NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE GOLD FIELDS: HOPE AND BEYOND
For years I've been wanting to visit the old gold rush town of Barkerville in British Columbia's Cariboo district and finally this year I managed to accomplish this. It's a long trip by bus, 10 hours from Vancouver, but the journey was well worth it, through some of the west coast's most spectacular scenery.
This has also been a popular fishing ground for the local aboriginal communities and in the past, European settlers also congregated there to fish for salmon. It was on this route that the gold rush miners traversed up the river to the Cariboo gold fields.
North, toward the village of Cache Creek, there were the remains of forest fires that had ravaged the countryside in recent years.
Cache Creek is located at the junction of the Trans Canada Highway and Highway 97 on the Thompson Plateau, junction of the Cariboo and Thompson Valleys. There are rolling grasslands and hills covered in sagebrush and cactus with a backdrop of beautiful mountains.
All along the route are pristine lakes. The little town of Lac La Hache is renowned for excellent fishing. The lake is a popular for swimming, boating, parasailing, water skiing and camping. Even in the winter there are activities such as ice fishing, cross country skiing and skating. I was most impressed by Lac La Hache. For many years I knew the name but this was the first time I'd visited there.
After Lac la Hache, passing through 100 Mile, there is another spectacular lake known as Dragon Lake. At the north end of this lake is Williams Lake, a small town in the central Cariboo. They are famous for the Williams Lake Stampeded. The town is named in honour of Secwepemc chief William who was instrumental in counselling the Shuswap band from joining the Chilcotin in their uprising against the new settlers back in the 1860's during the Cariboo Gold Rush.
This entire area is so rich with history, that for a history-buff like me it was a treasure trove of stories, added to the magnificent scenery. It was easy to imagine being one of those early settlers, the men trudging north to the gold fields, or the brave explorers who came down the river to the west coast.
The Cariboo Gold Rush attracted a rush of American prospectors to the Fraser Canyon in 1858 Many stayed on as permanent settlers. Others began to explore the rest of the province searching for new finds. It was after Billy Barker, a miner from England, struck pay-dirt north in Barkerville, that floods of men arrived from other parts of the world seeking their fortune in the gold fields around Quesnel. The area became known as "the Cariboo", NOT "Caribou", which is an Algonquin word "xalibu" meaning "a pawer or scracher'. In BC it is regarded as a corruption of the French word "Cariboeu or Cerboeuf" meaning "reindeer" as it is a favorite haunt of that species.
After ten enjoyable hours on the Greyhound bus, by 6.30 pm that evening I arrived at the town of Quesnel where the next phase of my Cariboo adventure began.
NEXT: Part II. Quesnel and beyond.