The Pathfinder: A.C. Anderson's Journeys in the West
By Nancy Marguerite Anderson Heritage House, 240 pp., $19.95
One of British Columbia's true pioneers, Alexander Caulfield Anderson, is buried at St. Stephen's Anglican Church in Saanichton. This book, by one of his descendants, ensures that he will not be forgotten.
Anderson signed up as an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1831, when he was just 17 years old. Through his career with the fur-trading company, he proved to be a superb explorer, mapping the Interior and finding ways for traders and settlers to get from one valley to another, or to and from the forts on the coast.
By the time he was done, Anderson had mapped four viable routes between the company's forts in Kamloops and Fort Langley. His maps are vital documents in the study of B.C. history.
After he left the company, his work continued to make a difference. In 1858, for example, his Hand-book and Map to the Gold Region of Frazer's and Thompson's River was published in San Francisco, helping eager prospectors from California find their way to the gold rush that helped created our province.
Anderson moved to Victoria in the same year, taking a job as customs collector. In 1862, after losing money in a steamship business, he sold his house in Victoria and moved to a farm on the Saanich Peninsula.
He also served as an Indian Reserve commissioner, which meant he worked on early land claims, and inspector of fisheries. This work certainly helped him financially - the farm not being a huge success - and added to an already impressive list of accomplishments.
His list of contacts was a veritable who's who of early British Columbia. He knew just about everyone who mattered, from Peter Skene Ogden to James Douglas to Lady Jane Franklin, who visited Victoria after her husband went missing while searching for the Northwest Passage.
Anderson was a key source for Hubert Howe Bancroft of San Francisco, who wrote comprehensive histories of the northwest coast and B.C. in the 1880s. Bancroft later gave credit to Anderson, noting that they had spent nearly two weeks together, with Anderson providing "much valuable material" to his project.
Anderson was key, then, in creating the Bancroft legacy: An unsurpassed collection of material on the northwest that formed the basis of what became the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkeley.
Nancy Marguerite Anderson spent two decades researching the life of her ancestor, pulling information from several libraries and archives. She used old letters, Anderson's maps, Anderson's official reports, and other sources to tell his story in great detail.
Her book, The Pathfinder, is well illustrated with maps, appropriate given A.C. Anderson's role in mapping the province. It includes portions of colour maps found in the B.C. Archives as well as new maps that show the routes Anderson found.
Anderson seemed out of step for much of his life, reluctant to adapt to changes in the fur trade, changes in farming and the evolution of the province away from a culture and an economy based on the fur trade.
Still, as the author notes, Anderson knew that his work was important. He worked, she says, to improve the future of the people he lived among.
"No matter how out of place Anderson may have felt, he knew he was the right man, in the right place," she writes.
He has a rightful place in our history books for all of the work he did for the company, the colony and the province. His knowledge of B.C. geography was probably unsurpassed in his day, and he worked hard to share that information with others.
Nancy Marguerite Anderson's The Pathfinder helps us to remember all that he accomplished on our behalf.
The reviewer is the author of The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia.
© Copyright 2013