You can take the lawyer out of the Chilcotin but the Chilcotin remains an important part of Bruce Fraser’s life. He spent years there in his law practice, owns a ranch near Lac La Hache and returns to the beloved country in his book, On Potato Mountain A Chilcotin Mystery.
“I have a good feeling for the country and its people and taking part in the Homathko River survey for a dam site for the B.C. Power Commission cemented my relationship to it,” said Fraser, who recently retired in Vancouver after practising law for 45 years. “The Chilcotin is a land protected by the mountains and its people. The Chilcotin are not a large tribe, they’re the furthest reach of the Cree Indians in B.C. It was the native people and the ranchers who inspired me. They’re fantastic, bigger than life.”
The mystery in the book centres on people who are for and against the hydro dam to supply power to Vancouver Island, and how it affects their personal lives. The main character, Noah Hanlon, is a young native artist who was adopted and raised by a white family and is going to take over running the family ranch. He is charged with the murder of his adoptive father and escapes custody before he is convicted by the white court. Noah tells his story to the tribal elders who help him solve the mystery.
Fraser bases the mystery on his own legal experiences, as well as how the family members react to the changes the dam might bring and Noah’s struggle to prove his innocence. He tells some of the stories of the native people and evokes a sense of the land and life there.
Potato Mountain is a real place where wild potatoes grow and the Chilcotin people gather for games and ceremonies.
“The novel is set in the 1950s, when the natives didn’t have much of a say and I felt this was a story that had to be told. I think the reader will get a good sense of historical perspective as well as a good mystery. People of all ages and backgrounds have told me how much they enjoyed the story,” said Fraser.
He’s at work on another book, a mystery set in the Chilcotin 20 years after On Potato Mountain.
He has recently stepped down as chairman of the Access Pro Bono Society which provides free legal advice through 87 clinics across the province. He will donate 10 per cent of the royalties from On Potato Mountain to the Access Pro Bono Society.
Fraser, who is also the author of a number of published short stories, will be in Vernon for a book signing at Bookland Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.