 1994 National Magazine Gold Award for Personal Journalism, Western Magazine Awards for Science, Technology and Medicine (1995), Best Article, BC (1994), Editorial Innovation and Impact (1994) and Travel (1986)

Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:

The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names: A Complete Reference to Coastal British Columbia
The Promise of Paradise: Utopian Communities in BC

Chetwynd, a community carved by success.

Chetwynd, a community carved by success.


Raincoast Place Names: A Complete Reference to Coastal British Columbia (Harbour, 2009)
The People’s Water: The Fight for the Sunshine Coast’s Drinking Watershed (Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, 2009), with Daniel Bouman
Secret Coastline 2: More Journeys and Discoveries Along BC’s Shores (Whitecap, 2005).
Painter, Paddler: The Art and Adventures of Stewart Marshall (TouchWood Editions, 2003).
Secret Coastline: Journeys and Discoveries along BC’s Shores (Whitecap, 2000).
The Promise of Paradise: Utopian Communities in BC (Whitecap, 1997).

[BCBW 2015] “Outdoors” “Art” “Place Names”

Secret Coastline: Journeys and Discoveries Along B.C.’s Shores (Whitecap $18.95)

Halfmoon Bay kayaker Andrew Scott knows first-hand that the B.C. coastline has a cumulative length that’s two-thirds of the distance around the planet. It offers “a lot of room to hide in, or to find oneself.” Scott has parlayed his intimate knowledge of remote inlets into a monthly Georgia Straight column, Coastlines, which, in turn, have been expanded into five sections for Secret Coastline: Journeys and Discoveries Along B.C.’s Shores (Whitecap $18.95). Faces of the Coast recounts personal meetings; Flora and Fauna looks at non-human species; Coastal Villages visits tiny communities; By Way of Water is a paean to various watercraft; World’s Apart depicts six lesser known islands. 1-55110-902-6


The Promise of Paradise: Utopian Communities in British Columbia (Whitecap $17.95)

Andrew Scott recalls pioneers who started idealistic communities in The Promise of Paradise: Utopian Communities in British Columbia (Whitecap $17.95). Scott, who helped plan an agricultural co op in the 1970s, examines the motivations and beliefs that have led people to seek alternative communities in B.C., a few of which have succeeded.
1 55110 622 1

[BCBW 1997]

Review: Raincoast Place Names: A Complete Reference for Coastal B.C.

To celebrate the centennial of Captain John T. Walbran’s groundbreaking work on coastal names of B.C., Sechelt-based Andrew Scott has produced a 650-page lighthouse of a book, Raincoast Place Names: A Complete Reference for Coastal British Columbia (Harbour $49.95), destined to stand tall for decades.

Published in 1909, British Columbia Coast Names by Captain John T. Walbran is a classic of B.C. literature.
As skipper of the federal lighthouse tender Quadra, Walbran researched coastal place names by exploring remote channels, often interviewing or corresponding with many of the province’s pioneer residents and mariners.

For the past several years, Andrew Scott has kayaked in Captain Walbran’s wake, gathering new information for a follow-up text that surpasses Walbran in both size and depth.

More than 2,000 new B.C. place names have been added to the coast in the 20th century, so Scott’s text is not a rehash of Walbran. He has supplied the origins and meanings of more than 5,200 names, with photos and maps.

Visitors to Balcom Inlet might like to know a Rudyard Kipling short story is supposedly based on the ordeal of sealers Sprott Balcom and William Hughes, who were imprisoned in Russia for alleged illegal hunting, stripped of their possessions and money, and had to scrounge their way home to Victoria via Japan.

Similarly, boaters near McLean Island will surely appreciate knowing that sealing skipper Alex McLean, whose gigantic moustache could be tied behind his neck, was rumoured to be the model for Wolf Larsen in Jack London’s novel Sea Wolf.

Selma Park is named for the Selma, a pleasure palace turned coastal steamer. Its former owner, Sir Henry Paget, held mad parties aboard, some of which featured excessive behaviour by the likes of Prince Edward and actress Lily Langtry. Renamed Chasina, the vessel became a rum-runner and then disappeared in 1931, along with its crew of 11, en route from Hong Kong to Macao.

