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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