Barkerville British Columbia Canada gold mining town now tourist attractions

Rollicking Barkerville: Former Boomtown turns Heritage Site in British Columbia Canada

It was the Cowboy and Drover Jubilee the weekend in early September when I visited Barkerville, and the best way to describe it was rollicking. I felt the excitement from the moment I walked through the entrance gate. It happened I was already at the wooden arch that marks Barkerville's Chinatown so I continued on up the road, stopping to peek in windows and shops, visit the Lee Chong Co Store-Chinese Museum and watch a woman demonstrate how to play Chinese chess.

At the end of that road was a sign warning about bears, so I turned back. Another mile up the road is another village, Richfield, where the courthouse is located and you can watch a re-enactment of Judge Begbie, the "hanging judge" conduct a trial. If I'd had time I would have hopped on one of the stagecoaches and got a ride there. But there was just too much to see right in town so I headed back down the road to explore.

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Barkerville is a typical gold rush boomtown. It was named after William (Billy Barker) who struck it rich in Williams Creek back in 1862. Billy was a prospector who had come from England to seek his fortune, leaving behind a wife and child. His wife eventually died in the poorhouse in England while Barker sought his fortune in the wild west of North America beginning with the California gold rush. Then he decided to come north. As luck would have it, his party discovered gold in the Williams Creek area. In a short period of time he and his crew pulled out about 60 ounces of gold and as a result, the settlement of Barkerville grew up around his claim. Barkers claim turned out to be the richest in the area.

Although he pulled out roughly 37,500 oz. of gold during that time, like his wife, he died penniless in a Victoria nursing home on July 11, 1894. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Ross Bay Cemetery.

That gold find started a stampede of adventurers and prospectors to the area. Soon a settlement had built up with log cabins and shanties perched along the narrow muddy street. Merchants came there too, opening businesses of every description to provide for the miners and profit from their earnings. Women came too, including dancers called Hurdy-gurdy girls who came from Germany and Holland to perform in the saloons.

Unfortunately six years later the town burned down. The story goes that a young miner was trying to steal a kiss from a Hurdy-gurdy girl in a bar and accidently knocked over a lamp which set the place aflame. The town was quickly rebuilt but the glory days were waning and when another gold mine opened in nearby Wells in the 1930s some of the population moved there. Barkerville was still occupied until 1958 when it became a heritage site.

 Old gold mining town of Barkerville in British Columbia now draws tourists

There are over 125 heritage buildings in Barkerville with rooms displayed in period furnishings just as if they are still occupied. A cast of actors including children, roam the streets and perform spontaneous dramas as would happen in daily life. As well there is the Royal Theatre that presents a rousing vaudeville show. There's also demonstration of some of the mining equipment such as the Cornish Wheel that is sure to amuse with a feisty prospector and an ever-so-proper British lady, daughter of the mine owner.

Horse-drawn stagecoaches, wagons and buggies trot up and down the street and will take you on to the next town to the Richfield Courthouse where Judge Begbie presides over a trial.

I spent the entire day wandering through Barkerville and still couldn't possibly see everything. I missed my chance to attend a school room session, and forgot to visit the cemetery. There was just so much to see I missed the Cowboy poets but I did attend a performance of the four finalists for the cowboy singing contest held in the old Methodist Church.

Had I realized just what a rich experience this was going to be, I'd have booked into one of the B&Bs right on site and stayed an extra day giving me a chance to experience Barkerville by night. That's definitely on my to-do list next time I visit the Cariboo.

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Ruth Kozak has been a historical fiction writer since her teens and a travel journalist for more than 15 years. She also instructs classes on travel writing, creative and novel writing and memoirs. She has travelled extensively, often solo and always on a budget. Her travels inspired her to create her travel ezine TravelThruHistory

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: October 16, 2016

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