An Armstrong-based historian and author aims to set the record straight about one of the region’s most successful early businessmen.
In Ken Mather’s latest book, Stagecoach North: A History of Barnard’s Express, the tale of Francis Jones Barnard and his stagecoach line, or simply the BX, unfolds.
Mather’s is no stranger to this topic as he has penned several books on British Columbia’s ranching history — his last book, Trail North: The Okanagan Trail of 1858-68 won second place in the 2019 British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Historical Writing.
But Barnard’s story was of particular interest as it has picked up several inaccuracies in its retellings.
“Over the past hundred years, Barnard’s story has been told many times, raising it to the level of myth,” Mather said. “Unfortunately, errors of fact have rendered that myth seriously flawed.”
Barnard’s BX formed a vital transportation link between the Lower Mainland and Cariboo that was widely used for more than 50 years. The Quebec native arrived in the region in 1859 with little resources.
The man is renowned for his achievements in business and politics that contributed to the development of British Columbia as a colony and later a province.
He went on to become an elected member of the legislative council where he lobbied for reform of the British-controlled system of colonial government and played a key role in bringing the colony’s union with Canada in 1871.
Mather said he was first made familiar with the intricacies of Barnard’s story when he was asked to write an article about the BX Ranch, where he raised his stagecoach horses.
While researching the company, Mather noticed several instances in which “the accepted history had no basis in the facts as revealed in the primary documents.”
One example Mather pointed to is the unfounded story of Barnard travelling from Yale to Bakerville and back, a distance of more than 1,200 kilometres, on foot, with the mail on his back.
Mather said there is no evidence in any material from the period to support this claim, yet it is recited again and again in nearly every biography.
Instead, Mather hopes his book — the first full-length history of the BX and its successor, the British Columbia Express Company — will provide a more factual portrayal of the man’s struggles and achievements as an entrepreneur.