Eighty kilometres east of Quesnel, along BC Highway 26, lies Barkerville, the most well-known town from the Cariboo gold rush in the 1860s. The town sprung up quickly after Billy Barker (after whom the town is named) struck it rich on Williams Creek (which flows through town). The town burnt down a few years later and was rebuilt within months with better boardwalks, better buildings and wider streets.
By the mid 1860s the town had a population of around 5,000 and by the 1880s there were enough children in town for the first school to be built. But, within 40 years of it booming, as gold became more difficult to mine, and yields became more scarce, it went bust. Only a handful of miners stayed, barely eking out a living.
Most gold rush towns from this era have disappeared but in 1924 Barkerville was declared a National Historic Site of Canada, and in 1957 the government of British Columbia decided that the town should be restored and run as a tourist attraction. Since then it has operated as the Barkerville Historic Town, with anywhere between 50,000-60,000 annual visitors. It consists of 107 heritage buildings, 62 replica heritage buildings and over 200,000 authentic collection items.
Summer is an absolute hive of activity, with several activities offered to tourists daily. These include hands-on gold panning, town tours, the Theatre Royal’s productions in the Williams Creek Fire Brigade building, Anglican Church services and stage-coach rides.
Actors playing the part of town inhabitants from the 1860s can be found throughout town – from singing in the street, to serving Barkerville beer in the local pub, from drinking tea outside the local hotel to giving lessons in the schoolhouse to willing tourists. I tried to get them to break character, but to no avail. True professionals!
There really was plenty to do in town, and by the end of the day, after attending the “Mid Autumn Moon Festival” in the evening, I was exhausted. (I’ll have to do a separate blog on the festival later in the week.)
Previously I visited the town in winter, when it was all closed up and shut down, but in recent years they have expanded their repertoire and now offer winter activities too.
Here, though, are a few photos from around town last weekend, including many of the characters we encountered.