A NATION OF KAMLOOPS © David Watts 11/04/2010
The word “Kahmoloops” in the Shuswap tongue, rendered in English as Kamloops, in French as Kamloops, is now the name of a small city in the interior of British Columbia.
Yet it applies to Canadians as a whole. The word means “meeting of the waters.” In Kamloops BC this refers to its position at the meeting of the North and South branches of the River named after explorer-mapmaker David Thompson. This description fits a number of Canadian cities:
Montreal at the Junction of the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence, Winnipeg at the Forks of the Assiniboine and Red, Calgary at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers.
If we move from the physical to a metaphysical meaning, Kamloops encompasses most of us as does Kanata, the Algonquian word for village we’ve adopted for our country as a whole.
In a country that holds more of the world’s fresh water than any other, it’s no surprise that the rivers, lakes and streams became the pathways by which people came to meet each others, from First Nations, traders and explorers, to the railways that later build along these paths.
Making human connections via the natural connections of waterways involves two approaches:
Sometimes it’s traveling overland: finding a pass between headwaters of rivers as did Mackenzie from the Peace and Parsnip to the Fraser, and Rogers between the Beaver and Illecillewaet.
Other times it mean zigzagging back and forth between river systems as the CN line does west of Jasper: along the upper Fraser to Tête Jaune Cache, south over the height of land to the North Thompson and on to Kamloops and the South Thompson, then west till it meets the Fraser again.
People that meet and mingle in this country of rivers, passes and portages retain a distinctness rooted in the land, unlike some countries where integration is enforced by geography or policy. Here integration happens over time and space in a broad stream where the strands interweave.
This is what happens when the Thompson and Fraser finally meet at Lytton. The blue-green waters of the one continue in a band alongside the grey-brown of the other in a single channel.
Canadian broadcaster Peter Gzowski set this in human terms in his Song for Canada in 1965: Though it was written originally for French and English, it applies to all our strands and streams:
Lonely northern rivers come together, don’t you see
One single river running in eternity
Many nations in the land that lie along its shore
But just one river, you and me.
This is the meeting of Kamloops, the meeting of the waters. Gzowski’s song was actually written for the people of Kébec, another aboriginal word that means “narrowing of the waters.”
This cyclic process—a narrowing and coming together of waters—is the zigzag of our history. It is an integration that does not entail assimilation or overwhelming of one by another.
Rather it is a sharing of our respective riches and strengths in an enhanced humanity:
Vive Kamloops! Vive le Kébec! Vive le Kanata!