When you first saw the little stone critters adorning the planters between third and esplanade in Lower Lonsdale, you were probably like, “WHAT ARE THOSE!?”
Well, my friends, I know what they are.
THEY ARE COWS. Cattle. Livestock.
“The Lost Cows of Lillooet” is a public art piece that was installed this fall at bus stops on Lonsdale between Esplanade and 3rd St, marking the start of the Lillooet Cattle Trail that ran from North Vancouver to Lillooet.
The Lillooet Cattle Trail, also known as the Lillooet-Burrard Cattle Trail and also as the Lillooet Trail, was an unusual and daring public works undertaking by the Province of British Columbia in 1877, and was the largest 19th Century public works expenditure at $35,000 of the new province since its joining Canada in 1871.
Faced with burgeoning stock populations in the Pemberton-Lillooet, the ranchers of the Lillooet area lobbied the provincial government, and MLA Humphreys, to finance a trail to the coast via the Pemberton and Squamish areas to the north shore of Burrard Inlet, what is now Vancouver harbour. The track was started and followed a gold rush of 1862 route through the Seymour Watershed over to Mamquam and Indian Rivers to Squamish, and to follow a path, taken much later by the PGE, to the Lillooet area. Work crews started hacking and building in 1874 with the trail “finished’ in 1877.
The trail’s route hugged lakeside cliffs where, in places, trestles and floating platforms had to be built out above or onto the lake and, beyond that, through marshes and heavy forests beset by infamously thick mosquitos and, lastly, a tortuous “stairway” section of the trail over the pass between the Squamish area and the head of the Seymour River, where cattle were expected to use steps on a trail that was nowhere more than 6 yards wide.
Only one formal cattle drive was ever held over the full length of the route and most of the heard were lost; those that finished the trip were put out to pasture to recuperate, being too skinny to be worth butchering. The multi-thousand-dollar loss incurred by trail construction left a bad taste with the provincial government for many years.
The whole thing was a huge fail. Those poor lost, dead and skinny cows. The failure of the Lillooet Trail and loss of thousands of livestock is testament to the rugged and unforgiving British Columbia terrain.
The next time you see those little stone cows while waiting for the bus, take a minute to remember the Lost Cows of Lillooet, and–even though they failed–the men who had the balls to brave the BC wild in 1877.
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