It was the Cowboy and Drover Jubilee the weekend I visited Barkerville and the best way to describe it was ‘rollicking’. I felt the excitement from the moment I walked through the entrance gate, where I was greeted by Dirk van Stralen the town’s marketing and communications director, and I was told, “Just let yourself pretend you are right back in the old days!” Dirk walked me part way down the dusty road of the town’s main street and explained some of what I might expect to see, then he bade be goodbye and I was on my own to explore.
Museum display of early Chinese pioneer
General store and Chinese Museum
Opium was legal until 1910.
Archaeological dig at site where the Chinese grew vegetable gardens
At the end of that road was a sign warning about bears, so I turned back. Another mile up the road is another village, Richfield, where the courthouse is located and you can watch a re-enactment of Judge Begbie, the “hanging judge” conduct a trial. If I’d had time I would have hopped on one of the stagecoaches and got a ride there. But there was just too much to see right in town so I headed back down the road to explore.
Barkerville is a typical gold rush boomtown. It was named after William (Billy Barker) who struck it rich in Williams Creek back in 1862. Billy was a prospector who had come from England to seek his fortune, leaving behind a wife and child. His wife eventually died in the poorhouse in England while Barker sought his fortune in the wild west of North America beginning with the California gold rush. Then he decided to come north. As luck would have it, his party discovered gold in the Williams Creek area. In a short period of time he and his crew pulled out about 60 ounces of gold and as a result, the settlement of Barkerville grew up around his claim. Barkers claim turned out to be the richest in the area. He pulled out roughly 37,500 oz. of gold during that time. But he died penniless in a Victoria nursing home on July 11, 1894 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Ross Bay Cemetery.
Unfortunately six years later the town burned down. The story goes that a young miner was trying to steal a kiss from a Hurdy-gurdy girl in a bar and accidentally knocked over a lamp which set the place aflame. The town was quickly rebuilt but the glory days were waning and when another gold mine opened in nearby Wells in the 1930s some of the population moved there, although Barkerville was still occupied until 1958 when it became a heritage site.
Barkerville is one of the most intriguing and entertaining heritage sites I’ve visited in B.C. There are over 125 heritage buildings with rooms displayed in period furnishings just as if they are still occupied. A cast of actors including children, roam the streets and perform spontaneous dramas as would happen in daily life. As well there is the Royal Theatre that presents a rousing vaudeville show. There’s also demonstration of some of the mining equipment such as the Cornish Wheel that is sure to amuse with a feisty prospector and an ever-so-proper British lady, daughter of the mine owner.
The prospector and the lady demonstration the Cornish Wheel
The Royal Theatre
Cast of the Royal Theatre
Horse-drawn stagecoaches, wagons and buggies trot up and down the street and will take you on to the next town to the Richfield Courthouse where Judge Begbie presides over a trial.
I spent the entire day wandering and still couldn’t possibly see everything. I missed my chance to attend a school room session, and forgot to visit the cemetery. There was just so much to see I missed the Cowboy poets but I did attend a performance of the four finalists for the cowboy singing contest held in the old Methodist Church.
To get there if you don’t have your own transportation, I booked with West Coast Nature tours which included my hotel and transportation by shuttle to and from Quesnel.
Accomodation is available at the two B&Bs on site at Barkerville, at nearby Wells, or Quesnel as well as various campsites in the area.
Barkerville is open year-round. Summer programs take place May to late Septemb