Book Review: Chilcotin Chronicles – Author brings history of Chilcotin to print

With files from Parker Crook, Vernon Morning Star, Originally published Dec 3, 2017.

It’s a history that has been passed from generation to generation through spoken word.

Domas Squinas, pictured here in Bella Coola where he held his summer camp beside the Atnarko River, was chief of the Ulkatcho community for many years. Squinas is featured in Sage Birchwater’s book, Chilcotin Chronicles. (Harlan Smith photo)

But, after years of research and transcribing, Sage Birchwater transferred that oral history of the Central Interior into the written word in his 2017 book, Chilcotin Chronicles: Stories of Adventure and Intrigue from British Columbia’s Central Interior.

Since the book was launched in April 2017, Birchwater has held a number of book signing and slide show presentations throughout the province, from Vanderhoof to Vancouver Island and the Okanagan to Bella Coola.

“A lot of history that was told of British Columbia excluded the Indigenous people, so I made a point of including First Nations stories in the narrative,” Birchwater said.

The Island-born author was drawn to the region that lied beyond the mountains, separating the coast from the Interior. As a young man in 1973, Birchwater uprooted and headed to Williams Lake in the heart of what the locals refer to as the Cariboo-Chilcotin-Coast, where he has remained for more than four decades.

In the Cariboo-Chilcotin, Birchwater picked up the pen full-time and became a freelance writer and reporter with Black Press. And it’s a newspaper-bred style that has carried over to his book writing work.

“I apply the journalistic principle of telling a balanced story,” Birchwater said. “Each of my stories might have taken a month to research.”

After a brief introduction from Birchwater, Chilcotin Chronicles begins with the roots of the province’s first European contact and the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Then it stops off at turning points in the region’s formation – such as the Cariboo gold rush and Chilcotin War – while focusing on the lives and stories of influential Cariboo-Chilcotin-Coast residents like Domas Squinas, James Lee (Jim) Holt, and Louisa (One-Eye) Turner.

“What was fascinating for me was connecting some of the ancient people to the people of today,” Birchwater said. “The Chilcotin is such a small community—a big area, but small community.”

Now semi-retired from his role as a journalist, Birchwater continues to write historical and human interest columns for a couple of William’s Lake newspapers, allowing him to connect with a larger audience and learn more about the history of his beloved region.

“One of the interesting things about doing a piece in the paper is people read it and give feedback,” Birchwater said, adding that readers often will provide him with leads and information on historical figures and events.

From going over archived reports and records, to interviewing local elders and transcribing their stories, it’s a process Birchwater loves.

“It’s a lot of fun to be able to put it down and go back to them and say, ‘Is this the story you told me?’” Birchwater laughed, noting how details of a story change each time an oral history is told.

With nearly a dozen books and hundreds of newspaper articles under his belt, Birchwater is proud to share Chilcotin Chronicles.

“It’s a history told from the perspective of the people in the Interior,” Birchwater said. “I really worked hard to portray an accurate account.”

Chilcotin Chronicles has been well-received both locally in the Cariboo-Chilcotin and further afield throughout the province. The book received notoriety being named third on the BC Bestsellers list for 2017.

It is available locally at the Station House Gallery, the Open Book, Save On Foods, the Tourism Discovery Centre, and from the author.

Chilcotin Chronicles was number 3 on the BC Best Sellers list in 2017.

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