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Photo by Darren Robinson

The history of Chase begins long before Chase was ever a community. We have to go back to before Europeans were ever in Canada and look at the Secwepemc people, who lived in the area for thousands of years, in a territory that covered about 180,000 square kilometres of the interior of British Columbia.

For centuries there were about 35 Secwepemc communities, but today there are about 17 that are recognized within their former territory.

If you visit the Chase Creek Rest Area near to Chase, you can find an interpretive sign that describes the remains of the Shuswap Indigenous semi-subterranean log-roofed pit houses that they used in winters called kekulis, which means beneath or under.

The Little Shuswap Lake gets its name from the Indigenous as well. The European version of the word Secwepemc is Shuswap, which was applied to many natural features of the landscape, including the lake near the community. The original meaning of the name is now sadly lost.

The salmon runs that came through the area were also something the Indigenous would journey to the area of Chase for, long before Europeans arrived. That run continues to this day and if you want to see a true natural wonder, then come out to Chase in October to see the world-renowned Sockeye Salmon Run on the Adams River in nearby Tsutswecw Provincial Park.

Within this park, you can also see remnants of thousands of years of Secwepemc habitation including kekuli pit houses and pictographs on the exposed rock of the river’s gorge. There are also remnants of the long-ago European extraction efforts including flume trails that were once used to move logs from nearby areas into the Adams River for transport.

The park was once named for Roderick Haig-Brown but was renamed to honour the local Indigenous, whose name for the area means “many rivers”

To begin to tell the story of Chase, we need to learn about an interesting individual named Whitfield Chase. Chase, who was from New York State, came to Canada to try and find his fortune during the 1858 Gold Rush, but it would still be almost a decade before he settled in the area of future Chase. He would arrive in 1865, some sources say 1862, after spending time in other areas of British Columbia including Kamloops and Victoria, where he sold his property for $1,000. Prior to coming to the area, he would marry Per-soons Tolvinek, the daughter of an Indigenous chief and together they would raise four sons and six daughters.

George Chase would state quote:

“He was a grand old man was my uncle, Whitfield Chase, and not many people could put it over him.”

Chase would begin to buy homesteads in the area from people who had become discouraged, greatly expanding his land to over 2,000 acres. He would then began growing a large cattle herd, which would eventually reach 800 head of cattle, one of the largest in the entire interior of British Columbia.

The Vancouver Province would write of Whitfield in 1929, stating quote:

“He is held in affectionate esteem and remembrance by all the old-timers of the district.”

Chase and his family would live in the area until 1896 but the community that would bear his name did not exist until well after his death.

In 1895, before Chase existed, but as more settlers began to arrive, the Chase Cemetery would be laid out. At the cemetery the oldest grave is that of Whitfield Chase and the cemetery is still in use today and many of the graves of the earliest pioneers of Chase can be found here.

Before Chase came along, the main town centre was called Shuswap, located five kilometres to the west of current Chase.

The name of Chase comes from Whitfield, but the beginning of the community is thanks to a logging company that arrived in the area in 1907 and purchased the area that would be the original townsite from Marcus, the son of Whitfield.

The land was soon divided into lots, water and electricity were installed, and lots were laid out that would later be sold to business owners and workers for the new mill that was being built. Another 70 acres of land was leased from the Chase family for the location of the mill.

On July 2, 1907, the Adams River Lumber Company was formed with J.P. McGoldrick serving as the president of the company and $500,000 in capital, or about $13 million today.

The construction of this massive mill was huge for the time, costing between around $300,000 and it would, at least initially, have a capacity of producing 100,000 board feet of lumber every ten hours. At its height, the mill had 200 men working in the woods in the summer and between 400 and 500 in the winter.

One year later in 1908, the mill began operation and on May 5, 1908, the first lot was sold to George Price.

This new mill was not a small one, but the largest in the interior of British Columbia and the third largest in the entire province. By 1910, the factory was cutting a large amount board foot of lumber, averaging 175,000 board feet in a ten-hour shift. The mill was vitally important to the early history of Chase, employing over 300 men.

This would have an added benefit for Chase, which saw its population reach 50 people in 1909, with many businesses serving the needs of the community, but the mill remained the biggest employer.