The Union steamship Cutch, another former private yacht, was built for an Indian prince, the Maharaja of Cutch. It ran onto this rock now called Cutch Rock in 1899 and ended its days as a gunboat for the Colombian navy.
The name Kiln Bay has nothing to do with kilns. It’s a misspelling. The feature commemorates US artist Wilfred Kihn, who specialized in documenting First Nation cultures and travelled up the Skeena River in 1924 to sketch Gitksan poles and carvings near Hazelton.

There are lots more such errors enshrined on the maritime charts. South of Calvert Island, it’s easy to run aground on Pearl Rocks. Early fur trader James Hanna called them, with good reason, the Peril Rocks. Peril somehow got changed to Pearl on Captain Vancouver’s chart.

Alert Bay is named for HMS Alert, which spent seven years patrolling the B.C. coast in the 1850s and ’60s. It went on to lead a famous British mission to the high Arctic, chart Magellan Strait, help rescue the lost polar expedition of Adolphus Greeley, survey Hudson Bay and supply the lighthouses of Nova Scotia before being broken up in 1894.

Lucy McNeill, daughter of Hudson’s Bay Company official William McNeill and his first wife, Mathilda, a Kaigani Haida chief, was a “miraculously unfettered Victorian female,” according to B.C. memoirist Helen Meilleur. “She was so adaptable that she could occupy the VIP cabin aboard the Labouchere … and then set off in a canoe for weeks of weather-exposed travel to Indian villages.” That’s how the Lucy Islands got their name.

Similarly, Gillen Harbour is named for William Gillen, a Halifax fisherman, who ran Bamfield’s lifeboat station, skippered halibut vessels off Haida Gwaii and took the legendary St Roch on its first voyage to the Arctic. Gillen became an Arctic specialist, running supply ships for the Hudson’s Bay Co, before mysteriously drowning in Vancouver Harbour in 1930.

There are not any Butthead Islets but there are Beavis Islets. Lancelot Beavis joined the great clipper ships as a youth. He was captain of the Micronesia, which burned to the waterline off the coast of England, then served on Atlantic cattle carriers, which he despised, did marine survey work on the B.C. coast and trained sailors at Esquimalt in World War I. Beavis ended up operating ferries to West Vancouver before retiring to write his memoirs, Passage from Sail to Steam.

Passing Lohbrunner Island, kayakers might want to know Max Lohbrunner bought B.C.’s last whaling ship, the Green, moored it in Victoria Harbour and lived aboard for 20 years, surrounded by junk. He cleverly evaded the city’s attempts to move him until the Green eventually sank. Its harpoon gun is in the Maritime Museum.

A former Western Living editor (1980-1987) and Georgia Straight travel columnist, Welsh-born Andrew Scott has also been a Vancouver Sun reporter, Alaska Airlines Magazine publisher (1987-1989) and a Globe & Mail editor (1989-1991). His monthly Georgia Straight column called Ecotourism, renamed Coastlines in January of 1998, led to two volumes about his journeys and kayaking discoveries along B.C.’s shores with his partner Katherine Johnston who “was by my side (or slightly ahead of me) on most of these journeys.”

Happy Walbran Centennial.

[BCBW 2009]

Nominated for Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names: BC Book Prizes (2010)

Raincoast Place Names describes the original First Nations cultures, the heroics of the 18th-century explorers and fur traders, the grueling survey and settlement efforts of the 19th century, the lives of colonial officials, missionaries, gold seekers and homesteaders and the histories of nearly every important vessel to sail or cruise the coast. Four thousand entries consider, in intriguing detail, the stories behind over five thousand place names: how they were discovered, who named them and why, and what the names reveal. The book also examines the rich heritage of BC place names added in the 20th century. These new entries reflect the world of the steamship era, the ships and skippers of the Union and Princess lines, the heroes of the two World Wars and the sealing fleet, Esquimalt’s naval base and BC’s fishing, canning, mining and logging industries. Andrew Scott is the author of five previous books. He lives in Sechelt.

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