Skip to content

Archie McCorvie, Aunt Martha and Harold McCracken – Changes on the North Thompson river

February 12, 2014

Archie McCorvieArchibald McCorvie (1847-1925) was a Cariboo miner and prospector in the 1870’s,  lower Fraser railway constructor and pile-driving contractor in the 1890’s,  and after a late in life marriage to Martha Mary Lee of New Westminster in 1905,   rancher on the North Thompson and first Postmaster at Vavenby, BC. 

Archie McCorvie was born at Lindsay, Ontario in 1847.

He came out to BC about 1870 and mined in the gold regions. 

In the 1881 census he was recorded at Lightning Creek in the Cariboo.


Contracting on the Lower Mainland

McCorvie was on the lower mainland in 1888 when tenders were called for construction of the New Westminster Southern Railway.  In partnership with LF Bonson, styled McCorvie & Bonson,  their company performed the first work on the new road as sub-contractors to general contractor James Leamy,  clearing the grade on the first six miles from Brownsville,  
McCorvie & Bonson’s contracts involved bridge-building and pile-driving and included the building of the railway station at South Westminster.
A long-time bachelor, McCorvie’s address during his years at New Westminster was the Colonial Hotel,  the well-appointed hostelry on Columbia Street.

After the railway contracts ended, McCorvie ran his own pile-driving outfit on the Fraser, a profitable business that was wiped out by fire in 1895.

The following summer, Archie McCorvie was back in the Interior, prospecting on the North Thompson river with associates Daubney Pridgeon and JMW McFarlane.  In August they were reported loading up with enough supplies to spend the winter on the hunt for minerals and trapping in the mountains.

In 1905 a change occurred in McCorvie’s life in a big way. He was married at New Westminster to Martha Mary Lee, born at the Royal City in 1861.

Miss Lee had spent many years caring for her invalid mother Margaret, who passed away earlier in the year.  Her father, steamboat engineer Christopher Lee, had died in 1887.

The  move to the North Thompson – Peavine Ranch

The McCorvie’s left the lower mainland and settled on a ranch on the North Thompson river, at a locale known as Peavine Flat.  As Harold McCracken put it:

"Having been a mountain man of the old school, and getting a bride who like himself was already old enough to have great-grandchildren, Archie took his new wife to a place which he believed to be the most beautiful spot on earth—a forest fringed, park-like bench of fertile land nestled in a big amphitheatre of the Selkirk Range."steamer Peerless - Kamloops LakeRoughnecks & Gentlemen.

Peavine Flat was the head of steamboat navigation on the North Thompson,  about 90 miles above Kamloops.

Captain Asbury Insley first took the steamer Peerless up to Peavine in June 1881.

There was also a rough wagon road following the Thompson River northward.

At the turn of the century, even with the coming of the railroad and the inward rush of civilization, the interior of BC was still much on the frontier.

In 1907, as Justice of the Peace, Archie McCorvie sent down word to Little Fort crossing that a horse-thief was heading that way and should be stopped. When Bob Williams, a trapper and trader there, refused to take the man across the river, he was promptly shot for his trouble.

Canadian Northern Railway - Vancouver to VavenbyBy 1910 there were enough settlers in this area to apply for a Post Office.

McCorvie’s prospecting partner and ranch neighbor Daubney Pridgeon suggested the name Navenby, after his birthplace.

A mistake made in Ottawa—supposedly it was Martha Mary who wrote the application in elegant script— resulted in the place being called Vavenby. 

Archibald McCorvie served as the first postmaster,  from June 1910 until September 1912.


The map  is from The Glamour of British Columbia.

Aunt Martha and Harold McCracken

Mrs McCorvie, the former Martha Mary Lee, had all her life been a great writer of letters to distant relations.  Without this contact, it is doubtful the different branches of the family would have known anything of life in British Columbia, or that they had relations there.

Harold McCrackenGrowing up in the US midwest,  one young relative, Harold McCracken, had heard and read from the stories his Aunt Martha was sending from this distant corner of the continent.   McCracken was an aspiring writer, impatient with formal education and eager to experience the real world. Aunt Martha’s stories melded with his disposition perfectly enough to draw him to British Columbia in search of adventure.

