In the early 1980s Carol and Rick Blacklaws were part of an archaeological team sent into the remote Chilcotin to document the Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail, part of explorer Alexander Mackenzie’s 1793 crossing of North America.
Last year the couple published a book about their journey called In the Footsteps of Alexander Mackenzie which includes photographs that Rick took to document the trip they made by horse and wagon.
This month Rick has a show of 40 hand-tinted photographs that he took on that adventure, enlarged and has on display in the Station House’s upper gallery in his show called Along the Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail: A View from the Past.
Back in the 70s and 80s, Rick says he chose to document their journey in black and white photographs because he thought it would be more simple and artistic. “The digital world has allowed me to revive them in colour,” Rick says.
He scanned 200 of his negatives to create a collection of digital photographs for the Kluskus Band, and will also give the photographs to other bands in the region who may want them.
In the days when they were documenting the trail, Carol says no one in the region had cameras, so very few people living along the trail had their pictures taken.
“We want to give back as much as possible,” Rick says. “If we didn’t do something with the photographs they would just end up in a closet or a dumpster somewhere.”
Rick’s project took two years of painstaking work to scan the negatives, remove dust, sharpen and colourize the final 40 hand-tinted photographs that are on display in the Station House Gallery. He says some of the pictures took up to 10 overlays to colourize.
Researching the colours to make sure they are true to the day also took time and extra effort. He visits the Cariboo Chilcotin fairly often so was able to take the time to research the colours of the clothing that was worn. The Blacklaws’ book about their adventure is also on display and for sale in the gallery.
The book is written by Carol, who was a 25-year-old archaeological field assistant when the couple made their 450 kilometre trip on the Grease Trail recording and mapping archaeological sites from the Blackwater River, through Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, up and over the Rainbow Mountains, ending in Bella Coola.
The research project was commissioned by the provincial government with the goal of eventually having the Grease Trail declared a heritage trail, Carol says.
Part memoir, part photo journal, the book tells the story of the land as well as the Lhoosk’uz Dene, a people whose origins in the area go back 4,000 years and the author’s discovery that the vast survey area was much more than a trail designation.
Rick’s photographs bring Carol’s words and experiences to life in the book which includes maps and essays, providing some interesting reading about this remote part of the province.
Both Carol and Rick went on to make their home in White Rock, raise three children and become educators.
Rick’s work is published in numerous photographic books, journals and magazines. He was the recipient of the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize for his book The Fraser River with Alan Haig-Brown.His books also include Ranchland British Columbia’s Cattle Country with Tribune/Advisor columnist Diana French; Nemiah: The Unconquered Country with Terry Glavin; and The Adam’s River: Exploring the Mystery of the Adams River Sockeye with Mark Hume.