We hit the road from Rick and June’s just after the labour day weekend, on the way to an historic gold mining town, which would take us just less than 200 km to the southeast of Prince George. An easy two hour drive brought us to an essentially dead end road, after which, the now protected town of Barkerville sits. There were several campgrounds to choose from, but they are generally self-maintained, so we selected a site and would head into the historic town later on to square up the bill. These sites have no water or power, but with the generator, that’s no problem, and there was a sani-site at the campground, so we could easily fill up the fresh water reservoir. It was cool enough in Barkerville to run the electric heat in the evening, so the generator came in handy, and there were only three or four other sites occupied in the whole park, and the generator is quiet, so we could run it whenever we needed, even though the campground “rules” had specific times that they should be run……rules, shmules….
Once we were all set up, we headed into town only 5 km away or so. It was not a very nice day and we got there around 4:30……there was almost nobody around….the office was locked, and the few tourists milling about were on the way out. So we took some information about the town, as we intended to spend the next day exploring, and headed back home to our cozy camper. Our site was surrounded by brush and trees and dense bushes, and until you actually get to Barkerville, there is almost nothing around for the last 80km east of the main highway, so we were deep in god’s country out in there. We stopped at a little roadside shack to buy some firewood, again, nobody is around, and the shack just has a cute old antique cash register to put your money in, it just runs on the honour system. We had a campfire that first evening, despite the crummy weather, and as we sat around the fire, before darkness fell, a red-coloured fox walked right through our campsite, without a care in the world!! It was excellent!! Of course, old Molly the pug, snored through the whole thing…..thank god we’re not depending on the dog for security….Jeez!
The weather was even worse the next day when we woke up, but we decided to go and explore Barkerville anyway, so we put on our rain gear and headed to the town office. We payed for our site and, since June and Rick had given us a certificate for our admission, our bill was pretty small for the two days we would be here!! So a little Barkerville history here….Barkerville was the main town in the Cariboo Gold Rush in the BC interior, founded in 1862, and actively mined for gold until the early 1940’s. During the gold rush, the town had a booming population between 5000-8000 people, many of whom were Chinese migrants that had come all the way to British Columbia for the promise of gold. Barkerville was deemed an historic town in 1958, and has been impeccably preserved, despite once burning to the ground in 1868 and then being quickly rebuilt. In only 6 weeks, 90 of the buildings that had burned to the ground had been re-erected. There are many buildings in the town site that were originally built between 1868 and 1877, and are still in perfect shape…..The town is “inhabited” by actors, who stay in historical character the whole day, leading tours, telling stories, leading court, and so on. We took guided tours through both the European and Chinese parts of town. Each tour is about an hour long and the “actors” leading them, are more than just pawns, for example, the woman who led our tour through China town, was indeed dressed in character costume of the time, but she was also an esteemed human anthropologist visiting for the season from China, who’s focus throughout her career has been the migration and subsequent lives of the Chinese migrants who came to this area to mine and have a better life.
There is an entire schedule throughout the day that offers visitors anything from hands-on gold mining experiences, to both guided and self-guided tours, to theatre and re-enactments to Chinese language and school lessons. It is honestly like going back in time, the buildings are preserved perfectly, the personal effects of people are still left in hotel rooms after the gold rush went bust….There are all kinds of artifacts of the era, such as gold weighing equipment and glass making tools. There are whole homes that are fully furnished with original furniture and big iron stoves, there is an old preserved saloon and games room, a blacksmiths, tailor, Chinese laundry, and of course…..a whorehouse!! Not to mention a church, a school, a Chinese herbal pharmacy, a theater, doctor’s office and barber’s (where ‘bloodletting’ was a popular practice of the time!!). We walked the roughly 45 minute uphill climb to nearby Richfield, where provincial court was held since the turn of the century until the town’s dissolution in the 1940’s. The courthouse was built right at the turn of the century and is big andbeautiful, tucked into the hill and woods of what is now the “Cariboo Trail”. Since we were the only people that had braved the walk in the crappy weather to hear “Judge Begbie” preside over his court, we instead got a personal tour, done by a young gentleman in character of the young judge, and then spent a half hour just chatting to him about how he got the job there and how he liked it. (He loved the job, he was a theatre major from Edmonton, and worked the summer season while not in school.) The courthouse had a big iron stove that had a fire lit in it, so it was so nice and warm and dry in the courthouse after the walk in the rain, so we were nice and warmed up for the hike back, this time, in lighter drizzle, taking the time to read all the information plaques that line the trail back into Barkerville.
In addition to all of the staff-interactive offerings in the town, there are in total, 169 buildings in the town, 107 of which are original heritage buildings, and 62 of which are replicas that have been rebuilt. Visitors are encouraged to explore everywhere, and there are lots of windowed rooms that are blocked off topublic access, but allow you to see the rooms and houses and buildings preserved just as they were left. So if it hasn’t been apparent in my writing so far, I LOVED Barkerville!! I’m a bit of a geek for history, and for me, it was like being there in 1890……I felt like a kid on what would surely have been my favourite field trip if I had ever gone!! We spent all day exploring the town and all there was to see, and we nearly had the place to ourselves since it was just labour day and the town is closed after the 28th of September, so the season was winding down as well. If you are ever in the area, I would ABSOLUTELY recommend spending a day there. The admission price for a family of four is only $15.00, and if you are so inclined, you are able to use the receipt from your day’s admission the next day if you want to come back and do more exploring, which I would have loved to do if not for the foul weather.