Gold Rush Trail
Just over 150 years ago, the lure of ‘gold’ changed the face of British Columbia forever. The magnificence of the province’s interior was revealed to the world when on August 17, 1862, prospector Billy Barker found a major gold deposit at Williams Creek in the northern Cariboo. Gold fever spread like an epidemic when news of the strike filtered out, bringing excited hordes of fortune seekers from around the world into this remote wilderness.
The wood-planked town of Barkerville sprang up near the creek, joining Richfield and Camerontown, where mining crews toiled around the clock to haul golden ore from the earth.
The wood-planked town of Barkerville sprang up near the creek, joining Richfield and Camerontown, where mining crews toiled around the clock to haul golden ore from the earth. By 1865, a wagon road connected the south with the goldfields, and Barkerville’s population reached 10,000, one of the largest settlements in western Canada, and at the time the largest community west of Chicago and north of San Francisco!
Many of the region’s early miners were Chinese immigrants, who worked white prospectors’ abandoned mines and tailings by washing sand and gravel from rocks that were then neatly piled on the Fraser River’s shores. These ‘Chinese rocks’ are still visible today. By the mid-1860s, thousands of Chinese lived in Barkerville and several other gold rush towns, including Stanley, Van Winkle, Quesnel, Antler, Quesnelle Forks and Lillooet, where Chinese miners took millions out of Cayoosh Creek. Mining was not these immigrants’ only labour; they also operated stores, laundries, lodging houses and worked as cooks. Though only a handful of prospectors struck it rich, the Gold Rush completely changed the face of British Columbia. Roads and bridges were built, stores and mills opened and ranches were founded.
In the Chilcotin Mountains, another gold rush followed in the 1930s and the Bralorne-Pioneer Mine near Gold Bridge became the richest gold claim in Canada. Bralorne, and other mine sites in the region, can still be visited today including sites in Wells, once a company town of the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine.
The historic ‘Gold Rush Trail’ has many places along its route to stop, explore, and get a feel of what it was like back then as you retrace the steps of the oxen carts and stagecoaches. Many of today’s communities along this route have historical connections to the gold rush era. Some began as roadhouses where stagecoaches stopped, travellers could overnight and horses would feed and water. One of the era’s last surviving
Barnard Express stagecoaches are displayed in 100 Mile House. Clinton, which celebrated its 150th Anniversary in 2013, showcases its lovely museum in a colourful red brick building which once served as a schoolhouse and later as a courthouse. At the 108 Mile Ranch Historic Site, pioneer buildings include a 1908 log barn which was built to house a herd of 200 Clydesdale horses.
The former gold rush supply centre of Quesnel hosts Billy Barker Days, a four-day festival in mid-July commemorating the region’s most famous gold seeker. The Gold Rush Trail’s terminus is the restored heritage town of Barkerville, now recognized as a Canadian National Heritage Site, where guided tours bring the lore of gold rush years to life. Period interpreters roam the streets dressed as historical characters; Judge Matthew Begbie (known in his time as the ‘hanging judge’) hands out frontier justice. Visitors can also pan for gold, enjoy delicious food at local eateries, be entertained by the colourful antics in the Theatre Royal’s live musicals, and stay the night in a local hotel or B&B. Barkerville is a great place for families to reconnect with Canada’s amazing history. Visit www.goldrushtrail.ca to see more.