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Thursday, September 13, 2012



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.
The first brief stop along the way was the town of Hope. (The sign itself captured my attention!) Hope is the entryway to the Fraser Canyon where the mighty Fraser and Coquihalla rivers join. The town is nestled in the mountain pass of the Cascade and Coast Mountains.

Heading north, we soon pass the famous "Hells Gate", located immediately downstream of Boston Bar in the Fraser Canyon. Here the towering rock faces of the Fraser River plunge toward each other creating rapids.  From here you can go on river rafting excursion through this narrow passage of roiling water.

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.

This is also the canyon area where the first explorers came paddling down the river or portaging to the Coast. The scenery is spectacular, still as wild as it was then when later men trudged north in search of gold.

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.

Cache Creek was the halfway point for prospectors en route to the Cariboo Gold Fields. Here (above) you'll see a way-marker pointing in the directions of the many places these hopeful miners came from. Many were from California, others from England, Scotland, Ireland and other European countries.  Today travelers like myself who are following the historical gold rush trail still stop off at Cache Creek.

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.

Next stop is the rustic village of 100 Mile (also known as "Hundred Mile House") located on a plateau where there are numerous lakes.  The area is excellent for swimming, fishing, bird watching and horse-back riding. For thousands of years the Chilcotin First Nations lived, hunted and traded here and still claim the region as their traditional territory. In the mid 1800's miners flocked to the area folling the news of gold in the Cariboo. A wagon road was built to manage the traffic that came up from Lilloet on the Fraser River north to Barkerville. At the time, this was known as Bridge Creek House and was renamed 100 Mile House because it was 100 miles from Lilloet (Mile 0). Between 1862 and 1870 there were more than 100,000 travelers through this region. Eventually a freight and stagecoach line carried people and provision to the gold fields, cattle were imported and a thriving ranching culture developed.  By the 1900's logging and forestry became the dominant economic source.  Today tourism, logging and ranching are the leading industries in the South Cariboo.

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.


Thirtytwo degrees said...

I enjoyed reading this article, great photos, and fascinating tour. Lucky you to have such a beauty spot to visit and advertise. Canada owes you!

Wynn Bexton said...

Be sure and read the other three parts of the Road Trip stories. For a 3 day trip it was excellent (even though most of it was spent on the bus!)