In the spring of 1913,  the arrangements having been made in an exchange of letters, Harold McCracken, 18,  was on his way to Kamloops BC following the same route as that first travelled by Morley Roberts in 1884, though in considerably different circumstances.

It was a time of change along the North Thompson River.  The lifestyle of trappers and traders and pioneer ranchers was being overtaken by the progress of railway construction on the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway (later Canadian National Railway).

The established route of the CPR had already transformed  Kamloops into  busy town on the mainline to the great cities of the east.

The ease of travel by rail brought some ironies, including, during the summer of McCracken’s arrival here,  two circuses, on tour along the railway lines criss-crossing the continent,  one bringing the "Real Wild West Show" to a place where men still lived by trapping and hunting and prospecting for gold.

Oklahoma Ranch Real Wild West Shows Kamloops 1913 Hudson's Bay Co - Raw Furs - Kamloops  1913 George B Singleton - North Thompson River  1913

“Real Wild West Show”

   Hudson’s Bay Co -  “Raw Furs”

     Geo. B Singleton & Co

In 1912 and 1913 the North Thompson river was of particular attention as the chosen route for the second national railway, the Canadian Northern Pacific.

Railway survey parties were followed by surveyors from the department of mines and the department of forestry, all of whom produced new maps of the region.

The McCorvie’s Peavine Ranch at the head of navigation on the Thompson, was chosen to be the supply depot for the railway.

"Early spring of 1914 saw the steel rails laid up the North Thompson Valley as far as Mile 86 Headquarters Camp on my relative’s ranch.  Puffing old steam engines and heavily load strings of boxcars and flatcars, with bohunks riding on top like ants, replaced the horse-drawn freight wagons and river boats. Big stacks of supplies grew along both sides of the tracks, across the abandoned fields, now dotted with town-lot stakes of the real estate promoters."

– Harold McCracken, Roughnecks & Gentlemen.

Steamer Distributor - Twohy Bros - ad   SS Distributor - Twohy Bros - North Thompson River

Steamer service on the North Thompson was undertaken by the Twohy Bros, employing the SS Distributor to run the 90 miles up to Peavine, bringing supplies and offering excursion fairs.

Joe SaulIn August 20,000 men were at work on CNPR construction. At Vavenby, mile 86 on the railway,  the mingling of this transient community of railroad workers and assorted camp-followers formed the backdrop to Harold McCracken’s quest  to live the life of a hunter and trapper, and most important to him, to face down a grizzly bear. 

Archie McCorvie introduced Harold McCracken to his friend Joe Saul, a “wilderness wise old Cree Indian hunter,” who taught Harold  “to love and live in the mountains."

McCorvie also arranged for McCracken to work for George B Singleton, who ran a couple of trading posts, offering general goods and prospector’s supplies and buying furs,  thereby extending the teenager’s frontier education:

"There is something peculiarly fascinating about raw furs to anyone who has ever dealt in them—a little like a deck of cards is to a gambler." –Harold McCracken, Roughnecks & Gentlemen

Archie McCorvie profited from the railway, to be sure. Harold McCracken accompanied him in collecting rent from the businesses that had set up shop on his ranch, including an enterprising group of ladies.  McCorvie is also said to have sold all his free-ranging cattle to meat-packer Pat Burns & Co, to supply the railroad crews. 

Archibald McCorvie lived another dozen years after the railway crews vanished and Harold McCracken had gone home to plan more adventures. 

In his later years McCorvie’s  mind was giving way and he was resident in the provincial  institution at Essondale where he died on October 11,1925.

His obituary said that he was survived by his wife, and by one brother at Midland, Ontario (Neil McCorvie.)

Martha Mary McCorvie died at Royal Inland Hospital at  Kamloops, March 3, 1944, at the age of 82.  Her obituary noted she had no close relatives in British Columbia. She was interred in the family plot at the Masonic Cemetery in New Westminster.

No comments yet


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s