Travels in Central B.C. Part 2 – The Gold Rush Trail

A coach makes its way down the streets of Barkerville pulled by Belgian and Percheron horses. Barkerville, the scene of B.C.’s gold rush starting in the 1860s, has been reconstructed and brought back to life. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The British Columbia gold rushes that started at the end of the 1850s and boomed throughout the 1860s played a major role in opening up the B.C. Interior and its transportation routes.

On the second part of my trip to Central B.C. in late June, I explored some of the routes traveled by gold prospectors and miners around the upper Fraser Valley and beyond.

I visited several old mining communities, the most noteworthy of which were Quesnel Forks and Barkerville.

Quesnel Forks, near the present community of Likely, was established in 1860 and for a while was a major supply centre for the Cariboo Gold Rush.

Built at the confluence of the Quesnel and Cariboo rivers, the community was a jumping off point to other gold discoveries in the region. For a while, it served a transient mining population of a couple thousand.

Quesnel Forks boomed for a short time, but when the Cariboo Wagon Road was finished in the mid-1860s, the route bypassed Quesnel Forks, instead directing mining traffic through Barkerville.

A decade later, most of Quesnel Forks’ population was gone. A small community of Chinese miners and merchants remained. By the 1950s, the last residents had either died or moved and Quesnel Forks became a ghost town.

Today it is a peaceful place with a maintained cemetery in which many of those buried were killed in mining accidents. Community volunteers have restored some of the town’s old buildings, while others are little more than remnants of a foundation and pieces of wood.

I visited Barkerville first, even though it developed later than Quesnel Forks. Barkerville was built on the site of a gold strike in 1861 by Billy Barker and others.

It is 80 km east of Quesnel by Highway 26, which was built along the old Cariboo Wagon Road.

Barkerville had a population of 5,000 in the mid-1860s, when it became a regional mining centre. More than half the population was Chinese.

Since 1957, Barkerville has been developed under the B.C. government as a tourist attraction. Some of its buildings are more or less original, while others have been rebuilt based on whatever historical records exist, or based on how similar buildings of the time may have looked.

When you walk through Barkerville today, there are interpretive actors in roles of people from the 1860s. Some of the building interiors are done up to make them look as they might have in the heyday of Barkerville, including objects from that time. Others provide eateries and other services to tourists.

Although the restoration is very well done, today’s Barkerville lacks the grittiness shown in 19th century photographs.

I camped two nights at Ten Mike Lake Provincial Park outside Quesnel and two nights at Cedar Point Provincial Park near Likely as I explored the region.

Here are some photos from Barkerville and Quesnel Forks. I’ll have more in a coming post from some of the explorations of the region.

Richard McGuire

Click on thumbnails to view as gallery with larger images:

A horse carriage makes its way past the Barkerville Anglican Church, erected in 1869 and still on its original site. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A priest rings the bell on Barkerville’s Anglican church. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Two women of Barkerville work in a garden next to the school. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A coach driver and his horses — a Belgian and a Percheron — take a break in downtown Barkerville. The 1860s gold rush town has been reconstructed and populated with interpretive actors. (Richard McGuire Photo)

This Barkerville interpretive actor complained to a local woman about his terrible toothache. He was reluctant to take her advice. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Barkerville interpretive actors do a scene in which a local woman offers a man a potion for his toothache — a potion intended for every ailment except toothaches. (Richard McGuire Photo)

To relieve the pain of a toothache in a man’s right cheek, a woman slaps him in his left. The interpretive actors carried out this scene at Barkerville, B.C., a reconstructed gold rush town. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A dental business in downtown Barkerville promises painless tooth extraction. Barkerville is a reconstructed gold rush town east of Quesnel, B.C. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A reconstructed saloon in Barkerville, B.C. shows that these gold rush drinking establishments were sometimes quite small. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A group of tourists travels through Barkerville on a stage coach pulled by Percheron horses. Merchants and local residents wave to them. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Three interpretive actors at Barkerville play out a discussion about the future of the British Columbia colony in the 1860s. The woman at left argued for remaining a British colony. The man on the road favoured joining the United States, while the man on the boardwalk at right argued for joining the new Dominion of Canada. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Three Barkerville characters chat outside the gold rush town’s theatre. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The Barkerville theatre is used today for variety stage shows. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Some of the 19th century interpretive actors were hanging out around the theatre in Barkerville. At right is Richard Thomas Wright, who wrote an excellent history book titled Barkerville and the Cariboo Goldfields. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The print shop of the Cariboo Sentinel shows what a newspaper office might have looked like in the years after it began publishing in 1865. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Lead type was set by hand at the Cariboo Sentinel, which published from 1865 to 1875 in Barkerville. (Richard McGuire Photo)

At the edge of Barkerville’s Chinatown is the Chinese school. Pictured, the young teacher could be a disciplinarian if students spoke out of turn. (Richard McGuire Photo)

In this Chinese lesson, Barkerville visitors spent 45 minutes learning the basics of speaking Mandarin, writing Chinese characters, and how to do arithmetic with an abacus. (Richard McGuire Photo)

This store sold basic goods near the entrance to Barkerville’s Chinatown. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Tourists explore the streets of Barkerville, which has been restored to resemble the gold rush community in the 1860s. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A stage coach carrying a couple of tourists makes its way up the main street in Barkerville. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A blacksmith works in his shop in Barkerville. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Tourists and interpretive actors wander around on Barkerville’s main street. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A barbershop in Barkerville advertises that if your hair is falling, you can get it restored before you go bald. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Many of those buried at Quesnel Forks cemetery came from far and died in mining accidents. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A rusting vehicle and a log cabin are remnants of another time in the ghost town of Quesnel Forks. Local volunteers have restored many of the old buildings from the 19th century gold mining town. (Richard McGuire Photo)

An old truck decays in the bushes at Quesnel Forks, a ghost town. The 19th century mining town was still inhabited in the mid-20th century. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The house in the background was known as Missy Kim’s house after Yee May Kim, a purchased bride from China. Some of the buildings of Quesnel Forks have been restored by local volunteers. Others, like the one on the right, are in a more ruined state. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The Tong House in Quesnel Forks housed a Chinese fraternal society in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Leo “Shorty” Lahaie was the last full-time resident of Quesnel Forks. In the background is his restored cabin and to the left is his shed. The retired miner moved into nearby Likely and died in 1979. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The inside of Leo “Shorty” Lahaie’s cabin, now restored, looks pretty sparse. (Richard McGuire Photo)

An old woodstore and oven sits in the restored cabin of miner Leo “Shorty” Lahaie, the last full-time resident of Quesnel Forks. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Lupins and other wildflowers paint a colourful canvas along the road from Quesnel to Barkerville. (Richard McGuire Photo)

About Richard McGuire

Richard McGuire is a photographer and photojournalist based in Osoyoos in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia, Canada.


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