A HOLIDAY IN Time
COME TO THE LAND OF STUNNING LANDSCAPES WITH WORKING RANCHES, RUNNING RIVERS, FLOWING LAKES, AND VAST FORESTS AND GRASSLANDS
Have you ever wanted to go back in time to get a glimpse of what the ndWild West was really like? To see cattle roam the range, watch cowboys and cowgirls round up the herd, visit homesteads, barns and equipment from early days, stay at a roadhouse, or watch wildlife in their natural habitat? We did all this and more in the region known as the “Chilcotin”.
The Chilcotin starts 24 km west of Williams Lake on Highway 20, after crossing the Fraser River on the Sheep Creek Bridge.
The highway winds up to rolling hills and grasslands of the Chilcotin plateau.
Although the highway has many names, from Chilcotin Wagon Road, Chilcotin Highway, Freedom Highway, Alexander Mackenzie Highway to Highway 20, they all are the same road. In 1953, the last leg of the highway was completed by the local people, which gave them a road to freedom from the secluded coastal village of Bella Coola. This change extended the length of the highway to 457 km from Williams Lake (British Columbia’s third outlet to the Pacific Ocean).
In the 1860’s, European immigrants started settling on the west side of the Fraser River to begin ranching and raising beef to feed the miners working in the Cariboo Gold Fields. Even though the gold rush was short-lived and many miners left, the people that stayed are now sixth generation ranchers.
Highway 20 is dotted with homesteads, barns, equipment and old fence lines from those early days.
The little communities of Riske Creek, Hanceville (Lee’s Corner), Alexis Creek, and Anahim Lake are either named after First Nations’ Chiefs or the first cattle pioneers to live in the area.
Every year, starting in the spring, cows are moved from the cattle ranches to their summer grazing meadows. Some use Hwy 20, and it is not uncommon to watch cattle passing by your window, or see cows and horses grazing on the edge of the highway. When September comes around, workers are out in their fields, cutting, raking and bailing hay to feed their cows over the long winter months, just as they did over a century ago. Every ranch has their own bone yard (private retirement place for old equipment) and is loaded with antiques used by their forefathers.
The Historic Village of Alexis Creek (112 km from Williams Lake) was a must stop for us. The Chilcotin Visitor Information Centre is managed by retired rancher Val Telford; all the staff are volunteers, and very proud of their history. While having a cup of coffee, we got the lowdown on the ranchers, their family history and important sites to visit in the Chilcotin. The log hospital across the street was built by local ranchers in 1914, and is still used today.
Driving west from Alexis Creek on Highway 20, we entered an area known as “Bull Canyon” (6 km from Alexis Creek).
The area is bordered with rock cliffs on the right and the Chilcotin River on the left; making it a natural resting place for cows during cattle drives to BC’s interior - hence the name “Bull Canyon”.
Bull Canyon Provincial Park has 20 campsites with an interpretive walking trail that follows the Chilcotin River. The sites and trail are very well maintained. Across the highway from the campsite are a series of small caves worth exploring.
Traveling west on Hwy 20, we took a detour off the main road to Siwash Bridge and watched the First Nations people dip netting for salmon on the Chilco River. For generations, they have been coming back to this spot, catching fish to feed their families for the winter.
The torques glacier water of the Chilco River originates from the deep Chilco Lake, 72 km up stream. The river’s run of sockeye is the third largest in British Columbia.
Just below Siwash Bridge, about two kms, the Chilco joins the Chilcotin River. At the confluence of the two rivers, the Hudson Bay Company built a fur trading post in 1829.
There are nine eateries and six gas stations spaced out on the 235 km section of highway known as the Chilcotin. After driving through rolling hills and grasslands, historic buildings, hotels and restaurants, we came to a modern, state-of-the-art, small village. Redstone, 36 km west of Alexis Creek, is home to the Kinikinik Restaurant. Owners Felix and Jasmine Schellenberg have done a remarkable job, building the property up from grazing land and wire fences.
The restaurant serves certified organic meat, poultry and vegetables from their own ranch. The Schellenberg’s also have nice cabins for rent. It was a great place to sit back, relax, and plan the last leg of our historic adventure through time.
Our next stop was Tatla Lake at the historic Graham Inn, built in 1930 by Bob Graham. The Grahams have lived in the Chilcotin since 1880’s. The Inn is now under new ownership; they specialize in home-cooked meals with different dinner themes throughout the week. Accommodations and a gas station are right next door.
We arrived just before sunset and the lakefront property at the Inn was teeming with wildlife. With the snow-capped mountains in the distance, we could have not have asked for a better ending to our historic journey.
“The Chilcotin is where the pioneering spirit lives on and legends are born”. We will be back.
The Chilcotin is where the pioneering spirit lives on and legends are born