When we moved to Houston in the fall of 1974 we had a bright yellow and blue rubber dingy with plastic paddles. It became our mode of transportation for exploring the Morice River that first year.
On Friday evening we would spread the dingy out on the townhouse floor and pump it up. In the morning we would put the dingy on the roof of our Gremlin hatchback and tie it to both bumpers. By the time we parked near the river the raft would be deflated from the cold air and we’d have to pump it up again. We’d usually drive out the Morice River Road and float a stretch of the river, fishing along the way. The river was a pristine blue-green with darker pools, strong currents, and shallow riffles. It was absolutely glorious. We caught Coho salmon, Steelhead, Dolly Varden and Rainbow Trout and always planned to keep a trout or salmon for dinner. At the end of the day Les would walk or hitch-hike back to the car while I bundled up our gear and deflated the raft.
Les had noticed a creek, Houston Tommy Creek, on the map and thought it would be a good place to fish. Early Saturday morning we drove up the Morice River Road about ½ mile past Aspen Park Campsite. We carried the raft and our gear down a steep embankment through the tangle of alder, windfall, and tall spruce. We launched the raft into the strong current and paddled like mad to get across the river before we were swept past the mouth of Houston Tommy Creek. It was terrifying the first time we did it. There was a nice open sandbar at Houston Tommy with a beautiful run for steelhead and a deep pool at the mouth of the creek. Les was the keen fisherman so he fished most of the day while I relaxed on the sandbar or explored up the creek picking high bush cranberries. It was idyllic! The run downstream to pull out was a little less stressful and we could relax and enjoy the ride. We’d pull out on the rocky shore just upstream from Aspen Park and Les would trudge the ½ mile back up to the car while I deflated and bundled up the dingy. This became a favourite destination for many years.
The following year we bought a 16 foot broad-beamed Frontiersman canoe. This was a huge step up for navigating the river. It was wide and stable and so much easier to handle then the raft, but still a challenge with our limited skills and the incredible changing river currents! We would often drift from Aspen Park to By-Mac Park, stopping only at Knapper Creek (Gold Creek) to fish and have lunch. Les usually lit a campfire so he could have hotdogs – a favourite! The current on the corner just upstream from Knapper Creek seemed treacherous but we enjoyed the challenge!
Our other adventures those first years on the river were with Sam Wright in his motorized river boat. Once we camped at Morice Lake where the Morice River starts, enjoying a great evening of fishing for steelhead and telling stories around the campfire. The next day we went in his boat down to the Gosnell. That was the first trip for us on that section of the river and it was awesome! There were sections of ferocious turbulent current followed by gentle stretches of calm clear water over deep pools and shallows with hundreds of spawning spring salmon. We stopped at a small creek and fished for Dolly Varden – catching one with a vole in its stomach. I don’t remember The Morice West Road or bridge – perhaps it had not yet been constructed. The only sign of civilization I remember was the cable across the river about a ½ mile downstream from Morice Lake. Those camping and fishing trips were wonderful wilderness experiences.
When our daughter was about 5 years old we camped at the Morice West Bridge. The following day we canoed with friends from there to a pull-out where guides launched their boats upstream from Owen Flats. The girls were on the bottom of our canoe beside the yoke and Steve was with Cheryl and Jim in their canoe. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were floating and paddling along not paying a lot of attention when we saw the swirl of current indicating a large rock near the surface a few meters away. Jim and Cheryl were ahead of us and saw that we were potentially in trouble so they turned their canoe and watched in horror as the stern of our canoe caught the rock and some water sloshed over the gunnels. Fortunately there was an open rocky beach just downstream and we were able to paddle the canoe to the shoreline. The only damage was a scratch in the fibreglass and the loss of one of Les’s shoes that he’d taken off to be more comfortable. We were very lucky we didn’t capsize. We were all shaken up and felt fortunate no real damage was done – except for our embarrassment about being so careless.
Another year floating from By-Mac to Barrett Station Bridge, with Glennie and Marie, we had a neat experience. The day was glorious with fall colour and sunshine and the river was a beautiful placid mirror. Just upstream from Jaarsma’s fields we heard some rustling in the bush and a loud crack and then a splash behind us – a huge cottonwood tree fell into the river. A beaver must have chewed through the tree just after we floated by!
Barrett Station was a wonderful place to camp and fish. Late one August, we camped for a few days when it was blistering hot. The girls had such fun playing in the backwater and the mud just downstream from our campsite and the train bridge. Les spent most of the day fishing the stretch of the river from the trestle down to Emerson Creek, sometimes walking up across the trestle and along to Emerson creek so he could fish the mouth of the creek from the west bank. At night you could hear flocks of hundreds of cranes flying over for hours. There was a full moon and it was so peaceful with the sound of the river, the crackling fire, and the cranes. Often there would be flocks of geese as well and sometimes trumpeter swans. It was an idyllic ending to the summer.
Last year, in 2010, when driving along the Morice River Road in late August I was astounded with the number of boaters and fishermen in the Morice River. There were folks in pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks, and jet boats visible all along the route! In the spring of 2000, the Jaarsma’s had locked the access to the Barrett Station camping area and lent keys to folks for using the camping area just to limit the number of campers and traffic through their grazing land. The Morice River has become a very popular destination for tourists and locals who love to fish or enjoy the outdoors.