Ootsa Lake 1937
Moose, Ootsa Lake
The Cowans left the Cariboo and headed north and west through long stretches of Jack pine and aspen to the open, rolling foothills called Grassy Plains. The backdrop to Grassy Plains are the Quanchus, a mountain range around which once snaked an extraordinarily rich network of rivers, ribbon lakes and sloughs that the Cheslatta T’en had been navigating and portaging between for millennia, an area they called Ootsa, or “the way down towards the water.” Three and a half million acres of this region, stretching from Ootsa Lake in the north to Monarch Mountain to the south, had just been declared Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, named after Canada’s then Governor-General, Lord Tweedsmuir (author and Scotsman John Buchan). The Tweedsmuirs were coming to the region the following summer to explore ‘their’ namesake park and officially open it. The Cowans had the happy job of doing the reconnaissance in the northern part, where they were to “find out what lived there,”49, collect specimens (Joyce was the ‘honorary botanist’) and vet the area and guides for the Tweedsmuirs’ visit.
They were the first biologists to do any kind of floral and faunal inventory work in this area. Tragically it will be the only work ever done there, since 16 years later 92,000 hectares of the rich valley bottomlands, which the Cowans travelled through in the newly formed park, were flooded for the largest hydro-electric project of its time in North America – the Kemano project. The Kenney dam turned the Quanchus Mountains into virtual islands surrounded by a circle of reservoirs that had once been an intricate watershed of the Nechako River draining seven lakes– the Ootsa, Tahtsa, Whitesail, Eutsuk, Euchu, Natalkuz and Tetachuk. 50
49 Ian McTaggart Cowan, interview by Rick Searle for Elders Council for Parks in BC, October 2006.
50 June Wood, Home to the Nechako, (Victoria: Heritage House, 2013).
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