T.W. Paterson: Teller of tall tales leaves his name on B.C. maps

A monumental windbag, yes — but he left his name on our maps.

  • Dec. 10, 2016 8:00 a.m.

A monumental windbag, yes — but he left his name on our maps.

French Canadian by birth and charlatan by choice, Joseph Zotique La Joie never laid claim to anything that was less than grandiose.

He proposed, in the spring of 1914, to establish a city on the northern end of Lillooet district’s Gun Lake. Where there was wilderness, he claimed the future metropolis of Le Joie would soon have 3,000 residents.

He predicted prosperity for La Joie because of the area’s supposed mineral wealth (declaring in his prospectus that ore samples from his mineral claims had assayed as high as $100 a ton), and its strategic location: “If a man wishes to go from one part of the district to another, it is necessary for him to pass through this townsite.”

This was the La Joie who first gained notoriety in November 1899 when he appeared in New York City and announced that, single-handed, he’d reached the North Pole and discovered a previously unknown civilization. In no less than 92 inches of type (6,000 words), the New York Herald described his “discoveries” in the minutest detail and included his interviews with leading American Arctic explorers and scientists. Try as they might, they’d been unable to shake his account of having lived for two years with a tribe of copper-skinned natives on a volcanic island at the North Pole where they spoke a language unlike any known, existed (until La Joie’s arrival) without fire, and were oblivious to a world beyond their own.

Even the Smithsonian Institute was taken in by his apparent sincerity and sponsored a speaking tour of eastern U.S. cities. Noted the Herald: “…At no time was there hesitancy on his part… He was simple and straightforward in his manner and seemed to take it for granted that while his statements must everywhere be questioned and doubted, he would one day prove every one of them to the satisfaction of the world…”

The Victoria Colonist complimented La Joie by terming his Arctic fable the “strangest and most remarkable narrative of Arctic adventure and discovery that has ever come out of the mysterious land which surrounds the North Pole. Were it set forth in fiction [sic!] it would be noteworthy in the last degree, and would take for vividness, for detail and for daring range of human imaginative power…the best products of the brain of Jules Verne.”

Alas, Rear-Admiral Robert Peary became the first man to truly reach the top of the world and — surprise — no lost civilization on a volcanic island.

La Joie was forgotten.

This was the character who, in 1914, claimed to have discovered gold, pitchblende and radium in B.C.’s Bridge River Valley. However, lest La Joie be dismissed as a complete crank, it must be noted that the waterfalls which today bear his name prove that he did have some prophetic gift.

In 1914 he obtained the water rights to the falls which he was sure would produce 150,000 electric horsepower. A century after, the LaJoie (sic) Falls do produce hydro-electric power, although less than their namesake had predicted.

The outbreak of the First World War shattered the dreams of many entrepreneurs throughout the province; among the stillborn was La Joie townsite. Its founder, with undaunted enthusiasm and imagination, moved on. His water rights to LaJoie Falls reverted to the Crown and ultimately the falls were developed as part of the Bridge River Valley hydro-electric system.

Flamboyant explorer-prospector-windbag Joseph Zotique La Joie eventually came to a tragic end at the hands of a disenchanted investor in one of his schemes. Today his name (as one word) appears on B.C. maps four times: A lake, a creek, a dam and LaJoie Falls honour this fascinating and imaginative adventurer from the past who, ever so briefly, gave the legendary Jules Verne a run for his money.

www.twpaterson.com

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