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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

5 Fascinating Facts About Tete Jaune Cache: Historic Treasure of the Robson Valley

“We came to Tete Jaune in the year I was six. We had just spent the winter near Prince Rupert and all we could think of was, ‘ What a beautiful country with no rain’.”
 Ferne McKirdy, The Yellowhead Pass and Its People

#1 The Man Behind the Name

Tete Jaune is French for “Yellow Head” and was the nickname given to an Iroquois trapper and guide by the name of Pierre Bostonais. The term “bostonais” was used by Indians to refer to Americans ( “Boston Men”) and so it is likely Tete Jaune was originally from American territory. tells us that “Normally a nickname, Pierre Bostonais may have acquired it as a family name after his family moved from American territory to the Montreal area.” There is some debate as to whether or not Tete Jaune was Metis but he did indeed have blonde hair.  

Yellowhead Pass by William G.R. Hind

The first appearance of the name Tete Jaune is found in the archives of the Hudson Bay Company in an entry from St. Croix (located in Minnesota) January, 1805 and he is later referred to as a “Free Iroquois” in the ledgers of the North West Company in 1816.  Another figure named Pierre Hastination may have been one and the same person as Pierre Bostonais but some think they were two separate individuals.

Tete Jaune was described by some as “mischievous” but he is also credited with making major inroads into the Yellow Head Pass region, lending his name to the town and possibly even naming Mount Robson. Tete Jaune and his family were killed in 1827 by a group of Beaver Indians seeking revenge for the general Iroquois encroachment of their lands. 

#2 The Town Site

A cache was a wide hole in the ground used by fur trappers to hide their gains. The surface of the ground over a cache was taken off in one piece and then laid down again over top of the goods. The cache of Pierre Bostonais ( or Tete Jaune’s Cache as it became known) was originally located at the Grand Forks of the Fraser river where the Robson river flows into it. However, Pierre moved his cache down river to an a Secwepemc village filled with tents and pit houses (known as Kekuli’s). As the Valemount Museum’s website tells us:  “The name migrated downriver to a periodic settlement of Secwepemc First Nations people, and further downstream to the railway construction town.”

Probable Shuswap Family at Tete Jaune. Photo Credit:

The first record of the town name “Tete Jaune’s Cache” was in 1825 by James McMillan, an HBC trader who had hired Tete Jaune to guide him through the Yellow Head Pass (aka The Leather Pass). Years later in 1865 a railway survey was done through the Yellow Head Pass region by Dr. John Rae. Then in 1871 Walter Moberly, under the authority of Sanford Fleming, surveyed the route again for potential use of the CPR and their Transcontinental railroad. Roderick McLennan (for whom the river is named) worked for Moberly and surveyed up from Albreda through to Tete Jaune’s Cache. Unfortunately for this region, the transcontinental railroad ended up being built further south through the Kicking Horse Pass. What a different place it would be today had it gone through the Yellow Head Pass! 

Around the turn of the century two railway companies  -the Grand Trunk and the Canadian Northern – both showed interest in building a second transcontinental railroad through the Yellow Head Pass. Not long afterwards, the official placing of the town site of Tete Jaune’s Cache occurred in 1901 and was patented by the crown in 1902. 

#3 Boom Town

With the coming of the railway, the town of Tete Jaune Cache became a bustling centre of about 3000 people and was known to be the largest settlement west of Winnipeg during the years 1911-1913. It was called a “Tent Town” or “Rag Town” due to the many tents that made up the living quarters and businesses ( as well as timber and log structures). 

Tete Jaune was now well known throughout the West and was a key transportation hub for goods travelling from Edmonton to Fort George (Prince George).  This transportation was not only by land and rail but also by sternwheeler boat on the mighty Fraser River.  Boats representing different companies including Foley, Welch & Stewart, and the famous BX (Barnard Express) Stagecoach line plied the waters of the Upper Fraser. Believe it or not, at one point in history, the town even became a shipbuilding centre. All of this plus the mining of its famous mica made Tete Jaune Cache boom,  “attracting thousands of pioneers, trappers, prospectors, and entrepreneurs to the Robson Valley”. 

1913 Flood. Photo Credit

William Jowatt and his son, Wilfred, both served as magistrate for the town of Tete Jaune in the early 20th century. Wilfred was “a photographer, post master, barber and rent collector…” and he left us with many historic photos. The town experienced a large flood in 1913 – “The flood eventually washed away the peninsula that the center of Tête Jaune (mile 52) stood on. At mile 53 lived the engineers, superintendents and surveyors.  The workers called this snob hill.” 

#4  Japanese Internment 

After the attack on Pearl Harbour the Canadian government began to isolate Japanese nationals into internment camps -  “Soon it decided to send the male nationals to make the Yellowhead-Blue River highway between Jasper and Blue River. Men were separated from their families and shipped via rail to internment camps.” Many of these men ended up in Tete Jaune Cache.

Photo Credit: Columbia Basin Institute

The men were paid 25 cents an hour but paid back 75 cents a day in room and board and in addition they had to provide for any family that were being forced to live in camps in the Kootenays. Due to the rampant discrimination at the time, at one point only 5 Japanese men were allowed into Jasper at a time. The men were amazingly resilient though, despite the many unfair hardships they faced daily. They created simple pleasures and beauty by building Japanese style bathhouses, gardens, bridges and even baseball diamonds.  

#5 Its Legacy 

Today Tete Jaune Cache is a rural area of about 300 people located in the same general area around the Fraser River that it was over a century ago.This area is now also the junction of the Canadian National Railway and the Yellowhead highways 16 and 5. In many regards it serves as “bedroom” community for the Village of Valemount  18 km to the south. “The pool halls, restaurants, saloons, and trading posts are no more. Only a few stone chimneys remain as a reminder of Tete Jaune's existence.”

One of the buildings that did remain is the Tete Jaune Lodge restaurant. It was formerly a cabin built in 1922 from logs cut at Rearguard Falls and floated down the river. In 1969 the property was developed into the Tete Jaune Lodge.  

Tete Jaune Cache was a key location in opening up the B.C. Interior and remains one of the historical gems of the Robson Valley. So next time you are traveling from Edmonton to Prince George or Vancouver and pass through the junction, remember all the history that once thrived in this great railroad town. 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, ...For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21

Sources & Further Reading: 

The Yellowhead Pass and Its People, copyright 1984:

Valemount Museum:

Spiral Road:

Who Was Tete Jaune?

Tete Jaune Lodge website:


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