WAS UNDER MANSON
The Factor here, when he entered the Company's service, was Manson, and following him came Charles Ogden, a descendent or the great discoverer who came up from Oregon. Then came Alexander, E.S. Peters, who is now Sheriff or Cariboo, Ed Kepner, who for many years ran the Occidental Hotel at Quesnel, "French Joe", Ried, James Cowie and Armstrong. The latter three factors are within the memory of most of the men who worked on the G.T.P. surveys.
MEMORY IS CLOUDED
Thapage's memory is clouded . He is an old man. He speaks French patois better than he speaks English, and so it is difficult to piece together a really comprehensive narrative of his remarkable life in this country. He speaks only in generalities. "In de sommer', he said, "we all de time feesh, feesh de salmon, follow him way up de river. In de winter", he spat, "cut cordwood for de company, maybe hunt a leetle. Dat is when we don't go on dat Brigade."
He can remember the days of the gold rush and of the Klondyke excitement, when scattered expeditions tried to go into the Yukon over the terrible trail of the Yukon Telegraph and the Hudson's Bay Company, which stretches for the hundreds of miles between here and Dawson. He was one of those who went out in search of Sir Alexander Curtis, whom, in company with Mr. Roger Pocock, left here bound for the Yukon many years ago. Sir Alexander Curtis was never seen after the party had broken camp one morning on the trail near the Mud River.
RECALLS C.P.R. SURVEYS
The surveys of the C.P.R. through this country he recalls quite clearly, and he relates having helped to pack their supplies out to the cache which still stood in the woods near the old trail to Quesnel about ten years ago. He recalls Sir Sanford Fleming, who was appointed engineer-in-chief of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1871.
Sousa Thapage has never crossed the mountains. In the old days the Edmonton Brigade would meet them on the Fraser River in boats. In those days canoes were not used for transport. Big boats were built which were tracked up the river by many Indians. This method of transportation was in vogue even up to 1909 between Quesnel and Fort George, and in 1907 the writer made several trips with twenty Indians who tracked scows up the river from Quesnel to the Post here. The trip would take about fourteen days, and about 20,000 pounds would constitute a good load.
Asked if he can remember any of the Indians here who were older than himself, he mentioned two. Freddy Bascar, "Old Freddy", as he is called, whom he states, was "a beeg boy when he was very li'll" Old Freddy had two brothers killed by a grizzly bear, and Freddy only barely escaped with his life on the occasion. The other man Thapage mentions is Seymour, one of the finest Indians in the whole interior. His son is now the chief of the Fort George Indians.
POST WAS INUNDATED
He tells of a time when the old Hudson's Bay post was at the mouth of the Nechaco River, and of the year of the great flood which inundated it. The water on this occasion came to within a few feet of the top of the bank at the point where the present disused Hudson's Bay post is located. He states that the Indians can yet point out marks high up on the big trees where the water reached in the flood he tells of.
Thapage married a daughter of the redoubtable Bouchier, who is referred to in Father Morice's book, "History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia, as "the avenger". His father-in-law was the trusted half-breed of the Company who used to be sent out to track down marauders and bad Indians in the old days of H.B. rule.
Now the old man has fallen upon evil days. His relations are dead or have scattered. He cannot properly come under the care of the Indian Department, for he is a halfbreed and a pre-emptor. "All I want is some wood", he told the writer, "just some wood. My leg, he's bad now. I can't cut no more, I am too old."
The citizen commends this case to the Provincial Secretary for some relief. It is distressing to think of a man who has spent a long lifetime here suffering for the needs of existence at an age when he cannot help himself. Friends may give him temporary relief, but some reasonable relief should be afforded him for the balance of his life.
From the Prince George Library Archives
Reprinted with permission of the Prince George Citizen
January 30, 1920
"From time to time The Citizen will devote space to the narratives of some of the real pioneers of this country"
JOE MERRIENNE (Sousa Thapage)
There appears to be a vast difference between people who like to call themselves "old-timers" and the few who know the term 'pioneers'. This was brought home to the writer one day recently, when he heard an introduction couched in the words, "shake hands with Mr. So-and-So, he's an old timer----he came in with the steel!"
There are a great many number of men in this country who came in wiTh the preliminary surveys of the G.T.P about 1907, and there are the old settlers of the lower Cariboo. These men may be called old-timers, but when we speak of pioneers let us go back to the men who survive from the days of the Cariboo gold excitement; the old servants of the Hudson's Bay Company and the pioneer trappers and prospectors who remember the Cariboo country when Gus Wright's famous road crossed the Fraser canyon at Spuzzum.
A GREAT PACKER
Such a one is Joe Merrienne, better known here by the name of Sousa Thapage. This name clings to him from the days when Joe was a great boatman and packer fro the Hudson's Bay Company. It means "big packman" for her was once renowned for his strength in carrying great weights over the portages and at unloading of the "brigades" when the boatmen would vie with each other in the carrrying of heavy loads, for the physical prowess.
If you look at a map of the townsite area here you ill find a little triangle of land in the South Fort George townsite which is marked "Thapage Homestead". At one time the whold of the South Fort George site was Thapage's pre-emption. He sold it and theer sprang up about his log home, on the Fraser River as "South", the bustling little pioneer community which was filled with such a hectic and vigorous life in the days of construction. Then came the steel and the founding of the real town of Prince George, and the life went out of the old town and moved over here. Now there is nothing but the skeleton of the wonderful little boom and casts his mind back over the seventy years that he has spent here since his birth at Fort George.
FRENCH CANADIAN HALFBREED
Sousa Thapage is a French-Canadian halfbreed. His father was a servant of the Northwest Company, under Simon Fraser, the explorer of the great river here which bears his name. Simon Fraser established the Northwest Company's post here in 1808, and in the spring of the following year, accompanied by John Stewart, Jules Maurice Quesnel. a crew of nineteen men and two Indians, they embarked at this place in two well-furnished canoes to explore the unknown waters between this point and the Pacific.
Stewart Lake and Quesnel are named after his two companions. Thapage believes that his father was one of the party, under Simon Fraser, on the historic expedition to the Pacific. They left Fort George on May 29th and reached the mouth of the river on July 1st, establishing the fact that the Fraser was a separate and distinct stream, and not the Columbia, as had been believed to be the case.
Thapage, as we will call Merrienne, was born at Fort George about 70 years ago. He is not sure of his dates, but the writer thinks that he is nearer eighty than seventy. He entered the service of "the company" as a boy and worked on the brigades which took the skins to Victoria over the river and trail routes which used to stretch between here and the seaport of the Company. On the return they would bring food andtrade goods. Sometimes, the termination of a long journey was Langley, in the delta. In time, by reason of his strength and usefulness, Thapage became captain of a boat, and one of the right-hand men of the Factor.
Prince George Métis Community Association