‘Pathfinder’ A.C. Anderson made his mark on our maps

A.C. Anderson wrote "some of the best descriptive pamphlets and essays on this province".

The Pathfinder, a recently published book on Alexander Caulfield Anderson by his greatgranddaughter Nancy Marguerite Anderson, tells of the remarkable career of this chief trader and trail blazer with the Hudson’s Bay Co. until his retirement and appointment as collector of customs by Gov. James Douglas in 1858.

He also was first Victoria postmaster and, respectively, commissioner for Indian Affairs and Fisheries.

Calcutta-born, he entered the HBCo.’s service in 1831, at the age of 17 and was sent, the following year, to Fort Vancouver (Washington Territory) to "assist…in the founding of the trading-posts at Milbanke Sound [sic] and on the Stickeen [sic]". Promoted in 1853, he arrived in Fort George that September. One of his first tasks was to lead a party by way of Yellowhead Pass to Jasper House to meet the Columbia Brigade and bring goods back to New Caledonia. Two months afterward, he was given command of Fort Alexandria on the lower Fraser River. Other challenging assignments followed: Forts George, Vancouver and Nisqually, before he was again posted to Alexandria.

In 1848 he succeeded Chief Factor John Lees in the Colville district. After further promotions, Anderson retired from the company in 1954.

During these hectic years of overseeing HBC trade and directing the annual fur brigades, his greatest challenge had been, of all things, gold.

When he first learned of the epic strike in California in 1848 in a dispatch from Douglas, the news seemed to be of little consequence and Anderson dismissed it with a shrug. But "a few months…served to dissipate this belief, and before the autumn of 1949, the whole country [New Caledonia] was ablaze. I myself felt fearful, on my return from Langley, in August of that year, lest everyman should leave me.

"By prudent management, however, and possessing, I flatter myself, the confidence of my men, I contrived to confirm them in their allegiance, and retained their services until their contracts were fully expired, a period of some two years. In this respect I was exceptionally fortunate, for while my men, some 30 in number, adhered to me faithfully, the other ports lower down the river, including Fort Vancouver, in which about 150 men had been stationed, were almost deserted, and Indian labourers were hired to supply the deficiency."

Today, it’s hard for us to grasp the electrifying effect of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.

It changed the course of history and, years after, Anderson marvelled at the subsequent rushes of 1848, 1858 and 1897: "It is almost impossible to realize… the intense excitement which at times prevailed [in 1848-9]. Gold appeared to be almost…a drug on the market, and more than one of the French-Canadian servants who had left [Fort] Vancouver under the circumstances mentioned, returned the following spring with accumulations varying from $30,000 to $40,000 [worth more than 20 times as much today!-TW]."

The discovery of gold in B.C.’s Interior caused further concern for the new collector of customs nine years later, Anderson also acting at this time as HBC trail blazer. As "one of [Douglas’s] most trusted subordinates," he plotted a mining trail between Forts Alexandria and Langley, a 230-mile-long journey that took his party nine painful days to complete.

One of his last public duties was the selection of a site for a salmon hatchery on a tributary of the Fraser River. But his riverboat met with mishap and after a night on a sandbar without fire or shelter, his health was ruined. Besides the three landmarks which bear his name, Anderson is remembered as author of "some of the best descriptive pamphlets and essays on this province".

A newspaper termed his death, "little short of a public calamity".