He was born Edward Choate, but everybody calls him Chilco.
The Cariboo-Chilcotin cowboy earned the nickname one winter in the 1950s, as a young buck working at a big game hunting camp at Gaspard Lake, a remote area behind the Gang Ranch. The name stuck like a stubborn burr over the past 60-plus years, to the point where he now introduces himself as “Ted, or Chilco.”
“There used to be a pool hall in Clinton. The owner, Bob Campbell, was also the barber,” Choate, 86, recalled. “He started calling me the Chilcotin kid.”
Raised in South Surrey, Choate was always thirsting for adventure. At 17, he wanted to fight in the Korean War, but his parents refused to give their permission. “Neither of them would put me in so I ended up back in the bush,” he said.
Choate started out at Alexis Creek before joining his parents in Clinton in 1955 and going to work for guide outfitter Shorty Watson at Gaspard Lake. Since Watson was an American, the guiding license was put into Choate’s name, something he didn’t realize until a few years later when he would take over the camp and run it for the next few decades, later joined by his wife Carol.
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“I sort of got it by accident. I didn’t own the camp but I owned the license,” Choate said.“I had a hard time getting clients because I was a 23-year-old kid. They were afraid their guide wouldn’t be there when they came back. It all worked out.”
Life in the bush was full of excitement, from Choate’s 30-year conflict with the Gang Ranch – where he worked for a time – to his passion to preserve the land. He wrote countless letters to the B.C. government to halt its plans to wipe out Grizzly bears – “they were going to kill each and every one of them” – and stop overgrazing by sheep and cattle. His efforts led to much of the Gang Ranch grazing lands being reverted to public use.
Choate chronicled these exploits in his book, Unfriendly Neighbours, which spins a tale about the characters he met – one tried to shoot him – and his love-hate relationship with the Gang Ranch.
“The ranchers in the area hated that book when it came out,” he said. “We carried protection on our hips – both sides. It attracted attention right across Canada. They thought it would be the last wild west shootout. We disappointed everybody. Nobody got shot, nobody got hurt.
“I probably had a reputation of being a little nuts.”
Choate remained at Gaspard Lake, which still has no electricity or running water, until last year when he moved to Clinton after he fell and hit his head.
“I’ve had an interesting life compared to a lot of people,” he said, adding living in the bush gave him freedom. “Nobody was telling me what to do.”