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Where Kamloops' neighbour Savona cribbed its name from

This 1871 photo shows the Savona Ferry cable, near the current Highway 1 bridge.
Image Credit: Submitted/Kamloops Museum and Archives #7698

There’s many place names in the Thompson and Okanagan regions where First Nations names were changed or misspelled to suit the tongues of mostly British early settlers.

Cumcloups or Tk’emlúps te became Kamloops, for example.

Kelowna was originally dubbed kimach touche to describe a particularly hairy fur trader. It was changed to the Syilx word for grizzly bear to make it easier to spell and pronounce.

READ MORE: How Europeans distorted the true names of Kamloops and the Okanagan

A similar transformation happened with the French language after François Saveneux established a cable ferry at  the west end of Kamloops Lake where it flows into the Thompson River.

“The ‘Saveneux’ name soon became anglicized to Savona and the community adopted the name,” states an article on the Gold Country Geo-Tourism website.

It was in 1858 that Saveneux, in response to the start of the Cariboo Gold Rush, created a cable ferry to cross the Thompson River, despite the fast current at the outflow of the lake.

“The early ferry was only large enough for saddle horse and pedestrian traffic, as there was only a trail west of Savona,” the website says, noting that a wagon road from Cache Creek wasn’t built until 1866.

The Gold Trails Geo-Tourism site reports a crossing by 16-year-old A.J. Splawn with a herd of cattle destined for the gold fields in the late fall of 1861.

“We crossed the Thompson River at the old landmark kept by Savanos, a French-Canadian who had come to New Caledonia – the name given to all of British Columbia – with the Hudson’s Bay Company at a very early date,” Splawn wrote. “He had a small ferry, on which we crossed the horses, while the cattle swam.”

Saveneux died in 1862 and the ferry operation was run by his wife and daughter for a time but, by 1870, the ferry was taken over by the province.

READ MORE: Spiritualists, Japanese warlords and mispronounced words: Where the Okunaakan got its names

“Accidents were commonplace,” the website says. “The high water flood of June 1875 broke the cable. The ferry was down until the following year.”

That’s when the rope cable was replaced with steel.

“In 1879 there was another break, resulting in the drowning of Charles Fortier, a retired Hudson’s Bay Company employee,” the Geo-Tourism website says.

Efforts to get the government to build a bridge got nowhere until the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in Savona in 1883.

By 1884 the first bridge was completed at a cost of $15,250 but it wasn’t without its own problems.

In 1888 it was covered by water and in 1894 it was swept away by a flood, bringing the ferry back into operation until 1906.

The Gold Trails Geo-Tourism site credits M. Balf’s, 1980 ‘Savona’s Ferry’ from the Kamloops Museum and Archives and A.J. Splawn,’s 1917 ‘Ka-ma-akin – The Last Hero of the Yakimas,’ as its sources.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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