Years later, he set another milepost in Nanaimo’s colourful history by assisting in its first recorded amputation.
Of “fearless, daring disposition,” they said of the man for whom Vancouver Island’s Horne Lake is named.
Mind you, being six feet, three inches tall and 200 pounds of sinew can do wonders for a man’s self-confidence.
Although “storekeeper” suggests that he led a sheltered life, such was certainly not the case of the Hudson’s Bay Co.’s Adam Grant Horne. It was he who, at the age of 26, earned the distinction of being “the first white man, as far as [is] known, to have crossed [Vancouver Island] from Nanaimo to Barkley Sound”.
Edinburgh-born, the 22-year-old trader in buckskins and tartan cut a dashing figure. Originally posted to Fort Rupert, it was while he was stationed at Nanaimo that Horne was assigned to lead an expedition to make contact with an isolated tribe believed to have prime furs to trade.
Horne was a natural choice for the dangerous mission through unexplored country known to be inhabited by unfriendly tribes. Chief Factor (later Governor and Sir) James Douglas readily concurred with J.W. McKay, the Nanaimo factor, that Horne was the man for the job. The towering trader, as historian Capt. John T. Walbran noted, was “of fearless, daring disposition whom the Indians seemed to admire as well as dread for his intrepedity”.
His great adventure into the unknown, Horne recounted many years later, had been prompted by the fact that, “in 1855-56, very little was…known about the interior of Vancouver Island. A report was current that a tribe of Indians existed in the interior of the island who had no access to the sea on either side of the island, on account of the immediate hostile tribes.
“The HBC wished to ascertain the facts and once or twice had sent parties with directive from Mr. J.W. McKay, the Nanaimo factor. I had heard of the next attempt and asked the Factor to let me go. He said he would approach [Douglas] on [his] next visit to [Nanaimo]. Mr. McKay kept his word, he mentioned to [Douglas] that I wanted to go. I was sent for, and was asked if I was afraid, to which I replied, ‘No.’ He replied, ‘Then you shall go.’”
In May 1856, Horne, a Red River halfbreed (sic), an Iroquois, two French Canadians and two others left Victoria’s Inner Harbour, heading their war canoe into the chilly seas and up the Inside Passage to the mouth of the Big Qualicum River. Proceeding inland, they came to “a very large lake which has got no name by the Indians,” and crossed it on a raft.
They’d narrowly escaped a Haida war party but all turned out well. Upon his return, Horne could report to his employers that he’d established friendly relations with the so-called Lakes Indians. In fact, once he’d demonstrated the object of his visit, Horne had been treated royally, the isolated tribe paying homage to the first white man they’d seen.
Horne managed the HBC store in Nanaimo until it was sold in 1863 and he opened his own emporium. Two years later, he rejoined his former employers and managed their stores at Port Simpson and Comox until 1878, when he returned to Nanaimo. With his son as partner, A.G. Horne & Son prospered for several years but went into receivership in 1893. In 1901, “Trader” Horne, B.C.’s answer to Davy Crockett, died, much respected, at the age of 70.
Years before, he’d set another milepost in Nanaimo’s colourful history by assisting in its first recorded amputation. A miner named Devlin had caught his foot between the elevator cage and shaft. The company doctor determined that the only way to free Devlin, who was conscious and in agony, was to perform the operation on the spot. He sought the assistance of Adam Horne because, as a storekeeper, he “was in cleaner clothes and hands” (sic!) than Devlin’s workmates. The operation, I’m happy to report, was successful.
Much has changed since Adam Grant Horne and his handful of traders sailed from Fort Victoria to risk hostile tribes and the perils of the unknown north of Qualicum. Today, Horne Lake honours the handsome, bearded fur trader of long ago who first crossed Vancouver Island on foot and established contact with some of its isolated peoples.