Allisons of the Similkameen

The story of the Allisons of the Similkameen Valley has the flavour and deep fascination of a great saga. It began when John Fall Allison, at age 12, emigrated with his family from England to

John Fall Allison
John Fall Allison

the U.S. in 1837. As an adult he became infected with gold fever and was enticed to B.C. by news of gold on the Fraser River. Governor James Douglass, evidently impressed by John Fall, appointed him to investigate the Similkameen area.

As happened so often with European men, he took a young aboriginal woman as his wife. Nora Yakumtikum, according to a great granddaughter, came from a royal blood line going back 16 generations. She was 15 at the time.

It was Nora who initially stirred my interest in this story. She has gained considerable attention due to her pack train venture. Nancy Allison of Hedley, another great granddaughter, says she hauled groceries and mining supplies from Hope to Greenwood. Nancy thinks she had about 40 horses and employed people to help her. Rugged and mountainous, the trail required physical endurance and strength of character. Nancy suggests it was likely Nora who made John Fall aware of the Allison Pass route.

John Fall and Nora had 3 children, Lily, Albert (Bertie), and Charles (Enoch). She later bore another son, “Wichie”.

According to B.C. historian M.A. Ormsby, in the 1860’s Allison found placer gold, copper and coal on the Similkameen River. He claimed 160 acres at the junction of the Tulameen and Similkameen rivers.

Nora Allison (left) with her granddaughter
Nora Allison (left) with her granddaughter

The relationship between John Fall and Nora ended sometime after the birth of their third child. Information concerning Nora’s life after this is sketchy. We do know though that she has numerous descendants from one end of the Similkameen Valley to the other.

In 1868, at age 43, John Fall married Susan Moir who he had met in Hope. Their honeymoon, according to Ormsby, consisted of a horseback ride from Hope to the Similkameen Valley. It must have been a steep learning curve for the 23 year old Susan. She had received a good education in England, having studied French, Latin and Greek. They settled into a log home which John Fall had built. He bought a number of Durham cattle and in time his herd of 100 swelled to 1000. At times he also prospected and explored.

In this wilderness setting little medical help was available. Ormsby says “when Susan delivered her first child, only her husband and an Indian woman were present.”

Although accounts vary as to where Nora was during these years, we do know that her daughter Lily stayed with John Fall and Susan and helped with raising the children and household chores. In “A Pioneer Gentle Woman in British Columbia”, Susan speaks highly of the assistance provided by Lily. At times John Fall was away for many weeks on cattle drives to New Westminster. Without Lily, life for Susan would have been extremely difficult. In total Susan gave birth to 14 children.

In the severe winter of 1877-78, John Fall lost half his cattle due to the cold. Then, in the winter of 1880-81 a heavy snowfall collapsed the roof of their house. While John Fall was away on a cattle drive in April, 1882 their house burned down. The family temporarily moved into the cowboys’ shack. He rebuilt the house. In 1884 the Similkameen River flooded, destroying their home and 14 outbuildings. They converted a cattle barn into a home.

John Fall caught pneumonia in 1897 and died at age 72. M.A. Ormsby says his discoveries had laid the basis for the great gold mining boom of the 1890’s which resulted in mining towns like Hedley.

Susan Allison
Susan Allison

“A Pioneer Gentle Woman in British Columbia” provides an interesting account of the pioneering life as Susan and John Fall experienced it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mention Nora. She lived until 1939 and was likely interred at the Mission Chapel just east of Hedley.

Due to space limitations, this account is incomplete. Also, there isn’t total agreement on all details. My purpose is to help keep alive a fascinating piece of Similkameen history. Certainly both Nora and Susan, and also John Fall Allison, played a significant role in the settlement and development of our beautiful Similkameen Valley.

5 thoughts on “Allisons of the Similkameen”

  1. I am a great grandson of JohnFall Allison and grew up listening to many stories of Allison family history. There is so much I would like to know about the families, inter marriage and many descendants from John and Nora. Much has been written about John and Susan but little about Nora. I would love to be able to sit down with someone from Nora’s side who would be willing to share insights into this a most amazing family tree.
    Richard McDiarmid, grandson of Angela Aurelia Allison(McDiarmid)

    1. Thanks for the note, Richard. I’m aware of several people who might be able to give you insights into the Nora Allison story. Unfortunately, it seems that what is known about her is very sketchy, and there isn’t always agreement on the details. My primary sources on Nora’s side are 2 great granddaughters, who I think would be willing to have a conversation with you. There’s also a granddaughter living in this area. She, unfortunately, is not willing to divulge anything. However, she might be willing to talk to you. Let me know if you are interested in talking with them, and I’ll do what I can to connect you. We can connect by email, or I’ll give you a call. In that case, I’ll need your phone no.

    2. Hi Richard, I am looking for information about Nora as well, though searching, I believe she is my grandfathers gramma. Please let me know if you would be interested in touching base?
      thank you

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