The Archduke’s Similkameen hunting expedition

Archduke Franz Ferdinand slaughtered thousands of wild animals in the name of sport prior to his own death by an assassin’s bullets in 1914

  • Oct. 10, 2014 3:00 p.m.
Prince Ferdinand

Prince Ferdinand

The  man whose assassination in Sarajevo 100 years ago was the event many historians claim precipitated World War One once hunted game in the Similkameen.

Franz Ferdinand (18 December 1863 – 28 June 1914) was an Archduke of Austria-Este, Austro-Hungarian and Royal Prince of Hungary and of Bohemia, and from 1896 until his death, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

In 1892-93, Ferdinand embarked on a round the world world hunting tour. On his return trip in 1893, he travelled to Vancouver, eventually making his way through the B.C. interior en route to the U.S. Part of his route through the province took him to Penticton, where he  embarked on  a hunting expedition, outfitted rather reluctantly by pioneer rancher Tom Ellis, that took him to part of the Similkameen.

Historians have described the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne as “volcanic” and “irascible” in temperament.They have called his passion for hunting (he brought down 274,889 game animals in his lifetime) “feudal mass slaughter.” He is also reputed to have shot 5,000 stags during his lifetime. His life ended at the hand of a gunman on June 28, 1914 when a Serb nationalist fired two shots at his open motorcar as it drove down a dead end alley in Sarajevo.

In December 1892, Ferdinand, who was 28 years old at the time, set sail from the Mediterranean port of Trieste on board the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, a cruiser bound for North America via India. He was accompanied by over 400 people, ranging from a navy chaplain to a royal treasurer. During the voyage, “FF,” which were his official initials, penned over 2,000 pages of notes. The nearly forgotten account of his adventures was only recently translated into English, and from that we are now able to read a full account of Ferdinand’s hunting trip to the Similkameen.

Originally planning a five day hunting trip to the Shingle Creek area, west of Penticton, the Archduke decided to move on to Black Mountain on the advice of his Indian guides. His writings indicate a certain impatience with the native’s scheduling, on more than one occasion.

Ferdinand also expressed his displeasure at his native guide’s seeming lack of desire for the hunt, complaining his guide wished to return to camp early in the day. He also mentioned the Indians leading the party in circles, never too far from camp.

In Ferdinand’s account, he talks of climbing to high alttiudes “across deeply cut gorges.” He also noted the badly burned countryside, commenting:

“We arrived to a beautifully situated spot from where one could admire the rocky mountains on the opposite side separated from us by a deep gorge and many hundred hectares of forest that was delimited by a blue mountain range. Here too important lots had been destroyed by fires but I learned that not only the Indians, railway workers and colonists had created these destructions but also the gold diggers in this region whose mountains carry significant names such as Gold Range. They burn the wood to be able to examine the ground more closely.”

Where Fedinand and his entourage eventually went is difficult to know. According to a short paragraph in the 1948 edition of the Okanagan Historical Society’s annual history edition, “The Ashnola mountains were the home of a large herd of ‘big horn’. Sometimes a hundred could be sighted from Edward Bullock-Webster’s farm. Big game hunters came from the United States, providing themselves with luxurious, although not too practical equipment. One hunting party consisted of Prince Ferdinand of Austria and his suite of six Austrian gentlemen and six servants. Their pack train of ten pack horses and fourteen saddle horses was provided by Tom Ellis of Penticton.”

In modern times, the only topographic feature known locally as Black Mountain is found west of Osoyoos.

Did Ferdinand actually hunt in the Ashnola? His description of the countryside he passed through sounds more similar to the topography of the Ashnola than that of the Richter pass, as he spoke of steep, difficult terrain, permanent snow and camping at 2,000 feet. Part of his narrative describes a late afternoon  attempt to track a grizzly bear, which  resulted in a tough return to camp:

“Only rarely did I have such a bad and tiring path home as here as we were exposed to a big wind and snow breakage where we were forced to continuously climb and jump over a true labyrinth of wildly distributed fallen trunks. Soon our feet were hurting so much that we were barely able to continue and arrived at the camp only by dragging ourselves forward with great effort.”

It was only mid-September.

For the full accout of Ferdinand’s Canadian and world tour, see The journey: Franz Ferdinand’s World Tour, at: