As soon as we pulled into the Barkerville parking lot, we knew it was going to be a good tour…the General Lee was there to greet us…yeehaw!
Now there are a few things to understand about this particular historic gold rush ghost town. Barkerville is well cared for, well maintained and rather ‘restricted’ – for a ghost town, anyway.
There is an official entry – the only way to set foot into the site – which is only open until 4pm from mid May to late September- and there are absolutely no pets allowed, though they introduced kennel services in 2012.
Barkerville, the largest historical site in BC, is filled with original gold rush homes and businesses, all of which you can enter.
The shops are open for purchases, restaurants provide a good meal and there is even a couple of hotels on site that you can stay overnight at – though I would suggest you make a reservation to do so.
There was the Wake Up Jake restaurant and Lung Duck Tong restaurant, a hotel, rooming houses, a bakery, a barbershop run by Wellington Moses, a Hudson’s Bay Company office, several Chinese shops, a few doctor’s offices, St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, and a bowling alley. The printing press for the Cariboo Sentinel was in Barkerville; this newspaper was an important source of news throughout the Cariboo.
Barkerville was really the place to be. Many of those same businesses are open now, and great effort is being made to maintain the 1800’s authenticity, so there is a lot to take in when touring each establishment.
It was busy on the summer day we ended up there, but the site is big enough that we could choose to get away from the masses by heading to ‘China Town’ or veering off the main street and onto a side, residential street.
When developed – quickly – the nearby forest was all but entirely chopped down to make mine shafts, shops and housing, seen around the site.
This meant that Barkerville was very muddy, and so board-walks were built up around the businesses to keep people out of the muck.
Many of those board-walks still stand, though the trees have grown back and the town no longer has a sloshy mud issue.
Though some of the residents took their belongings with them when they left Barkerville, a number of people did not. Their items remain for historical viewing, and the homes and businesses that were cleared, have been re-finished in the style of the era.
One of the coolest places in Barkerville is the Miners Boarding House. Unthinkably expensive for the time at $12 per week – in the 1860’s it was standard to charge a dollar a day for room AND board. These miners were expected to pay an additional $1.50 per meal.
But that’s what Barkerville was all about – cashing in on the gold rush. And if you weren’t up there to make money – you weren’t up there.
The conditions were harsh in spite of the amenities. Long winters, hardly arable land, muddy landslides, cold days and nights, hard dangerous work, lawlessness and isolation.
Even then Barkerville wasn’t close to anything else.
And that is one of the reasons Mrs. Parker was a popular proprietor. She created a warm, ‘home away from home’ like environment for the miners.
Always clean, always a good meal available (if you could afford it), and always the company of a female. One that could temporarily replace your Mother. Not a bad deal.
The town was named after Billy Barker, who was one of the first to strike it rich on nearby Williams Creek. It was the largest gold rush mining town built in the Cariboo.
At one point in the mid 1800’s, it boasted more than 10,000 residents – making it the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Chicago.
Additional photos in the slideshow.
We had to race a little, as we were planning to condense a two day tour into a few hours, and there was still so much more to see…