Book review: The Recorded History of the Liard Basin, 1790–1910

Issue: BCMJ, Vol. 59, No. 2, March 2017, page(s) 129 Pulsimeter
George Szasz, CM, MD

The Recorded History of the Liard Basin, 1790-1910
By Anthony Kenyon, MD. Fort Nelson News, 2016. ISBN 978-177136-414-0. 519 pages.

Dr Anthony Kenyon’s book, The Recorded History of the Liard Basin, 1790–1910, is a definitive history of the Liard Basin—where BC joins Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The Liard Basin includes 20% of the landmass of British Columbia. The book includes maps, charts, sketches, biographies, vocabularies drawn from archival documents, references to original sources, and an index.

Scots, French, and Aboriginal people established the lucrative fur trade in the area under the guidance of Roderick Mackenzie. Letters and journals left behind describe the way of life, the role of women, and the Aboriginals’ language. Taking a country wife became an established practice. “Connubial alliances are the best security we can have of the goodwill of the Natives,” wrote George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Several major explorations went through the Liard Basin. In 1821 the first of John Franklin’s expeditions ended in disaster. Willard Wentzel recorded that Dr John Richardson and others resorted to cannibalism.

Original documents describe starvation, murder, the war between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, and their amalgamation in 1821.
By the mid-18th century the area had been largely explored. In 1858 missionaries arrived followed by the first steamship in 1886. A journal by Alfred Lee tracks the progress up the frozen Liard River, 1500 kilometres to the Klondike gold rush in 1897.

In his epilogue Dr Kenyon reflects on his book’s contents: “The facts and observations recorded in this book have not been selected. The information selected itself.”
Dr Anthony Kenyon graduated in medicine from Cambridge University in 1958, worked in central Africa for 3 years, and then completed surgical training in the UK and Canada. He arrived in Fort Nelson in 1966 to take on a 4-month locum and stayed 50 years. His in-depth historical work was written for local residents as well as the academic community.
—George Szasz, CM, MD