Barkerville, B.C. – A Grave History

Written by: Megan Kopp

At its peak in the 1860s, the gold mining town of Barkerville, B.C. was the biggest thing west of Chicago and north of San Francisco.

The ghost town today sees a mere fraction of the number of people that once clomped along the wooden sidewalks off Williams Creek in the foothills of the Cariboo Mountains. Past glories have become faded memories. Stories of what life was like back in the goldrush era need to be carefully curated and fleshed out by historians. One surprising way to uncover life is to look at death. Cemeteries are devoted to remembering lives, and the historic Barkerville Cemetery is no exception.

Walking Back in Time

We tromped along with a small group on a guided tour, passing the site of the Royal Cariboo Hospital before arriving at the hillside resting place for miners and soldiers, surveyors and shopkeepers, doctors and lawyers. Most came from Canada and the United States. Others travelled to Barkerville from as far away as Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden and Germany.

Grave marker for Peter Gibson – the first person buried in the Barkerville Cemetery. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

31, 21, 32, 24, 25 – many people died young in the goldfields. Peter Gibson was the first soul to be laid to rest on July 24th, 1863 in what was then known as the Cameronton Cemetery. Peter, 31, died of typhoid fever. He worked for John ‘Cariboo’ Cameron before his early demise.

Cariboo Cameron was a miner who struck it rich with a claim on Williams Creek. A small township grew up around his strike. Not surprisingly, it was dubbed Cameronton. Cameron himself died on November 7th, 1888. At the age of 68, Cameron is one of the oldest people buried in the cemetery.

Sidenote: Although Cameron was a noteworthy citizen, it’s the tale of his first wife – who is not actually buried in the Barkerville cemetery – that is even more memorable. Seriously, who has “two caskets, three funerals and four burials?”

By 1866, the Barkerville Cemetery had 27 graves. There were no Chinese or Native burials in this graveyard – a reflection of the time. Most of the burials were men – a reflection of the population demographics during the goldrush.

Women of the Goldrush

One notable woman buried in the Barkerville Cemetery is Janet Allan. The marker on her grave reads:

Sacred
to the 
memory of
Janet Allan

The Beloved Wife of
William Allan
Native of Fireshire
Scotland

Who departed this life
September 1870

Aged 42 years

Sometimes I wish we could rewrite these tributes. There’s an interpretive sign just outside of the town of Barkerville that tells so much more of Janet’s story.

“…dressed like a man, drank like a man, and died like a man…”

Janet was actually better known as ‘Scotch Jenny’ – a well-respected woman who showed kindness for the sick. Apparently this store keeper’s wife also dressed like a man, drank like a man, and died like a man (when the carriage she was driving plunged over a bank into William’s Creek on September 7th, 1870).

Costumed tour guides lead regular hikes to the Barkerville Cemetery. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Today, our journey to see Scotch Jenny’s final resting place was less of a hike and more of a stroll up the 750 metre (1/2 mile) long, accessible trail from St Saviour’s Anglican Church – along a portion of the old Cariboo Wagon Road. Guided tours to the Baskerville Cemetery run on a regular basis, departing from the church.

Go ahead, take a walk and discover life through death with Barkerville’s fascinating grave history.

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What a Rush: Barkerville, B.C.

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Most people have heard of the California ‘49ers. Many know of the Klondike stampeders heading up to the Yukon in 1898. But what about the gold fever surrounding Barkerville, British Columbia? It lies smack dab in the middle of the western gold rush timeline.

Barkerville

Connecting to the Past

I have three reasons for having a soft spot for the Cariboo gold rush story. One, because I lived in the Cariboo as a child.

Two, because my grandpa – William Hill – worked the old slag heaps in Barkerville, searching for overlooked gold in the 1930s. He also searched for gold in the nearby abandoned mining town of Quesnelle Forks in 1940s.

Wedding photo
Married at The Forks (Photo: Dave Blanchard)

And because, three, we chose that abandoned mining town, at the junction of the Cariboo and Quesnel Rivers, as the site of our wedding.

Since we were driving by Barkerville – on our way to paddle the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit – with friends who had never heard of Barkerville’s epic tale, we just had to make a little detour and show it off.

