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The Wells, Barkerville and Bowron Lakes area is one of the historical treasures in western Canada and a must see for people visiting British Columbia.
With Barkerville Historic Town, an awe inspiring recreation of an 1800s gold rush town, the historic gold mining community of Wells, and storied and scenic Bowron Lakes all within twenty minutes drive from each other, there is something for everyone to do and see.
Fred Wells founded the company town of Wells at the head of the Willow River upon his development of the Gold Quartz Mine, one of the first hard rock gold discoveries in B.C. When you're in town be sure to visit the Wells Community Hall built for the community when the population numbered in the thousands. The Wells Museum offers an exploration of the area's history, including hard rock mining and thirties recreation.
Barkerville was the major destination in 1861 for gold seekers. Once estimated the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Chicago, many interesting characters emerged. Each year from May right through until the end of September street performers interpret the Victorian period amongst restored buildings dating from 1862 to 1910.
History in the Bowron Lake region has a different flavour. A recreational paradise, Bowron Lake was established as a Wilderness Preserve in 1925 and a was then reclassified as a Class A park in 1961. It was the first Provincial Park established in BC. Recognized as one of the top 10 canoe circuits in the world, Bowron Lake preserves its history at an interpretive and registration centre located near the Bowron Lake provincial park campground.
Wells began with a rush – a gold rush. For years the Cariboo Gold Rush meant thousands of placer miners rushing to stake ground containing free gold -- gold flakes lying within the creeks and soil of the Cariboo.
When Fred Wells staked his ground in the 1920s, it was with the purpose of establishing a hard rock mine deep inside Cow Mountain, just west of Barkerville Mountain. The promise of a new gold rush in British Columbia offered an opportunity for people to escape the unemployment of the Thirties. While most of the country suffered, Wells grew and thrived during the Great Depression.
Come explore our history online at the Wells Museum. This site explains much of the work and pastimes in Wells, including the wide variety of recreation. Most well-known is the ski hill and jump on Cow Mountain, where the Western Canada Ski Championships were held in 1936, the Western Ski and Snowshoe Championships in 1936 and the Provincial Ski Championships in 1942. When you arrive in Wells, visit the Wells Museum and Visitor Information Centre in person. The museum is just off Hwy 26 on Pooley Street. Take the first left after Jack 'O Clubs Lake and look for the Museum sign on our roof. When there ask about the historical walking tour, which provides you with an in-depth look at the history of Wells.
In 1862, Billy Barker came down Williams Creek valley from Richfield in search of a rich strike. He reasoned that a spur of the underlying bedrock that jutted into the valley would be a good place to dig for gold. Many thought that he was crazy because most of the gold that had been found to date was in the easier surface excavations. But, after cutting through a hard, dry, clay layer at a depth of 42 feet, he found the richest strike to date in August of 1862.
The amount of gold that was brought out led to the development of stores and bars around his and his partnerís claims. Barker was generous with his new found wealth and became a favorite of is companions in the Goldfields. After wintering in Victoria he returned to his claim only to find a town named in his honour surrounding it. Barkerville has continued to be a supply and social centre for miners and visitors right up to the present day.
The peak in production of Gold Rush years on Williams Creek and in Barkerville came in 1964 and 1865.
The deep excavations and problems with ground water changed the nature of mining for gold away from the free booting prospector. But, Barkerville lived on through two major booms, one ca. 1895 to 1910 and again in the 1930s and 40s. The later boom was due to the development of hard rock mining in Wells.
Barkerville Historic Town celebrates the history of gold mining in the Cariboo and the changing nature of life in a frontier British Columbia community. During the summer, street interpreters provide an 1870s perspective on Barkerville bringing to light over one hundred years of history.
History: Bowron Lakes
The first inhabitants of Bowron Lake, originally called Bear Lake, were Southern Carrier Indians of the Athapaskan or Dene Nation.
The Cariboo Mountains Band, known locally as the Bear lake Band, were a small band whose hunting grounds were in the Cariboo Mountains east of the Fraser River. In the early 1860s this band was wiped out by small pox brought by the white gold seekers.
The 1859 - 1862 Cariboo Gold Rush brought a great deal of prospectors and settlers into the general area. Entry to the area was accessed through Antler Creek, and the Swamp (Cariboo) River and was travelled by various trappers, fur traders, prospectors and explorers.
The Goat River Trail was developed between 1869 - 1871 in a bid to have the Canadian Pacific Railway pass through the area. This route runs east to west on the north side of the chain. The trail was cut through in anticipation, but the C.P.R chose a southern route instead. In 1886 it was reopened in hopes of establishing a route from the east side. This was never realized.
Scores of interesting people settled in the Bowron Lake area between 1868 and 1948. Many of these are well-known from Barkerville: George Isaac, John Bowron, Frank and Anna Kibbee, Joe and Betty Wendel, Thomas McCabe. Sometime after 1906, Bear Lake's name was changed to Bowron Lake named after John Bowron, Barkerville's first gold commissioner.
With the many outsiders who were now visiting the lakes, it was becoming apparent that something would have to be done to preserve the area. One land owner, Louis LeBourdais wrote that in the last, "twenty five years hundreds of moose, scores of caribou and bear, have been killed. Scarcely a dozen marten are left where there were thousands in Swampy's time. Stalking game from the lakes was too easy for hunters, and the lakes make light work for winter trappers. Five years more and it would be too late." (Wright: 1994: 22)
In 1925 the Game Commission approved a 240 square mile game reserve. This was not without dissension, "the people of the Barkerville district were almost unanimously opposed to the refuge." (Cariboo Observer, Wright: 1994: 25). In 1948 the Parks Branch placed more of the area under reserve, and extended again in 1951 when they began drawing up the proposal for a new Provincial Park. In 1961 the BC Government formed the new 294,400 acre park, now officially named Bowron Lake Provincial Park.