Kamloops: Peter or Paul and the legacy of David Thompson

A second look at Kamloops

Two geographic features dominate the panoramic view of Kamloops, taken in 1910 (top photo) and in the bottom image, taken in the spring of 2023. They are Mount Paul and the Thompson Rivers.

The mountain, with its two prominent domes that loom over the city at the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers, is commonly referred to as Mount Paul. However, the higher of the two summits is Peter Peak, recorded as 1,080 metres above sea level. The more westerly dome, Paul Peak, is only 830 metres high.

So, when most people point to the summit of what they call Mount Paul, they are actually identifying the top of what should more properly be called Mount Peter. That’s the technical nomenclature as I understand it, but local common use of names often trumps official geographic designations.

While one can only imagine that it was some unknown religious pioneer cleric who named the two prominent local peaks after a couple of biblical apostles, the provenance of the name of the river passing through Kamloops is well documented.
The Thompson River was named by fur treader and explorer Simon Fraser for his friend and colleague, master surveyor and map maker extraordinaire, David Thompson.

On his daring dash down the river that now bears his name, Fraser erroneously thought the major river that joined the Fraser near the present day community of Lytton was the same one Thompson had recently discovered and was actively exploring and mapping its upper reaches.

That other river came to be known as the Columba River, whose drainage system was not part of the vast Thompson River system. Ultimately, the Columbia River system proved to be more extensive and more important financially than the Thompson system.

It is ironic that Thompson, the man who explored, surveyed and accurately mapped more of North America than any other explorer on this continent (some 4.9 million-square-kilometres), had his name attached erroneously to a river he did not discover, nor was it part of the 90,000 kilometre distance he covered in his explorations on foot, by horse and in a canoe.

Here are some additional items to take note of in the two photo images:

HH—There may be others, but the feature labeled “HH” on both photos is clearly a heritage home or building that has been re-finished on the exterior but has retained its original structure and shape.

WW—The original Woodwards building, located at the intersection of Victoria Street West and First Avenue, was reincarnated as the B.C. Lottery Corporation headquarters in the modern photo and labeled “LC” in that image.

There are probably many other interesting features visible in these photos that Kamloops residents will be able to point out. So, if you are familiar with the area and notice something that catches your eye, please email me your observations or corrections if I made any serious errors.

It can be tricky identifying and labelling streets, especially on archival photos, as roads can shift considerably—or even disappear completely in a blink of an historical eye.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More A Second Look articles

About the Author

Terry W. Robertson received a bachelor of science degree in geology from UBC in 1970. His studies included physical geography, surveying and air-photo interpretation. Subsequently, he worked in petroleum exploration, initially based in Calgary and from 1978 to 1988 as an independent geological consultant working from his home the Okanagan.

In 1988, he left the oil industry and participated in the start-up and development of several small businesses in Lake Country, including a travel agency and a community newspaper which he edited and published from 1996 to 2003. With two children in local schools at the time and with a passion for politics, Terry was elected as the Lake Country trustee on the Central Okanagan School Board from 1990 to 2002.

He remains interested in politics and was an active supporter of the “Yes” side in the 2018 B.C. referendum on Proportional Representation. He enjoys getting outdoors, as well as travelling and exploring historic sites and museums. In addition, he likes to write about politics, history and geography.

Terry is interested in obtaining old (pre 1970)  photos of landscapes, street scenes or images of prominent structures from the Okanagan or Thompson region. If you possess any such images that you would permit him to copy and use in a future column, or have any comments about his column, please email him at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories