Exploring a Cariboo gold-rush town

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.

Wordy Wednesday: abandoned between the Rudy Johnson and Quesnel

I had intended doing a “Wordless Wednesday” blogpost but realised that just wouldn’t be possible. Instead, here we go with abandoned places between the Rudy Johnson Bridge north of William’s Lake and my current hometown Quesnel here in western Canuckistan.

The Rudy Johnson bridge (which is still very much in use) spans the Fraser River downriver from Soda Creek. It had been lying in a gravel pit in Alaska when Cariboo farmer Rudy Johnson decided to buy it in the 1960s, disassemble it into over 3,300 pieces (not counting the nuts and bolts) and ship it all the way to where it now stands. His crusade to span the Fraser was launched after his wife almost drowned in 1967 using the local ferry upriver from their farm. The ferry and hanging metal cage they had been using for years to cross the river had always been an inconvenience, but his wife’s brush with death catapulted him on his quest.

In all, the bridge itself cost Johnson $40,000 and another $200,000 to install where it now stands. As reported in The Mouth of the Kenai newspaper, “Johnson attempted to convince the provincial government to pay for and take control of the bridge, but he was rebuffed. To recoup some of his investment, he began charging a toll to commercial vehicles, while allowing private vehicles to pass freely. Ten years later, the province opted to purchase the bridge and assume control of its maintenance. Despite the official takeover, however, the bridge never lost its identity as the Rudy Johnson Bridge.”

Rudy Johnson Bridge (3) Rudy Johnson Bridge (2) Rudy Johnson Bridge (1)

The rest of the photos I shot on my way back to Quesnel from the bridge.

Old farmhouse on the Wiliams Lake Cut Off Road. The farm is still functioning, but it seems this home has fallen into disrepair.
Old farmhouse on the Wiliams Lake Cut Off Road. The farm is still functioning, but it seems this home has fallen into disrepair and is uninhabited.
Our Lady of Good Counsel church in the Xats'Ull Town Site.
Our Lady of Good Counsel church in the Xats’Ull Town Site.
A cabin on the escarpment in the Xats'Ull Town Site.
A cabin on the escarpment overlooking the Fraser River in the Xats’Ull Town Site.
Basketball backboard at an old school site in McLeese Lake
Basketball backboard at an old school in McLeese Lake.
A photo of McLeese Lake from the Resort Motel which is closed and up for sale.
A photo of McLeese Lake from the Resort Motel, which is closed and up for sale.
An old farmhouse on the Cariboo Highway, around Marguerite
An old farmhouse on the Cariboo Highway, around Marguerite. (I’m told this is actually a barn, stable or chicken coop.)
An old house on the banks of the Fraser River
Shack on the banks of the Fraser River. (This was apparently the old site of the Marguerite Ferry.)
Twas once a stove (inside the shack).
Twas once a stove (inside the shack).
A collapsed ceiling in the shack.
A collapsed ceiling in the shack.
K n C’s Diner, Fort Alexandria. Not abandoned, but closed for the winter.
K n C’s Diner, Fort Alexandria. Not abandoned, but closed for the winter.
“Our Lady of Perpetual Hope” at the top of Chinn Hill, which was founded in the 1940s and closed in the late ’60s.
“Our Lady of Perpetual Help,” which was founded in the 1940s and closed in the late ’60s, at the top of Chinn Hill.
A beached boat just past “Our Lady of Perpetual Hope.”
A beached boat just past “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” Every time I drive past I wonder about its story, which is apparently linked to the Mennonite community.
Alexandria Elementary, which closed at least 30 years ago.
Alexandria Elementary, which closed at least 30 years ago.
Rusting jalopy, Alexandria
Rusting jalopy, Alexandria
The burner from “Mathesons’ Sawmill” in Fort Alexandria.
The burner from “Mathesons’ Sawmill” in Fort Alexandria.

Abandoned. Exploited.

I love photographing abandoned places. I love imagining the stories behind the property; the real people, the real lives that once existed in the now-deserted spot.

Every time I asked friends about (aforementioned) places I could photograph around here they would mention the “Cariboo Ford place” down highway 97. Earlier this week I took a drive down said highway towards Williams Lake and found it. I thought they meant an old Ford garage, but it is, in fact, just an old beat-up, burnt-out home which a car company uses as advertising space.

Of course, I photographed it. My tripod is back in South Africa already, but I mostly managed to avoid too much camera shake.

Snapshots from Strathcona …

… and a few other spots.

I am in Edmonton, Alberta (that’s in Canuckistan, for all you geographically-challenged ones) for a few days. Earlier this week my friends and I drove down to Old Strathcona, just south of the North Saskatchewan River, to take the historic tram to the Alberta Legislature building. There we wandered around for forty minutes in the warm summer sun, before catching the last tram of the day back to the terminus.

As two of our party had our cameras with us, we then wandered the artsy, vibey streets of Old Strathcona before supper.

(Click on images for the slideshow.)

An historic old town through a winter lens

Ever since I arrived in Canuckistan I have been telling my friends that I really want to find a ghost town to photograph. The closest I’ve come is the abandoned, burnt-out church (which is beautiful and a perfect subject in its own right) and a couple of old farm houses between Whistler and here.

Of course, the Cariboo Gold Rush town of Barkerville isn’t far from where I live, but I never really felt like going there, after reading that “each year, thousands of visitors from all over the world travel to … this one-of-a-kind heritage attraction.” I was looking for semi-abandoned, no tourists, real, falling down and history-filled … and Barkerville didn’t seem to fit the bill.

When a friend suggested that we drive up earlier this week though, I agreed. The town is closed through most of the winter, and on the day we visited the only people about were labourers doing maintenance and other odds and ends to prepare for the town’s Spring season opening in May. I’m still looking for a proper ghost town, of course, but this will have to do until I find one.

I’m not going to go into Barkerville’s history here, and bore you more than necessary. If you’d like more info you can click on through to the town’s official website or to its Wikipedia page.

Click on images for larger versions.