Proposal Title

SESSION 1.2: Afterlives of the Last Cariboo Stagecoaches: Frontier Nostalgia and the Popular Past before 1958

Presentation Type

Individual paper

Location

IB 1015

Start Date

3-5-2019 1:30 PM

End Date

3-5-2019 3:00 PM

Abstract

The central and northern hinterlands of British Columbia were widely regarded as some of North America’s last frontiers during the first decades of the twentieth century – at the very moment their economy and social geography were being transformed by new railways, roads, and energy grids. Those modern networks of mobility sped the decline of horse-drawn transport and inland steamboats in the region. They also generated new ways of thinking about community, progress, and the past. This paper explores how the modernization of overland mobility and commensurate rise of petroleum dependency in the BC Interior contributed to a popular nostalgia for the paths and conveyances of yesteryear: for the Cariboo stagecoaches and freight wagons that have been icons of the region’s history for a full century now. A wide range of written, material, and visual sources are drawn on to trace the halting, uneven, often quite ironic emergence of “horsepower nostalgia” and interest in old wooden vehicles in western Canada. Stagecoaches had been made famous as symbols of the frontier and generic (North) American Western-ness in the 1880s, when Buffalo Bill Cody used one as the centrepiece of his touring Wild West Show. Yet in some regions, such as the Cariboo country, the same vehicles were in active service into the 1920s. As early as the 1900s, the persistence of stagecoach travel had marked these districts as being in a different stage of development, as being backward, a kind of relic of the past. Then, as automobiles and new rail lines appeared there in the 1910s, the same old coaches and wagons started being preserved, collected, restored, and put on display. Tourism promoters saw new value in them because they were regionally distinctive yet recognizable within North America’s broader enthusiasm for ‘Wild West’ themes. For amateur historians and many ordinary residents, the same artifacts could simultaneously evoke the romance of bygone days – the (relatively recent) end of frontier conditions and of pioneering – and also illustrated the region’s material progress, as manifested in good roads, high energy use, and an active state.

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May 3rd, 1:30 PM May 3rd, 3:00 PM

SESSION 1.2: Afterlives of the Last Cariboo Stagecoaches: Frontier Nostalgia and the Popular Past before 1958

IB 1015

The central and northern hinterlands of British Columbia were widely regarded as some of North America’s last frontiers during the first decades of the twentieth century – at the very moment their economy and social geography were being transformed by new railways, roads, and energy grids. Those modern networks of mobility sped the decline of horse-drawn transport and inland steamboats in the region. They also generated new ways of thinking about community, progress, and the past. This paper explores how the modernization of overland mobility and commensurate rise of petroleum dependency in the BC Interior contributed to a popular nostalgia for the paths and conveyances of yesteryear: for the Cariboo stagecoaches and freight wagons that have been icons of the region’s history for a full century now. A wide range of written, material, and visual sources are drawn on to trace the halting, uneven, often quite ironic emergence of “horsepower nostalgia” and interest in old wooden vehicles in western Canada. Stagecoaches had been made famous as symbols of the frontier and generic (North) American Western-ness in the 1880s, when Buffalo Bill Cody used one as the centrepiece of his touring Wild West Show. Yet in some regions, such as the Cariboo country, the same vehicles were in active service into the 1920s. As early as the 1900s, the persistence of stagecoach travel had marked these districts as being in a different stage of development, as being backward, a kind of relic of the past. Then, as automobiles and new rail lines appeared there in the 1910s, the same old coaches and wagons started being preserved, collected, restored, and put on display. Tourism promoters saw new value in them because they were regionally distinctive yet recognizable within North America’s broader enthusiasm for ‘Wild West’ themes. For amateur historians and many ordinary residents, the same artifacts could simultaneously evoke the romance of bygone days – the (relatively recent) end of frontier conditions and of pioneering – and also illustrated the region’s material progress, as manifested in good roads, high energy use, and an active state.