Mae McConnell, 70 Mile Road House Pioneer - 080102
Gold Country is rich with the history of roadhouses and pioneers and 70 Mile House offers both. Mae McConnell knows, after all she recalls tales of the Cariboo Wagon Road from Clinton to 70 Mile and beyond.
After G.B. Wright and his construction crew completed the phase to 70 Mile in 1862, he and partner J.C. Calbreith were surprised to see partner Charles Adrian had already pre-empted land and was erecting a large log house. This structure would soon serve as the local hostel for the road works crew and later be bought by Wright himself in 1869.
By 1922 Matt and Isobella Porter became the managers of the busy stopping house and 70 Mile Roadhouse would cater not only to wagons but now cars and trucks. It is during their ownership that we meet Mae McConnell, the youngest of eight children.
Mae’s parents, Lydia and Haveloch Bryant, arrived in the area after spending four years in Clinton. They first settled at the Dunden B.C. Rail Station at the Flying-U-Guest Ranch, the oldest established working guest ranch in Canada. Three years later, after working at the ranch for rodeo rider Jack Boyd, the Bryants moved from the dirt floor cabin to their new homestead, Willow Flats at 83 Mile.
Unfortunately, Mae’s father became ill and at the young age of eight Mae was sent to Clinton to work for rancher Arte Bishop and his wife Pearl. Later, Mae would work at the well known Clinton Hotel, home of the famous Clinton Ball. By the time Mae was eighteen years old, and now a young women, she was back closer to home and working at the busy 70 Mile Roadhouse for Granny Porter.
Mae tells us “It was open 24 hours. The doors were always open. There was a sign at the desk that said ‘Just Holler’, and in the middle of the night Granny or ‘Ma’ Porter, would come down stairs with her oil lantern. She would register the guest and then cook a meal.”
It was a very busy roadhouse. “The Porters offered a bed and breakfast for travelers all for just a $1.50. They served a buffet of porridge, bacon, eggs, potatoes, hot-cakes and whipped cream and coffee, and it was help yourself,” remembers Mae. It was at the 70 Mile Roadhouse that Mae Bryant met David McConnell, grandson of Granny Porter. Later, as a young woman of twenty-three, Mae married David.
David and Mae raised their six children in 70 Mile House. “I remember when there were only three people living on Green Lake. We used to visit Hoofy Haines on the big island at the top of the lake. We went by wagon; we could cross because there wasn’t much water. We used to ride out to Taylor Lake to visit the Japanese families, we would go everywhere by horse or wagon back in those days. It was better in those days. I loved it then. I would go back anytime, if I could.”
The Bishops, Bryants and Porters have long since been interred alongside other Cariboo Wagon Road pioneers in the Clinton Pioneer Cemetery. Although there is no longer a 70 Mile Roadhouse, the history and tales, many told and untold, are still alive with local pioneer Mae McConnell.
The 70 Mile Roadhouse burned in 1956, six years shy of its 100th anniversary.