On a hot night in 1858, an American soldier of fortune and a First Nations chief faced each other across a campfire, holding the fate of British Columbia in their hands. Any hope of peace rested with Captain H.M. Snyder, commander of the miner militia forces and the great N’lakapamux Chief, Spint’lum, a powerful leader who had many other Mainland First Nations supporting him. If these two men failed, the war that had been confined to the Fraser Canyon would erupt into a bloody confrontation that would rage from Lytton to the mouth of the Columbia and beyond. But unbeknownst to both men, shots were already being fired in the dark in the canyon below them…
Canyon War: The Untold Story shines a light on this shadowy chapter in B.C.’s history. This revealing story of greed, violence and heroism during the 1858 war between the NLaka’pamux Nation and Fraser River gold miners kicks off Knowledge’s “Winter 2010: First Nations, First Peoples, First Voices” series, January 15, 7:00 p.m.. The three-week series focus on the people who came first – programs by and about aboriginal peoples from local, continental and global perspectives.
The documentary is vividly brought to life by co-hosts Kevin Loring (a Governor General Award-winning playwright and actor from the Lytton First Nation) and Dr. Dan Marshall of the University of Victoria. Loring’s descendants resisted the thirty to forty thousand gold seekers who flooded into the Fraser River in 1858 while Marshall’s ancestors were among the gold-seekers.
“To work with these two men, to record their voyage of self-discovery – and to tell a story that has been kept under wraps for a century-and-a-half – was an incredible experience,” said director Eva Wunderman, an award-winning filmmaker from Hope, B.C. “It’s an honour to be able to share this story.”
Marshall and Loring guide viewers the through the tumultuous events of 1858 and over the war’s little-known battlefields ,from the Battle of Boston Bar to the peace at Kumsheen. They chronicle the roots of the war and how Spintlum and Snyder managed to bring it to an end despite heavy odds and higher stakes. The efforts of Chief of San Francisco prevented the war from spreading south of the border – something that would have almost certainly resulted in U.S. troops occupying the mainland of B.C.
“This is a story that celebrates the role of Chief Spintlum as a peacekeeper,” said Loring. “To the NLaka’pamux, he is one of the co-founders of modern British Columbia.”
The significance of the conflict was downplayed by Gov. James Douglas, who was helpless to intervene in the war despite having instructions to prevent bloodshed between the miners and the First Nations. The full extent of the struggle has never been told – until now.
“The Canyon War is a good example of the need for a new, more inclusive story in this province’s history,” said Marshall. “It’s exciting to be able to tell a story that isn’t in our history books.”
This ground-breaking documentary was shot on location in the Fraser Canyon in 2008 — 150 Years after the war it depicts took place. It was made possible by a partnership between the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, the New Pathways to Gold Society (NPTGS), Heritage Canada, CN and BC150.