Chain Lakes - Boya Lake Provincial Park

Near Cassiar, approximately a 35-mile drive north from the former town and reached by a side road, there is a lake, a real gem of a lake. Old timers will remember this lake as "Chain Lakes", which later was re-named to "Boya Lake" when a provincial park and campground was established there in the 1970s. The lake's crystal-clear water enables boaters to easily peer into the depths where they can observe fish swimming well over 20 feet deep, silhouetted against the light-coloured bottom. The bottom is mostly a mud, off-white in colour, and from what I recall of an informal experiment I conducted in 1970-1 with the help of Mr. Terry Keefe, my Grade 10 science teacher, is rich in alkaline material, limestone. Digging around the shoreline of the lake or in areas well back from the lake produced mud with a high concentration of snail shells.

The lake's shape contrasts markedly from most lakes in the area, they tending to have rather simple shoreline, and consisting of a single body of water. Boya Lake has several places where the shore narrows, forming inter-connected isolated bays and even a separate "sub-lake" connected to the main lake via a narrow channel traverseable by boat. It was this "chain of lakes" that gave rise to its original name of Chain Lakes.

Bill Plumb, former chief geologist for Cassiar recalls

Chain Lakes are probably the most spectacular of the many kettle lakes seen from the air as you fly across the Liard Plain north to Watson Lake airport. They were formed as the last ice sheet melted sporadically around 10,000 years ago. isolated humps of ice projected through the glacial drift and when they melted they formed small lakes. Subsequent drainage joined some of them to form the erratic network you see today. They have a beautiful blue-green colour (sometimes hard to catch in a colour photo) due to a high content of glacial silt, which shows up over the white clay background. Kettle lakes are well known to geologists in glaciated areas, so is the ultramarine colour.

Boya Lake (formerly known as Chain Lakes)
Click the thumbnails to see full-sized photo
Boya Lake
Entrance to Borsato family's bay on the lake
Contributed by Roger Borsato
Boya Lake
View from Borsato family's beach
Contributed by Roger Borsato
Storm over Boya Lake
Storm over the lake, near the picnic site at the south end.
Contributed by Herb Daum
These four aerial photographs are contributed by Ron Schmidt, taken from Johnny Hope's airplane

Larry Spaczynsky's cabin was located directly beneath the horseshoe (upper left corner). The long and narrow channel that connected to another section is just a bit higher on the photo than the horseshoe, and slightly over half way to the right.

Is that you and your boat? Going to your cabin perhaps?

The lake has no surface drainage (creeks, rivers, etc.) and has two incoming creeks, one on each side. Apparently there is underground drainage and also a warm underground spring feeding the lake. The warm spring would account for the lake being generally considered to be the only lake in the area warm enough for swimming, water-skiing, snorkeling, etc. Other lakes in the area are much colder and only the hardiest souls swim in them. The lake is the first to thaw in spring, usually two weeks before other lakes in the area and the snow on the ground melts earlier too.

Understandably the lake was very popular with residents of Cassiar. Many built floating house-boats or erected cabins on the shore so they could prolong their recreational time there. In fact the area was warm enough for Cassiarites to erect greenhouses and plant vegetable gardens at their cabins.

When I saw Lothar & Irmgard Tischler at the Cassiar Reunion in 2001 Irmgard told me that when they moved from Cassiar and were looking for a new place to settle she told Lothar that she had only one condition for their new home. It had to have a "Chain Lakes". Fortunately they found one and, I am sure, the envy of many Cassiarites.

Fish species in the lake include Lake Trout, Suckers, and minnows and I believe Rocky Mountain Whitefish. The most popular species for sport fisher are the Lake Trout, most fish being under 5 pounds. There are larger fish and for many years Cassiar resident Larry Spacyznky, the company blacksmith, in addition to a good catch of average-sized fish, would each summer catch one large fish, usually over 20 pounds. The channel connecting the sub-lake was a breeding area for spawning suckers and we could see hundreds of them there at certain times of the year.

When I was in school I heard of a sighting of White-tail deer at the lake. This would be considered unusual as the species normally doesn't range that far north. Deer were never seen around Cassiar. The reporter of the sighting, one of my former school class mates, already had earned a reputation for stretching the truth, so I considered the sighting as questionable at best and never gave it much thought.

