What a Rush!

Mike Lane of Saanich­ton, B.C., takes us along as he trav­els back in time to the 1800s dur­ing the glory days of the Cari­boo Gold Rush in the his­toric town of Bark­erville, B.C.

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Travel back in time to the 1800s with Mike Lane of Saanich­ton, B.C., as he ex­plores the his­toric town of Bark­erville­—bri­tish Columbia’s Cari­boo Gold Rush town.

Every year for the past few years, my friend Gar and I have taken a road trip. One of our most mem­o­rable was a trip to Wil­liams Lake, B.C., to at­tend the lo­cal stam­pede. Af­ter the wrapup of the stam­pede, we were free to look around, so we de­cided to take a day trip to Bark­erville, some 200 kilo­me­tres away. Gar had never been, so it was a must­see for us.

The town of Bark­erville was founded in 1862 around English miner Billy Barker’s strike. Af­ter he struck gold, prospec­tors from around the world rushed to the area to stake claims and the town of Bark­erville soon boasted a pop­u­la­tion of 5,000. When the town burned to the ground in 1868, it was quickly re­built in the same place.

To­day, Bark­erville is val­ued pri­mar­ily as the most in­tact ex­am­ple of the types of com­mu­ni­ties and build­ings that were con­structed dur­ing the Cari­boo Gold Rush.

The Bri­tish Columbia gold rushes, which be­gan in 1858, are im­por­tant to the his­tory of Bri­tish Columbia be­cause they brought gold-seek­ers in in­creas- ing num­bers and di­rectly led to the cre­ation of the Bri­tish colony that set the foun­da­tion for the fu­ture prov­ince in 1871.

Bark­erville His­toric Town and Park is a provin­cially owned Her­itage Prop­erty and Park as well as a Gov­ern­ment of Canada Na­tional His­toric Site. On its web­site, Bark­erville is de­scribed as “an au­then­tic, unique, world­class her­itage ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Back in Wil­liams Lake and ready to start the day, we put gas in the car and drove north up High­way 97 to Ques­nel, then turned east on High­way 26; by 9: 30 a. m. we were at Cot­ton­wood House.

Cot­ton­wood House is one of the last re­main­ing road­houses in Bri­tish Columbia. It was built in the 1860s to of­fer ac­com­mo­da­tion, meals and pro­vi­sions to min­ers and trav­ellers on their jour­ney along the Cari­boo Wagon Road to Bark­erville or Ques­nel. We spent half an hour tour­ing around the old re­stored build­ings, then car­ried on to­wards Wells. Along the way, we spot­ted a moose cross­ing the high­way, so we stopped for photos, as Gar had never seen a moose be­fore. It was an ex­cit­ing start to the day.

We were in Wells a lit­tle af­ter 11 a.m., look­ing at and pho­tograph­ing the old build­ings. Wells is a funky lit­tle place where all the old houses are painted vi­brant colours. I went into the Wells Ho­tel look­ing for a meal and en­joyed a plate of de­li­cious ba­con and eggs in the restau­rant.

Bark­erville is just down the road from Wells and we pre­sented our­selves at the en­try gate—

and got our se­nior’s dis­count. I had been to Bark­erville a cou­ple of times be­fore but had for­got­ten just how in­ter­est­ing it was.

We started by go­ing into the old school­house on the main street. We were met by Mr. Dods, the head­mas­ter. He asked us to re­move our hats as he showed us around the rooms. He gave us a brief his­tory les­son, all the while stay­ing very much in char­ac­ter. He was wear­ing a pe­riod cos­tume from the 1860s and spoke in a slightly for­mal fash­ion, as if he were talk­ing to his stu­dents. He was very con­vinc­ing.

Af­ter get­ting our his­tory les­son, Gar and I sep­a­rated, as I wanted to take photos while Gar was happy to wan­der over to the sawmill and mine work­ings.

It had taken about three hours to get to Bark­erville from Wil­liams Lake, so it only left us a cou­ple of hours to ex­plore. I went into all the build­ings and took lots of photos. It was a hot day, so I went into the gen­eral store to buy an ice cream—mr. Dods was sit­ting at a ta­ble. He ac­knowl­edged me with a nod of his head and said, “Mr. Lane, please re­mem­ber to take off your hat when you en­ter any build­ing. Thank you.” I took off my ball cap and smiled at him, and he nod­ded in re­ply.

There’s lots to see and do in Bark­erville, and you re­ally need a cou­ple of days to truly ex­pe­ri­ence it all. For a start, there’s Judge Beg­bie’s court­house, where you can learn about early jus­tice and hear anec­dotes about Bark­erville’s crim­i­nals and in­fa­mous char­ac­ters. Then you could go on a tour of one of

Canada’s old­est Chi­na­towns or try gold pan­ning at the El­do­rado Gold Pan­ning and Gift Shop. We didn’t have time to do all the ac­tiv­i­ties that Bark­erville of­fers, but we came away with a real ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what life was like there in the 1860s.

Gar and I met up later and watched some kids hav­ing a great time pan­ning for gold, but by 2 p.m. we had to get in the car and leave in or­der to get back to Wil­liams Lake by din­ner­time. It had been a re­ally good day and I would rec­om­mend a trip to Bark­erville to any­one. It’s just plain fun! n

Well-pre­served build­ings line Bark­erville’s main street. A board­walk helps vis­i­tors on rainy days.

Clock­wise from above: most in­te­ri­ors are main­tained in an 1800s style; St. Saviours Angli­can Church still holds daily ser­vices in sum­mer; the staff all wear pe­riod cos­tumes.

Clock­wise from above: Bark­erville’s main street can get crowded in sum­mer; Bark­erville staff lend an air of his­tory to the town; a staff mem­ber drives the stage­coach.

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