Like the miners of old, our destination as we travelled British Columbia’s gold rush trail was Barkerville situated high on the western edge of the Cariboo Mountains. Billy Barker found gold in nearby William’s Creek in 1862 triggering a stampede of thousands hoping to strike it rich. Barkerville soon had the largest population north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. Hungry for gold, men came from around the world and businesses of every description sprang into existence to provide for their needs and to profit from their earnings. Barkerville burned to the ground in September 1868 but it was quickly rebuilt.
As time went by and the gold supply dwindled, Barkerville became little more than a ghost town. In the late 1950s, the government of British Columbia decided that the town should be restored and operated as a tourist attraction. A great deal of effort went into ensuring its authenticity. Interestingly, as restoration began much was learned about life in Barkerville during its heyday from newspapers found stuffed behind walls to provide insulation from winter’s bitter cold.
When we walked through the doors of the Visitor’s Centre onto the streets of Barkerville, we stepped back in time. If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know that we are fascinated by old abandoned houses and the stories of the people who lived in them. Now imagine us surrounded by a whole town with more than 125 historical buildings, some original and some reconstructed! Boardwalks and dirt streets preserve the look of the original town and attendants in period costume add to the ambiance and entertain visitors with Barkerville’s stories.
Over the years, we’ve visited a number of similar sites; Fort Edmonton, Calgary’s Heritage Park, Nova Scotia’s Fortress of Louisbourg and Upper Canada Village near Morrisburg, Ontario. The latter is probably still my favourite because of its working lumber mill, textile mill and flour mill but unlike Barkerville, most of these are compilations of buildings brought from various different locations. Barkerville is unique in that it existed as a living town exactly where it stands today. The people whose stories we heard were real people. They came from around the world in search of gold and stayed to form a community. As we wandered the cemetery just outside town, we saw their names on the headstones. I wondered what it must be like for those who are still alive today who grew up in Barkerville and who saw their hometown become first a ghost town and then a tourist attraction. I wonder how many of them ever go back.
We easily spent a day and a half at Barkerville. We did the guided town tour and the historical tour of Chinatown, we took in the Cornish Waterwheel demonstration and ate at the Goldfield Bakery and at Wake-Up Jake’s Restaurant and Coffee Saloon, we saw a live show at the Theatre Royal and we browsed through the various shops.
Why not come and tour with us?