A few years later I, then a teenager and the "go-fer" of the group, was given the chore of hauling a bucket of drinking water from the nearby creek to the camping trailer I was staying at. It was evening and overcast so the sky was already dark. I had a big 6-volt lantern in one hand and the 5-gallon bucket in the other. Other than the limited vision from the flashlight it was pitch black and as I was intent on not tripping on the trail I kept my attention to where I was planting my feet. I filled the bucket with cold clear water and on the return trip with the water I suddenly heard a odd noise ahead of me, close by. I recalled that there had been a grizzly bear sighted at the lake earlier that summer, in the immediate vicinity. I sensed that whatever made the sound was big. I reluctantly raised the lantern to see what might be in front of me. Standing no more than 8-10 feet away from me, right on the trail was a big whitetail buck with a big antler rack! He was startled and jumped out of sight into the bush with a huge crash. I was equally startled and when I returned to the trailer, heart pounding, there wasn't much water left in the bucket - and I had to make another trip. So yes, I can confirm that there are deer at Boya Lake.

Wayne Mayell shares these memories of the establishment of the park and admits may they not be 100% accurate.

The story I recall about the cabins at Chain lake is that an American interest was looking at somehow obtaining the area to turn it into a hunting area for rich Americans. That is when the Government stepped in to make it a park. I recall there was some controversy with Cassiar residents that it would be made into a Class A park which does not allow private structures. Cassiarites wanted it to be a Class C park which would allow their cabins to remain. A class A park it became! When the park was created, I believe the Government intended it to be a truly wilderness park, with no cabins, and had ordered all structures to be torn down. The first to go was probably the nicest log cabin built by Paul Clarke, Mine Superintendent. It went because it was located where the now existing camp ground is. I think Paul tried to sell it to the Park as the park station, but they declined and the park station now is a "wilderness" mobile tin box. The concrete pad where Paul's cabin sat is in the upper loop of the camp ground. I think Paul relocated his cabin to the end of Deep Lake, the lake opposite to the Cassiar Cemetery.

I think Brian Pewsey, Cassiar's Mine Manager, went to bat pointing out that Chain Lakes was a major recreation area for Cassiar residents and it seemed quite unfair to evict the existing residents so abruptly. I also believe that it was either the Cassiar Lions and/or the Mine who built the boat launch and the road in to where camp ground is to-day. Brian convinced the Government to allow the existing cabins to remain. The catch was that they could not sell to any other private citizen, rather the Government would purchase them for a nominal fee with the full intent of burning them down, which they did.

Since I left Cassiar in 1989, I have returned to and explored Chain Lakes by canoe several times and the only structure I could find left, other than those associated with the park, is a green two-seater - yes a two-seater - outhouse at the NE end. In many cases, new growth has almost completely obscured the cabin sites. The three cabins on the Dease River past the Lions campground were also torched and the road to them is so overgrown it is not possible to get a full-size vehicle to the river, unless of course you wish to seriously alter your paint job, or worse.

To-day it is a spectacular wilderness park and most definitely a different place, even sort of eerily quiet, from the hey days of Cassiar.

Well this is the way I understood the cabins to go.

Brian Pewsey confirms Wayne's accounts and recalls:

Wayne has the story correct. I did have one heck of a battle to get the Parks authority to allow the existing Cabins to remain at Chain Lakes for the existing owners, but in the end we were successful, despite the Cabins being destroyed later.

I also heard the story about an American interest for a hunting camp in the area but I never knew the exact location, Wayne could be correct.

If my recollection serves me right the Provincial Government at that time had decided to clean up their parks policy and as Cassiar had made so many changes to the town starting in the early 1970's ( The seventies changed the Cassiar Mine and Town from a single mans' camp to a thriving community with facilities superior to many larger towns in the North. A story which seems to have been missed in the book 'Cassiar A Jewel in the Wilderness') combined with the upgrading and paving of the Highway from Hazelton to The Alaska Highway, made the area a new and attractive place for campers to visit. The Parks authority were convinced in their belief that hundreds if not thousands of visitors were going to descend on the area.

I am sorry to read that the area has returned to the wild as so many Cassiar residents who visited and possessed Cabins at the Lakes can tell stories of the times which so many people treasure and when combined with the companionship of that time I know will stick in ones memory for ever.

Regards. Brian

"Thank you" to Wayne for his account. "Thank you" to Brian Pewsey for taking on the provincial government's park ministry so that Cassiarites could continue to recreate at the lake.

In the summer of 1989 I was employed by province as Park Ranger (yes, c/w uniform, badge, etc.) and I was assigned to the Muncho Lake and Liard Hot Springs parks on the Alaska Highway. On my way north to my station (cabin at Muncho Lake) I reported for duty at the headquarters in Fort St. John where I met the district supervisor. Somehow Cassiar and Boya Lake got mentioned and he told me how the parks staff were burning the "squatter cabins" up there. I was so saddened by that news and knew how terribly disappointed many Cassiarites would be by that action. That was the last time I was anywhere near Cassiar. One day the crew I was with did some work at the campground on the highway, just south of the BC/Yukon border, and we went to Lower Post for lunch.

Herb Daum
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This page was last edited Monday, February 02, 2015

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