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LIVING TRANQUILLE’S HISTORY

Published On: January 31, 2021

What natural factors have defined human activities through the millennia and shaped history?

Climate, topography, soils, and natural waterways have determined animal life and human activities since the dawn of mankind. The retreat of the last ice age approximately 13,000 years ago, moulded BC’s interior into a natural environment where indigenous people’s unique cultures evolved.

Tranquille is located on the north shore of the South Thompson River where it widens to form Kamloops Lake. With its dry climate, gently undulating topography, productive soils, abundant fish, and diverse wildlife the North & South Thompson River valleys have attracted indigenous people to its landscape for thousands of years.

The Secwépemc people gave the name of Pellqeeqwile (has biscuit root) to what is now called Tranquille. As the Secwépemc name suggests, biscuit root (also known as desert parsley) was dug here during the seasonal rounds of food gathering. The name Tranquille, came about when French fur traders gave local Secwépemc Chief Piqemus the nickname Tranquille due to his peaceful disposition.

Credit: L&H Seeds (Biscuit root)

The arrival of David Thompson in 1811, initiated his historic exploration of BC’s interior rivers. Thompson’s documentation of the waterways and indigenous trade routes of the interior coincided with the arrival of traders from the Pacific, Hudson Bay, and Northwest Fur Trade companies. Out of respect for Thompson’s incredible cartography and surveying skills, and detailed exploration journals, Simon Fraser later named the South and North Thompson Rivers after him.

The withdrawal of the Pacific Trading company from the Kamloops area in 1812 followed 9 years later by the merger of the Hudson Bay and North West Fur Trade companies was the beginning of a long decline in fur trading which ended in 1870 with the Deed of Surrender when the HBC returned Rupert’s land to Canada in exchange for preferential real estate targeted by the federal government for settlement.

The discovery of gold in the Tranquille Creek in 1856, contributed to British Columbia’s first gold rush. A shipment of 800 ounces of gold was sent from HBC Factor Donald McClean in Kamloops to Governor James Douglas of the HBC in Victoria. Douglas, in turn, forwarded the gold San Francisco mint. Within a week of the gold shipment’s arrival in San Francisco 400 men booked passage on a steamer bound for Victoria. News of this gold discovery added to the euphoria of the gold rush that brought an estimated 30,000 gold miners to BC’s interior seeking their fortune.

Approximately 200 Chinese and a handful of local indigenous men including Secwépemc Chief Jean Baptiste Lolo staked claims along the creek. Approximately $1 million of gold was found in the creek when it was valued at only $12 per ounce (which equates to $154 million at today’s price of gold). Even today, many people pan for gold along the waters edge, often with some success.

Credit: Tranquille Farm Fresh Archives (Chief Jean Baptiste Lolo)

The introduction of cattle to feed gold miners gathered pace in the early 1860’s as cattle drives originating in California brought large herds to the interior where they thrived on the naturally abundant bunch grass. This was the beginning of BC’s ranching industry. Joe Greaves (who later donated $400,000 to build the Greaves Hospital at Tranquille in 1927), along with 20 riders, drove 4,000 head of cattle from Kamloops to the Chicago markets in 1880. He went on to establish the famous Douglas Lake Ranch.

In 1868 Charles Cooney from Ireland, and Bill Fortune from England, headquartered their ranches on the Tranquille lands. Charles married Betsy Allard, a Metis woman from Fort Quesnel and Bill married Jane McWilliams from the Williams lake area. It was Jane’s superior business acumen that resulted in the Fortunes greatly impacting the business community of Kamloops with their investments in a flour mill, a lumber mill, and the Lady Dufferin paddle wheeler.

Credit: Tranquille Farm Fresh Archives (The 75 foot Lady Dufferin)

The Fortunes eventually sold their ranch to the Anti Tuberculosis Society in 1907 and two years later the King Edward Sanatorium was opened on the property.

Credit: Tranquille Farm Fresh Archives (King Edward Sanatorium Opening)

The Cooney’s made their mark in BC agriculture. It was the Cooney’s who first shipped BC apples to Ontario in the late 1800’s and had a role the 1907 formation of the Kamloops District Fruit Growers Association. They developed what many felt was the largest horse herd in Canada. In early 1915, during World War 1, 400 of their horses were shipped to France along with Cooney Ranch wranglers to break the horses, for the French Calvary. The death of Charles Cooney  in 1917 at the age of 83 signaled the demise of a ranching empire that was envied across BC’s ranch community.

The King Edward Sanatorium was subsequently turned over to the provincial government when the Anti Tuberculosis Society (known today as the BC Lung Association) could no longer raise the operational funds required. In 1921, after the death of Charles Cooney, the BC government purchased the Cooney Ranch from Betsy Cooney and merged her land into their agricultural operations. Betsy lived in her ranch home at Tranquille until she died in 1942.

Dr Charles Fagan, head of the King Edward Sanatorium also known as the San, was an early pioneer of the thoracic procedure (the removal of the portion of a lung infected with TB). This was an effective tool in the battle against TB. The addition of one of Canada’s first x ray machines further drove the story of the San as a leading-edge medical center.

When a cure for TB was discovered in 1958 the government closed the King Edward Sanatorium and shortly after reopened Tranquille as a mental health institute. Over time, this institution became known for its work in successfully integrating people who had suffered with mental illness back into society as contributing citizens.

Credit: Tranquille Farm Fresh Archives

In 1985 the BC government decided to close the mental health facilities, decommission the site, and cut off all further maintenance activities. The site was put up for sale to be redeveloped. During the next 30 years several underfunded development initiatives were initiated but none got off the ground. As time passed, lack of investment in ongoing building and infrastructure maintenance led to massive decay of the site’s neglected buildings and infrastructure. This led to the current situation were deconstruction of Tranquille now requires many millions of dollars.

In 2017 the property’s owners (BCWT) approached the Ignition Group, which after considerable due diligence entered into an agreement for the purchase and development of the property.