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Gold fever in Barkerville, B.C.

© By Gene Chambers
  Ever experienced the itch to find gold? For most, setting off into the British Columbia wilderness with a backpack and gold pan in search for the elusive metal would be both foolish and dangerous, but I satisfied the urge with a visit to B.C.'s premier gold town, Barkerville, the largest historic site in the province.
     Gold is a highly sought-after, precious metal, historically used as money, a store of value and in jewelry. It appears as nuggets or grains in rocks, underground "veins" and in alluvial deposits. Gold is dense, soft, shiny and the most malleable and ductile substance known. Pure gold enjoys a bright yellow attractive colour.
     Gold was first discovered here in 1861 in Williams Creek, when, after unsuccessfully attempts, a miner, William "Billy" Barker, moved downstream and struck gold at a depth of 40 feet. News of Barker's strike spread rapidly, and the town of Barkerville soon developed.
     Initially, supplies were carried on miners' backs or by pack trains, but the Cariboo Wagon Road was completed in 1865, and this opened up the area to a large influx of miners. By 1870, Barkerville was the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco.
     On Wednesday, September 16, 1868 disaster struck. Barkerville was engulfed by fire. Less that 2 ½ hours later, only a handful of buildings remained. However, within 6 weeks, over 90 buildings were rebuilt, and Barkerville thrived until the 1930s, finally eclipsed by the nearby town of Wells with the first successful hard rock gold mine.
     Today, Barkerville is one of the largest heritage attractions in western Canada, drawing thousands of visitors from all over the world. There are 125 restored or reconstructed buildings filled with displays of life in a gold town of the 1800s. It offers live theatre performances, stage coach and wagon rides, tours, street interpreters and numerous demonstrations. Visitors pan for gold with the assistance of a local "miner," and are guaranteed to find a few flakes. There are two restaurants, a bakery and a coffee saloon for refreshments, a hotel and also two B & Bs' on site. There are also two campgrounds nearby, and other accommodation is available in the nearby town of Wells.
     Open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm from May 12th to September 28th, visitors may wander freely throughout the town site taking in the many re-creations of local buildings from the 1850 era.
     Barkerville lies in a valley, laid out in a line down the valley floor, long and narrow with only two streets. Many buildings are open with display settings and contents typical of the 1850's: everything from a church and schoolhouse to a Chinese laundry, stores and a saloon, as well as a complete Chinese community. And, let's not forget the local brothel! On our visit, it was 31 C., and we were glad to interrupt our walking tour for an ice cream cone at the Horse Hotel Coffee Saloon. The streets are dirt; wear sturdy walking shoes, and plan to spend a full day if you wish to see and do everything.
     Barkerville (elevation 1290 m. or 4200 ft.) is located about 88 Km. (55 miles) east of the town of Quesnel, at the end of Highway 26. The drive into Barkerville from Quesnel takes about 1 hour, and follows a winding, scenic route through the valleys. You may first want to arrange local accommodation if you plan on spending a full day at the site. And, don't forget to try your hand at panning for gold at the Eldorado Gold Panning and Souvenir shop. You won't get rich, but you can momentarily pretend that you're one of the early prospectors that made this area so famous.


Gene Chambers is author of three secondary school textbooks on computer studies in data processing.

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Gene Chambers

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Barkerville: www.barkerville.ca
Theatre Royal: www.Theatreroyal.ca
Wells: www.wellsbc.com
B.C. tourism: www.britishcolumbia.com/regions/towns/?townID=3530
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barkerville,_British_Columbia

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