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Barkerville, Cariboo Gold Rush in British Columbia, Canada

Updated on September 6, 2014

Large Gold Nugget

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Lucky Billy

Billy Barker was his name, and for him as for the others headed north that summer of 1862, gold had sounded its siren call. The gold that could be panned or washed from sandbar and stream had been exhausted. Miners now were sinking shafts deep into the rock and gravel near Williams Creek in the Cariboo. All the best claims had been staked by the time Cornish Billy and his six pals reached the creek; they staked below the canyon and were laughed at for their efforts, for there was no gold to be found there. They persevered. They dug 15 metres through gravel and past boulders. Here, they struck the richest gold deposits found in all that summer and perhaps ever in all of Cariboo.

1865 Barkerville, British Columbia

Source

Very Busy Town

As around every successful claim, a town grew up. Barkerville became the busiest gold-rush town of all, the terminus of the Cariboo Road, with houses, hotels, saloons, restaurants, a theatre, a Masonic Hall, a Chinatown, bathhouses, barbershops, laundries, any service or edifice a miner might need.

Since its founding, the town has had three lives. The first was the liveliest. Cattle drives and ox trains rumbled down the main street, churning it to mire. Gold dust poured onto saloon tables and men flung the hurdy-gurdy girls so high their toes might touch the ceiling. In winter, snow buried the streets and buildings. Wise or lucky men fled to Victoria; the losers huddled around their wood stoves and looked ahead to a more fortunate season. Barkerville burned to the ground in 1868, but in less than a month had been rebuilt.

Exploring Barkerville

Great Place to Visit

In time, though, the remaining gold could be obtained only by the big companies and their hydraulic processes. The prospectors and the gamblers moved on, to other gold rushes and other dreams. Barkerville became a quiet, backwoods Cariboo town. It came alive again in the 1930's Depression, when rumour had it that the price of gold was soon to rise. Prospectors, wanderers and speculators headed down the Cariboo trails once more, and Barkerville again saw bright lights and all-night parties.

That rush ended as the other had. Barkerville might have shared the fate of other gold towns, abandoned and weathered back into the bush. Then, in the 1960s, the Provincial Government declared Barkerville a historic site and restored it to its appearance after the fire of 1868. These days, thousands of tourists pour through the streets each summer, trying to recapture a little of the excitement that electrified the air that day in 1862 when BiDy Barker struck it rich.

Images: Kickstart70, public domain; Charles Gentile, public domain; JMEG, cc-3.0; I am I.A.M, cc-nc-3.0)
Images: Kickstart70, public domain; Charles Gentile, public domain; JMEG, cc-3.0; I am I.A.M, cc-nc-3.0) | Source
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