By Melissa Smalley
It’s a local legend described by some as “the Cariboo’s dark secret” – controversial, and rarely spoken of out loud.
Now, the events alleged to have taken place at the 108 Mile Hotel during the Gold Rush in the late 1800s are the inspiration behind a work of historical fiction for first-time Cariboo author Lisa Pearl Pugh.
Entitled Hotel From Hell: The 108 Mile Murders, Pugh’s novel follows the story of fictional characters travelling the Gold Trail, while staying true to historical people and places well-known during the Gold Rush.
Pugh, a Grade 7 teacher at Horse Lake Elementary School, says the inspiration to delve into the sordid tales of what some believe took place at the 108 Mile Hotel first came when she was a guide at the 108 Heritage site many years ago.
It was then that she first heard the stories of Agnes and Jim McVee, and how the couple allegedly murdered dozens of miners and gamblers, stealing their gold and dumping their bodies in local lakes.
“I was told not to tell the public … that this was a story that the public wouldn’t be interested in,” Pugh says.
“And I just thought, this is awesome. This is real history, and this is something that the public would really be interested in.”
It wasn’t until 2014 during the local teachers’ strike that Pugh was able to channel her vision into something a little more concrete; she spent several months formulating a fictional plot line that took place along the Cariboo Trail – up to Barkerville and back down to the notorious 108 Mile Hotel.
The dual-perspective novel follows the stories of Constance Neat, a prim Victorian school teacher, and Liam MacDonald a “rough and ready” miner.
While themes of Victorian proprietorship and sibling rivalry are weaved throughout the story, events finally lead the characters back to the notorious hotel, Pugh notes.
“It’s a bit of an odd book, because it’s historical fiction, but I’ve injected tons of historical facts and cameos of real British Columbian historical figures.”
With help from the works of non-fiction authors Richard Thomas Wright and Branwen Patenaude, Pugh says she “researched every minute detail” of the stopping houses along the trail, working in tidbits of historically accurate events and locations.
A born and raised South Cariboo resident, now living at 108 Mile Ranch, Pugh says she is thrilled to be launching her debut novel in the coming weeks with a number of events.
Her official launch will take place at the 100 Mile House Branch Library on Nov. 26, 1-3 p.m.; on Dec. 10 she will be signing books at Save-On-Foods from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; she will be at the 108 Heritage Site’s Christmas Fair on Dec. 11 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and she will be heading to Williams Lake for a signing event at Open Books on Dec. 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Hotel From Hell: The 108 Mile Murders will also be available online at www.amazon.ca starting at the end of the month.
While Pugh says she has plans to put together an accompanying teachers’ guide for her book so it may be used as a learning tool for students, she doesn’t have any immediate plans for a followup novel.
“I’m not a writer. I just had this weird burning passion that happened.”