Billy’s Story

William ‘Billy’ Barker was a working-class English prospector. He started in the California goldfields in the mid-1800s. As the gold played out, Barker joined the thousands of other miners who headed north to what is now British Columbia.

The goldseekers followed the Fraser River inland in search of rich ore. Eventually, Billy and many other miners found their way to Cariboo.

William ‘Dutch Bill’ Dietz made the first strike. William’s Creek – which runs through Barkerville – is named after him. A town grew up around the strike. It was called Richfield. Billy Barker tried his luck a little further downstream of Richfield.

On August 17, 1862, Billy and his seven partners found gold at 52 feet. Billy’s mine-shaft was the deepest around. In just two days, the miners pulled out over 1700 grams (60 ounces) of gold.

The rush was on.                      

Most of the gold was found during the first five years of Cariboo gold rush. William’s Creek and two of its tributaries produced $30,000,000 of gold between 1861 and 1898.

Barkerville became the heart of the Cariboo when a 650-kilometre (404-mile) wagon road from Yale, B.C. was built to haul gear in and gold out of the goldfields. It was finished in 1865. Barkerville was the final stop along the road.

Historic wagon rides
The end of the Cariboo wagon road. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Barkerville Today

Barkerville is the largest living-history museum in western North America.

Today, the tourist attraction features over 100 restored buildings.

There are stagecoach rides, live theatre, old-fashioned photo studios and guided tours.

Watch for costumed interpreters roaming the streets, playing the roles of historic characters.

Barkerville: By the Numbers

  • 1868 – The town is destroyed by fire and quickly rebuilt
  • 1894 – The town’s namesake dies a pauper in Victoria, B.C.
  • 1924 – Barkerville is designated a Canadian National Historic Site
  • 107 – Heritage buildings
  • 62 – Replica buildings
  • 1958 – Barkerville is declared a Provincial Heritage Property
  • 50,000-60,000 – Number of annual visitors today

Finally, if you go:

Barkerville is located in central British Columbia, about 85 kilometres (53 miles) east of Quesnel, at the edge of the Cariboo Mountains.

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Hiking the Chilkoot Trail: Historic Gear Checklists

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Posted in one of the cooking shelters at Sheep Camp, we found a sheet of paper with historic packing list suggestions for men and women planning to hike the Chilkoot Trail through Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon.

Read the lists below and – after you research to learn that oakum is tarred fibre used to plug cracks, that mackinaw is a water-repellent woolen cloth and you stop laughing at the fact that women were advised to bring both house and knitted slippers – you will appreciate why the Chilkoot Trail became the world’s longest museum of discarded gear!

Gear for Men – as listed by Pierre Berton in his book, Klondike, p. 245

  • Three suits of heavy underwear
  • A mackinaw suit
  • Two pairs of mackinaw trousers
  • A heavy rubber-lined coat
  •  A dozen pairs of wool socks
  • Half a dozen pairs of mittens
  • Two over shirts
  • Two pairs of snag-proof rubber boots
  • Two pairs of shoes
  • Two pairs of blankets
  • Four towels
  • Two pairs of overall
  • A suit of oilskin clothing
  • Five yards of mosquito netting

Groceries:

  • 400 lbs flour
  • 50 lbs cornmeal
  • 50 lbs oatmeal
  • 35 lbs rice
  • 100 lbs beans
  • 40 lbs candles
  • 100 lbs granulated sugar
  • 8 lbs baking powder
  • 200 lbs bacon
  • 2 lbs soda
  • 36 yeast cakes
  • 15 lbs salt
  • 1 lb pepper
  • ½ lb mustard
  • ¼ lb ginger
  • 25 lbs evaporated apples
  • 25 lbs evaporated peaches
  • 25 lbs evaporated apricots
  • 25 lbs fish
  • 10 lbs pitted plums
  • 50 lbs evaporated onions
  • 50 lbs evaporated potatoes
  • 24 lbs coffee
  • 5 lbs tea
  • 4 dozen tins condensed milk
  • 5 bars laundry soap
  • 60 boxes matches
  • 15 lbs soup vegetables
  • 25 cans butter

In addition, one must bring these items: steel stove, gold pan, three nest of granite buckets, a cup, plate, knife, fork, two spoons, two frying pans, coffeepot, pick, hand saw, whipsaw, whetstone, hatchet, two shovels, three files, draw-knife, axe, three chisels, twenty pounds of nails, butcher knife, hammer, compass, jackplane, square, Yukon sled, two hundred feet of rope, fifteen pounds of pitch, ten pounds of oakum, and a canvas tent.

