Say the Names...

Al Purdy wrote a wonderful poem called "Say the names say the names" which celebrates the names of Canadian rivers - Tulameen, Kleena Kleene, Similkameen, Nahanni, Kluane and on and on in a celebratory song.

Enbridge is planning to build a dual pipeline that will carry bitumen and condensate across hundreds of waterways between Edmonton and Kitimat. Some of these waterways are rivers like the Parsnip (or what's left of it), the Nechako, the Morice and others are smaller creeks whose names are often known only to the folks who live along their banks or who fish in their shadows or who bend to wash or drink as they cross paths.

I want to collect the names of these rivers and creeks, to collect your stories, your poems, your songs so we can collectively give voice to the land living under the line Enbridge plans to draw.

People have also sent me copies of their presentations to the community oral presentations. If you'd like to add your voice, email me ( your stories and I'll post them for you. The copyright remains with you.

All the best.
Sheila Peters

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Mystery of Necoslie, Nak’azdli

Joyce Helweg

The long expanse of valley between the rock ridge and the river has always held a secret or two. The old grey barn that still stands wafts a hint of manure from cows long departed. The rusty nails and worn roofing from the prevailing westerlies, help the large rooted Spruce and the towering Douglas Fir guard the secret of why so few people live here.

The old settlers have passed on, their ashes scattered above the land they love and worked to death on, happy. They desired nothing but the damp soil running through their fingers in the spring, the sweet smell of hay in August and the welcome snowfall in October, putting their bodies to rest for the winter. They knew the answer and they took the secret with them.

In the olden days, it was a serene place. No one knew when the river ran high, nor did anyone care. It doesn’t drain the high country that everyone worries about, only the local hills and the run off from Margaret Lake. It threatens no one. The silent clay cut banks deposit an even mist of mud with each wash of the down stream current, flushing itself into the river called Stuart. The spring concoction of mud and debris has been accused of making the Necoslie a river of low fisheries values. The salmon once ran here. The elders said so, and who are we to not believe.

Necoslie in English and Nak’azdli in Carrier is the First Nations name for “where arrows go floating by”. Was that another secret of this valley? Had there been an ancient settlement upstream at some time in the distant past that was wiped out by neighbouring tribes? All we do know for certain is the name, Necoslie,Nak’azdli.

Occasionally there are the whispered rumours of a lone cabin where a murder took place. No one is sure exactly where the cabin stood, but it was agreed that it did stand and that a murder took place there. Everyone that spoke of it was absolutely certain that it happened somewhere in the annals of time, part of the mystery of the valley.

There are no name boards on the creeks but the settlers have left hints of their existence on home made signs at the end of their gumbo driveways. Necoslie River Ranch, Olie Creek Ranch, Cranberry Creek Ranch, Silver Spring Ranch, and Fish Creek Ranch are all names of small farms that dot the valley, somewhat interrupting the expanse of loneliness. A glance down the lane, past the ancient signs would leave a traveller wistfully dreaming of the unseen farm house around the corner, smelling the boiled coffee and fresh baked pies, both adorned with freshly churned cream.

There are no directional signs for the Canada Geese, Snow Geese, Wood Ducks, Whooping Cranes, Trumpeter Swans or Mallards as they have their own inward signs which guide them. It was quite a mystery why the Golden Plovers arrived quite unexpectedly one year, lost, and only stayed until one of the females of the group asked for directions.

The cow moose and her twin calves have taken shelter in the old dwelling house by Olie Creek, devoid of inhabitants for many years and used for a hay shed by a nearby farmer. The mother moose didn’t know the name of the creek but enjoyed the shelter, food and water amply provided for her family during the past extreme winter. It was her secret place. Could it have been “Olie” the female moose calf that was trussed up in a cargo net and flown to the Necoslie from an island on Inzana Lake in a de Havilland Beaver aircraft? The pilot found her stranded when the mother had taken the other twin and swam to the mainland. If it isn’t Olie, it could easily be one of her descendents.

The small sawmills that lurked in areas containing large timber, water for skid horses and flat spots for a bunkhouse and cook shack are now overrun with second growth. The original site would be complete with a steep bank over which the unwanted slabs could be cantilevered leaving a decaying archive of industry that once provided meat and potatoes to the tables of the nearby families who knew timber and hard work were the secret to success.

Fences sprung up out of the ground as if planted, delineating boundaries of ownership. Power lines were run, phone lines were run, the once muddy for 10 months of the year road, improved. New farms were added: Willow Lane, Panorama, Dead Dog, Kanaka. You could now hear the laughter of children riding horses, steers, pigs, bicycles, go carts, motorcycles, four wheelers and snowmobiles. Although the quiet of the valley is sometimes shattered, the new inhabitants are people who help neighbours in need. That is no secret.

Wandering along the north bank, high above the river a beam of sunlight cast itself from behind a cloud, through the heavy canopy of evergreens and aspen. The eyes of the hiker quickly follow the shaft of light to find one of the greatest mysteries of the valley, lady slippers!

The elderly gentleman on the north side of the valley was born in Switzerland and spent his life working as a civil engineer throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Having a slight heart attack early in life he set out to find the perfect place in the world to retire. Every year he travelled to a different country until he came to Canada. He was smitten. Each year thereafter he spent his holidays in Canada starting on the east coast, province by province he searched until he found the Necoslie. There he purchased a quarter section with no power, no telephone and no access. He calls it “His Hill”. He slowly carved a home out of the wilderness with all the amenities. It is no secret to him that he lives in the best spot in the whole world, and I live right next door to him.


  1. Awesome story, Joyce. I love this country! And for good reason. I hope the next generation and the one after that see it the way you do. Thanks!

  2. The origin of the name Nak'azdli/Necoslie is actually pretty clear. Mt. Pope, the mountain that dominates Fort Saint James, is called Nak'al in Carrier. Stuart Lake is Nak'albun = "Mt. Pope Lake". The Stuart River is Nak'alkoh "Mt. Pope River". Nak'azdli is the result of adding to Nak'al the suffix -zdli "source of river". The final /l/ of Nak'al is deleted because the consonant cluster lzdl is not permitted in Carrier. So it is simply the place where the Stuart River originates from Stuart Lake. The business about the arrows is probably a folk etymology. The claim is that during a raid on Nak'azdli a large number of arrows floated on the surface of the river, which was described as "flowing with arrows. In Carrier: 'utnak'a bulh tizdli = "it flowed off with the arrows of the non-Athabascan Indians". The reduction of 'utnak'a bulh tizdli to Nak'azdli follows no grammatical rule of Carrier or known sound change and is therefore implausible. Although unlikely to be the origin of the name, there is oral history of the raid, which was by Gitksan from the Bear Lake area.