In 1912, the Adams River Lumber Company would buy up 25,000 acres of what was described as excellent land. The mill would also help the community in other ways. Thanks to its electrical lighting system, it provided enough power to light over 2,000 lights, which included its own buildings and yards but also Chase itself. The company had also built a powerful steamer called the A.R. Helen, costing $22,000, which would make regular trips along Adams Lake and could deliver three million feet of lumber in tow in 72 hours.

The mill would continue to run until 1925 when it closed.

After the large mill closed, a number of smaller sawmills would operate for the next 80 years until 2005.

Around 1912, Chase decided to go to war. It wasn’t a traditional war, but one against insects. The Chase Central Board of Trade decided to give the job of eradicating mosquitoes in the community to Charles McLaughlin, the police chief. A special anti-mosquito meeting was held, and it was decided to spray lowlands and swamps with crude oil, and every stagnant pool in the community and around it would be sprayed with crude oil as well. Every police officer in the community was given sprayers to complete the job. Of course, mosquitoes proved hardier, and it was a war that Chase was doomed to lose.

Chase also had a zoo, but it was not a big zoo. In fact, it had only two animals. The Chase Zoological Gardens, located on Sicamous Avenue, featured a tame bear and performing cat, which were owned by Sydney Jellette, with trainer Dennis Sanders. A Professor Jack Anderson was in charge of the feeding department.

In 1919, workers at the sawmill would go on strike briefly. At the time, the strikers were looking to get an eight-hour workday, instead of the 10-hour workday they had to work at the time, but the company offered nine hour workday.

In 1939, Chase had grown to become a community of 350 people, which included an excellent water system, a modern hotel, and several stores that were popular throughout the area. Tourist camps and bathing beaches were popular with people coming to the Chase area, and the hunting and fishing opportunities were considered some of the best in the province. The Chase Tribune would write quote:

“Many fishermen return year after year for they are always sure of good sport, as are the hunters for willow and blue grouse provide good shooting in season and later on ducks and geese.”

All of those opportunities still exist to this day and make a great reason to check out the community, especially if you love fishing.

During the Second World War, many people from the community would serve in the Armed Forces and some would not return home. One such person was a descendant of the man whom the town was named for, Whitfield Chase.

It was on April 10, 1941, when Sgt. Howard Whitfield Chase, who was 24 at the time, was killed while in a Royal Canadian Air Force training plane, near Cardinal, Ontario. He would be buried at the Chase Cemetery with a mounted guard of honour at the ceremony. Sgt. Chase was buried near his great uncle, Whitfield Chase.

For decades in Canada, and especially British Columbia, there was extreme racism against Chinese Canadians, to the point they were barred from even voting until after the Second World War. Chase though, bucked that trend and chose to show itself as a progressive community for how it treated its Chinese Canadian residents.

Over 100 residents came out in Chase on Feb. 28, 1947, to honour Yip Num, a Chinese resident who owned a restaurant in the community and praise him for his community spirit over the previous 34 years in the community. Since he was leaving to return to China, he was presented with gifts raised through money donated throughout the community, including $100, or $1,300 today. He then gave the money back to the community to help them build a new memorial hall. While 100 people may not seem like a lot, that actually amounts to one-sixth of the community’s population at the time at the time.

On April 21, 1969, the community would reach a large enough size to be incorporated. Today, it has 2,286 people living within it.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the area, the best place to visit is the Chase and District Museum, which has been focused on preserving and presenting the history of the area since 1984. The museum has hundreds of artifacts, which were all painstakingly cleaned and restored after a fire in 2011. Located in the early Catholic Church built in the community at the onset of the 20th century, the museum grounds include a homestead cabin, a garage that contains a 1923 Franklin Touring Sedan, a historical grader and a fire hose reel cart, which was the first equipment bought by the fire department many years ago. In 2018, a large stone cairn was unveiled, topped with a bell from the Canadian Pacific Railway engine that used to go through the community. This cairn has the theme of Together We Are Stronger, which displays the plaques of the three First Nations in the area, the Province of British Columbia, the Chase Museum and the Village of Chase.

Lastly, if you are ever in the Chase area, keep an eye on the lake. Shuswap Lake, which drains into Little Shuswap Lake, is said to have a lake monster called Shugumu, who is said to be 25-feet long and lives in the lake. You never know, you might just see this legendary creature on your next trip to Chase.

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