Our gang geared up at the bottom of the pass. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Gear for Women – as suggested by Annie Hall Strong in The Skagway News on December 31, 1897

  • 1 pair house slippers
  • 1 pair knitted slippers
  • 1 pair heavy-soled walking shoes
  • 1 pair arctics
  • 1 pair felt boots
  • 1 pair German socks
  • 1 pair heavy gum boots
  • 3 heavy all-wool stockings
  • 3 pair summer stockings
  • 2 pair summer stockings
  • Moccasins can be purchased here of the Indians. The tall bicycle shoe with extra sole would make an excellent walking shoe. In the way of wearing apparel, a woman can comfortably get along with:
  • 1 good dress
  • 1 suit heavy Mackinaw, waist and bloomers
  • 1 summer suit
  • 3 short skirts of heavy duck or denim, to wear over bloomers
  • 3 suits winter underwear
  • 3 suits summer underwear
  • 1 chamois undervest
  • 1 long sack nightdress, make of eiderdown or flannel
  • 1 cotton nightdress
  • 2 pair arctic mittens
  • 1 pair heavy wool gloves
  • 1 cap
  • 1 arctic hood
  • 1 hat with brim broad enough to hold the mosquito-netting away from the face
  • 1 summer dress
  • 3 aprons
  • 2 wrappers
  • 2 shirtwaists
  • some sort of gloves for summer wear; to protect hands from mosquitoes

Bedding:

  • 1 piece of canvas, 5 ft x 14 ft
  • 1 rubber blanket
  • 2 pair, better 4 pair, all wool blankets
  • 1 feather pillow
  •  A ready-sewed tick will be very nice to have, for it can be filled with dried moss and makes a good pioneer mattress.

“An old miner would no doubt laugh me to scorn for suggesting a little satchel or handbag, but the comfort derived from the hundred and one little extras a woman can deftly stow away in it will doubly repay the bother of carrying it.” – Annie Hall Strong

Yup, I always take a little handbag… of course mine is called a backpack.

What’s the most favorite piece of gear on your backpacking checklist?

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Falling in Love With Guanajuato, Mexico

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

It was love at first sight as the taxi emerged from the maze of underground tunnels which spilled out onto the streets of Guanajuato, Mexico.

In the twilight glow, the colours softened to warm buttery yellows, burnt oranges and tranquil blues. This is what we came to see.

A Gilded Beauty

UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, Guanajuato has an outstanding collection of Baroque and neoclassical buildings that date back to the 17th century. Founded in the early 16th century, Guanajuato became the world leader in silver production in the 18th century.

At first light the next morning we started walking, up and down the impossibly narrow and infinitely charming maze of streets, stopping at every turn for yet another photograph. Eventually, we ended up in the heart of the city, staring in awe at the Templo de San Diego.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - front view. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Templo de San Diego – front view. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Templo de San Diego

Built between 1671 and 1696, this imposing Baroque monument is shaped like a Latin cross. A large sacristry was added on the hill side of the sprawling building. The right hand bell tower, added in the 18th century, is in the Mexican Churrigueresque style.

For a bird’s eye view of the church and an overview of the city, we take the footpath that begins near the funicular at the back of the church. Even in bright midday sun, the scene is a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. What’s not to love about this colourful colonial city?

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - top view. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Templo de San Diego – top view. (Photo: B. Kopp)

If You Go:

We stayed at El Meson de los Poetas which, like most buildings in town, is built on a narrow lot that snakes up the hillside. We recommend the Octavio Paz suite for the views, however if you don’t like stairs, avoid rooms numbered in the 400s!

The bus ride from Guadalajara to Guanajuato takes about 4 hours.

For further information about Guanajuato, visit the Mexican Tourist Board website.

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