Another possible clue is found in the diary and letters of a biologist, S. Prescott Fry, who conducted a survey from Jasper to Hudson’s Hope in 1914 to study the big horn sheep.
The group was making its way back towards the Yellowhead Pass via Pouce Coupe, Beaverlodge and “Grand Prairie City”. Having walked thirty miles from Swan Lake they stayed overnight at “Kelly’s Ranch”. Allowing for circuitous trails, this would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of “Fritton Lake”. In any case, it was a further nine-mile walk to Old Beaverlodge. Fry was not always exact in spelling of names. The lake is an approximately round body water about a mile across, fairly deep, with a gravel bottom and drains a shallow basin of about 60 square miles. It is both fed and drained by Steeprock Creek, and lies in a little pocket between and heights of land forming the watersheds of the Kiskatinaw, Red Willow and Upper Beaverlodge Rivers. Its basin contains other small lakes, hay meadows, muskeg with tamarack and black spruce, and low uplands with willows, aspen, jackpine and white spruce cover. The overgrowth has suffered repeated forest fires which have created a few small prairies, rich in grass and peavine. It also lies in the Chinook wind belt, all of which favors wild animals suited to trapping, and the raising of domestic animals.
It must have looked like a little paradise to Celestin Gladu who came in 1909 as a packer and guide for the party of Guy W. Blanchet [DLS, BCLS]. In 1923 G.S. Andrews, the first qualified schoolteacher, found Gladu highly respected as the patriarch of the Metis Kelly Lake settlement. Other families had drifted in, part of the westward migration of Cree Metis and Cree-Iroquois who left the old settlements around the Red River after the “rebellions” in the 1880’s. They were not Treaty Indians. Most of them had spent about a generation at Lac Ste. Ann near Edmonton, and some had paused briefly at Sturgeon Lake east of, and/or at Flying Shot Lake west of Grande Prairie.
By 1920 they had houses on the north shore of the lake. According to R.W. Cautley the men were “particularly good trappers and hunters, who work on the farms in summertime in the (white) settlements and at whatever other employment they can get”. But he considered them amazingly improvident because they did not grow even potatoes, nor put up more than enough hay for a mild winter. They differed in this way from some of the Metis around Flying Shot and Saskatoon Lakes, possibly because those areas are less frosty, or the natives had had more contact with the missionary schools and “missions”.
In 1922 Mr. Andrews found that only one of his pupils spoke any English at all, after a brief exposure to schooling at Flying Shot Lake. In his two year tenure as teacher, Mr. Andrews initiated an “immersion course” in English with such success that the Kelly Lake children were noted for their exceptional English (although the Cree tongue was preserved.)
Until the bottom fell out of the fur market during World War II, the people at Kelly Lake were self-supporting and well respected. Almost cut off from Pouce Coupe, the nearest B.C. centre, they were left with execrably bad roads, no bridges, no facilities except a school for the youngest pupils, and almost no services. A timber reserve imposed on the forests denied them the privileges of cutting logs on their own land to up-grade their houses, or to set up a sawmill to allow young people to learn a trade to replace the furs for barter. As long as they could they resisted moving to towns where they felt that influences were bad for the children. Many elders still deplore the effects of town living on the young people.
Since the 1970’s the Kelly Lake people have put forth great efforts to upgrade their community. There are some good homes, and a modern new school, but many of their efforts have been frustrated.