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Hudson’s Hope Museum news - Kechika Chronicler

A look into the life of pioneering cowboy Willard Freer and the Kechika River valley from 1942 to 1975 along the Alaska Highway.
“By all accounts, Freer was a quiet, introverted person, who faithfully kept a daily diary from 1942 to 1975.

I’m happy to let everyone know that Kechika Chronicler - Willard Freer’s Northern BC & Yukon Diaries 1942 - 1975 is finally out. It’s been a great opportunity to relearn my own family history.

Written by my good friend and fellow historian Jay Sherwood, the book dives into the diaries of my great uncle, Willard Freer. Freer was a packer, cowboy, and pioneer. Born in Kamloops in 1910 and raised in the Peace River country, but he lived most of his life near Fireside up the Alaska Highway between the Kechika and Liard rivers.

“By all accounts, Freer was a quiet, introverted person, who faithfully kept a daily diary from 1942 to 1975. Most of the entries are brief, but they provide a detailed record of life in northern BC and southern Yukon territory,” writes Jay. “The pantheon of people recorded in Freer’s diaries include many notable individuals who lived and worked in the Kechika River valley and along the Alaska Highway.”

Freer was one of the cowboys hired for the 1934 Bedaux Expedition. The expedition was highly unusual and funded by French-American industrialist Charles Bedaux, attempting to drive five half-track Citroen vehicles across northern BC.

He was also the only cowboy known to have kept daily entries of the adventure, though much has been written in Bannock and Beans by fellow cowboy Bob White. Kechika is really the story of everything that came after his time on the Bedaux Expedition.

Freer was also friends with the famous guide and outfitter Skook Davidson of the Diamond J Ranch. The two were even business partners for a time. Davidson’s journals help tell a larger story about the remote region they both lived in.

Freer was on good terms with many First Nations people living in the valley, as the Kechika watershed is home to both the Tse’kene and Kaska Dena. A trading store was started by Freer and Davidson in 1945 at the Diamond J Ranch, mostly providing goods to indigenous trappers near Fort Ware and Lower Post.

“Freer’s diaries are the best written record of the Indigenous people who lived in the Kechika River valley in the mid-twentieth century,” notes Jay.

The diary entries are punctuated with visits from friends and the oddities of daily life in the far north. Freer was consistent in keeping a record. The only exceptions being missing journals from 1950 to 1951, pages from January to September 1961, and a 1939 journal which was recreated due to police seizing his diaries as part of a murder investigation.

Freer’s neighbour, Frank “Shorty” Weber was suspected and police thought the journals could be potential evidence. Fortunately, Freer made copies beforehand. The originals were never returned.

Jay’s passion and love of all things historical really shines in this book, and I appreciate the time he took to make a full transcription of the diaries. These will be made publicly accessible through the Northern BC Archives website and the Hudson’s Hope Museum.

While sadly Jay has passed away, he’s left us with a great book and one that means a lot to my family. I hope the public enjoys it as much as I did, it’s a very engaging read.

“The diaries of Willard Freer, which chronicle over thirty years of life in northern BC, are a unique account, providing a gateway to many of the people who lived there and some of the important events that occurred,” writes Jay.

A big thank you is also owed to Jay’s wife Linda, for sending me a copy of the book. I was very excited to see it in my mailbox here in Nakusp.

There’s still more to come on Kechika, as a box of materials from Skook Davidson was donated last year to the Northern BC Archives by his great nephew, Gord Yule. They’re currently being processed.

Anyone looking to buy a copy can find one at the Fort St. John Museum or directly from the publisher, Caitlin Press. Copies should also be arriving soon at the Hudson’s Hope Museum.

If you would like any further information, please call 250-783-5735 or email at

Tom Summer is the Vice President of the Hudson’s Hope Historical Society

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