Barkerville: The Rise and Fall of British Columbia's Famous Gold Mining Town

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Barkerville is one of the most, if not the most well known historic towns in British Columbia. It was the largest town in the Cariboo, conveniently located on the western edge of the Cariboo Mountains. It grew rapidly, before suddenly becoming almost forgotten, with a ghost town emerging in its place. How could such a thriving town, that was so full of life, be forgotten, to be allowed to die??The tale of Barkerville began with a young sailor form England; Billy Barker. After some time searching, he finally struck it rich in eighteen- sixty two when he uncovered gold in Williams Creek in the Cariboo area. The news of his finding spread like wild fire, and miners flocked to the area, hoping that they too might strike it rich. The miners travelled to the area and found the town newly christened as Barkerville, after its indirect founder. The farther the news spread, the larger the population of the town increased.

At Barkerville’s early stages of life, it consisted only of makeshift cabins and tents. Transportation from Barkerville to the Mining fields was difficult. Miners hauled their supplies on their backs or in a pack train. Because of the difficulty in getting supplies to the mining areas, the supplies for mining were scarce, causing the prices for everyday necessities as well as mining tools to greatly increase. Barkerville was nothing more but a town giving services for those wanting to test their luck in mining; a service town.

From service town, to a thriving community, by the mid eighteen sixties, Barkerville had graduated. Its population increased to nearly five thousand people. It was now the largest town north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. The temporary housing units transformed into houses, general stores, restaurants, and barber shops that also cut women’s hair. There were soon enough children in Barkerville to establish a school. A road was constructed from the mines to Barkerville, making transportation much easier. The road, named the Cariboo Road, was soon known as the eighth wonder of the world by the miners. The road allowed supplies to be transported fast and easily by freight carts. The cost of supplies decreased considerably. Barkerville was truly at its greatest. However, on September sixteenth, eighteen-sixty eight, the town was burned down by a massive fire, nearly destroying all that had been built. Reconstruction of the community was put into action immediately, and within a month, seventy buildings were restored. It seemed that Barkerville was indestructible, that the booming community would, unlike the fire that burned through the town, never be extinguished.

Although Barkerville continued to flourish, the population was slowly declining. As the gold mining business became insufficient, several families realized, that the prize of quick wealth they had come to claim was nigh impossible to be received. They left hoping to find better luck. Less people in the community meant less people to shop at the many stores, restaurant and other conveniences built. Several businesses were forced into closure. Barkerville was dimming. By the end of the century, Barkerville had become a town scarcely remembered by the people of British Columbia. It was less travelled and more left behind. Eventually, the great and mighty Barkerville, that inextinguishable flame in the Cariboo was smothered. Barkerville was omitted from British Columbia’s mind for the next seventy- five years.

Today, Barkerville had become a way to attract tourist attention in British Columbia. The promises of the acquaintance with history creates an incentive to visit the town with a “History as rich as the gold itself!” But Barkerville is so much more than a cajolement. It is a part of Canadian history. From sudden beginnings, to rapid growth, and slow decline, Barkerville relied on the success of the gold mining industry. It is the reason behind Barkerville; that mighty, forgotten, restored, ghost town. 2009 Horizons: Canada Moves WestMichael Cranny, Graham Jarvis, Garvin Moles, Bruce SeneyPg 217-224