- Published: 09 August 2011
|One of the many original buildings at 108 Heritage site at 108 Mile House. This site includes the 105 Mile Roadhouse which is now a museum. Picnic tables by a lake, this is a great place to stop and see one of the famous Mile Houses on the Cariboo Wagon Road.|
The modern Cariboo Highway and Barkerville Highway provide lots of interesting places along the way to/from historic Barkerville.
By Steven Tuck,
photo by Terry Tuck
Originally built by British engineers in response to the mid-1800’s gold rush, the route boasts many historic sites, many left behind after the prospectors left. However, others had learned of other values of the area, namely timber, ranching and the great outdoors.
Beyond Barkerville is Bowron Lake Provincial Park. This park is famous for its six major lakes and connecting waterways that form a canoe route amidst the Cariboo Mountains that rise to 2100 metre peaks and provide stunning scenery. The circular canoe route is 116 km long. There are lots of animals along the route such as moose, deer, cariboo, mountain goats and grizzly bears at the higher elevations. This is also a fisherman’s paradise with steelhead trout, Dolly Varden and kokanee salmon.
Just outside Barkerville is the historic town of Wells. Here, in 1933, the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine opened and began the lesser known second Cariboo Gold Rush. In the 1920’s Fred Wells, a prospector, discovered the same kind of a rich gold vein in the hard quartz rock of Cow Mountain, just south of Wells. It was this mining that led to the founding of Wells, and the building of the Wells Hotel which is still in existence and has undergone renovations since opening in 1933. The mine was abandoned in 1967. Nowadays Wells has become an active Arts community and the ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art mid-summer attracts thousands.
Along the Barkerville Highway at Cottonwood in a 10 acre provincial park historic site is Cottonwood House. This is the only surviving roadhouse along the 610 km Cariboo Wagon Road that ran between Yale and Barkerville. It still has many of the original furnishings brought here in the 1860’s during the gold rush.
Quesnel is where the modern Barkerville and Cariboo Highways meet. The town was an important stop on the Fraser River for steamboats bringing the prospectors to the gold rush and was overshadowed for years by Barkerville. This was originally the site of one building until the mid-1800s --- a Hudson’s Bay Store. The annual Billy Barker Days are a mid-summer festival including fireworks and a rodeo. Quesnel claims to have one of the world’s largest gold pans.
South of Quesnel is another historic site, Alexandria. A cairn marks the site of Fort Alexandria, a North West Company fur-trading post which was built in 1821. It was named for Alexander Mackenzie who was the first to cross the northern part of North America from coast to coast.
Soda Creek on the Fraser River was the site of the building of the sternwheelers that provided transportation north for the prospectors. The first left the dock in 1863 and traveled 90 km to Quesnel. At the peak of the gold rush there were nine ships carrying gold miners and their supplies. The last of the stern-wheelers was wrecked near Prince George in 1921.
Williams Lake is the entrance to the Chilcotin country. Known as the “cowboy capital” of B.C. this is cattle-grazing land and the main livestock centre of the province. The Williams Lake Stampede attracts rodeo performers from all over North America.
The drive from Lillooet to 150 Mile House follows much of the original Cariboo Wagon Road built in 1861-63. The roadside stations were 25 km apart and were called “Mile Houses” with Lillooet being “Mile 0”
There are many more interesting historic sites along the Cariboo Highway. The route today is a modern, well paved highway and is a much easier trip than the many arduous days spent on stage coaches on the original Cariboo Wagon Road from Lillooet to Soda Creek.