Lillooet – History and Camels

Top of the Route

Lillooet, BC is a town of about 2,300 people tucked into the incredible ‘Coast Mountain‘ range. The weather here is drier with less precipitation in winter and summer, and with extremely hot summers – it can be 40 °C (104 °F) in the shade.

Subsequently, the growing season is long – at one time Lillooet was full of orchards and currently a growing resurgence is taking place with the addition of a few upcoming wineries, and more recent crops of ginseng and a variety of fruits.

From the Old Bridge

The area is considered to be one of the longest consistently inhabited places in North America, and according to Wikipedia;

‘…today it is one of the southernmost communities in North America where indigenous people form the majority. Just over 1/2 of the people in Lillooet and area are St’at’imc.’

Lillooet, once known as ‘Cayoosh Flat‘ was an important supply station during the gold rush era. It has its own varied gold history – including an argument with Yale over mile zero status.

Gold mining and prospecting continues in the area, to this day.

 

I have not been to Lillooet many times, but it only took one visit for me to realize that I liked it. The natural landscape that Lillooet is nestled into is absolutely breathtaking.

The mighty Fraser river has cut a thick ribbon swash through the valley, and it makes for a spectacular view – every direction you look.

For Sale Gold Rush Lillooet

The town itself has maintained a few historic elements, and has a little bit to look at – though like Lytton, it has experienced some economical degradation.

Fortunately for the town, industry has found a comfortable home in and around the area. Providing both local employment, and a bit of economical stability for area small business.

Hazy Lillooet

Hydroelectricity, active railway, forestry (both logging and wood product) and agriculture can be found here mixed into the natural landscape – along with improving tourism.

Industrial Lillooet

There is the ‘Hangman’s Tree’ (and park) downtown to check out. It was used as gallows in the name of wild west justice, under Judge Begbie‘s authority – more than 100 years ago. The view from this location is incredible and spans over the valley.

Industry in the Mountains

It is said that those who were hanged on the evergreen tree were buried underneath. Last year I collected pine cones from the park to make Christmas decorations out of (it didn’t seem odd, until I just wrote it down!).

And the Miyazaki House still stands. Built by the original gold commissioner to mimic his home in Ireland, his child was the first non-native born in Lillooet. The home was donated to the town by final owner Dr. Miyazaki in the early 1980’s and is open for tours.

There is also the ‘Mile 0 Carin’, the ‘Chinese Rocks’, the Municipal Hall, St. Andrews historic Church, the Camel Barn (yes, camel!), old newspaper office and of course the local museums.

There are even a couple of decent coffee shops and a place or two to eat, so we grabbed some of each and headed to the ‘Old Bridge’ to enjoy our breakfast with a view.

Old Bridge Lillooet

Lillooet has an interesting bridge history. Initially (since 1860), the Fraser river was traversed with a pulley and winch system, powered by the current (YIKES! The Fraser is referred to as ‘mighty’ for a reason!).

This dangerous method was replaced with a suspension bridge in 1913 – it is this crossing they now refer to as the ‘Old Bridge’. It was made of steel cable and wood. Pretty special, for the time.

The Old Bridge

The old bridge was refurbished in 2007, and bat houses were added to it, as per recommendation by the ‘Naturalist Society’. The bridge is ‘pedestrian only’ now, and the photo above right, was taken while standing in the middle of it.

The new bridge, called ‘The Bridge of 23 Camels’ was named so to commemorate the (yes 23) camels that were brought to the region in the 1850’s, by an entrepreneur with a ‘bright idea’. He thought they would be the ultimate pack animals for the gold rush route. From lillooetbc.com;

‘…23 two humped Bactrian camels were imported from Asia to BC. But the bright idea soon turned into a nightmare as the high-strung beasts ate miners clothing, kicked at anything or anyone who came close, frightened other animals with their pungent odour, and had their soft feet cut to ribbons on the rocky mountainous roads.’

And what was the proposed solution for this bungled effort? Most often, abandonment.

‘…they were abandoned by their owners and left to roam in the wild. Some were killed for food, some died in winter storms, while others were kept as curiosities. The lone surviving Bactrian camel, “The Lady” as she was called, died around 1896 on a farm in Grande Prairie, AB.’

The camels weren’t the only to suffer. There are many pack donkey horror stories from this time – and the horses didn’t get off easy either. At least it can be said that the men (and women!) suffered too – it wasn’t only the animals.

There are still wild horses running loose in the area – more on that later!

Leaving Lillooet

After lingering around Lillooet for a bit, and saving some sites for an inevitable future trip, we headed out of town and back onto Highway 99 toward Pemberton, where we were about to learn it was WINTER.

Follow this trip by heading to the ‘Summer to Winter Tour‘ section. Many more photos at the Habitual Runaway on Facebook.

(continued)

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4 responses to “Lillooet – History and Camels

  1. We visited Lillooet on our first Canadian holiday about 20 years ago. When you mentioned it last time I wondered if you would talk about the camels – or if I had just imagined them! It’s a sad story, poor creatures.

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    • When I first hears of the camels, I didn’t believe it – I thought it may have been an 1800’s farce – a group of entrepreneurs trying to draw tourists north or something. But NO – they were brought up because someone thought they would be good for pack animals – and when they weren’t, they were all neglected and abandoned.

      Very sad – and because of the outcome – even a little shameful. It is one thing to make a mistake – another not to deal with it properly….

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  2. Thanks for this post Ana. We drove through this road in January 2006 after a week of skiing at Big White. Instead of taking the usual route back to Vancouver we went up the Okanagan Valley through Vernon to Kamloops then headed west to the junction leading to Lillooet, Pemberton, Whistler and back to Van. We encountered snow on Route 99 through the Maple Canyon Provincial Park which made for an interesting drive for about an hour. It is a beautiful part of your country. Chris G

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    • Wow – you have really explored this region! I have not been skiing at ‘Big White’ yet – but have many times thought about it…(which means it will eventually happen)!

      I really like this alternative route – though it is sparsely inhabited there is a lot of incredible nature to take in. And the weather is so unpredictable! One minute you are in warm sun and around the next mountain bend it is snowy winter…!

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