Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Barkerville Gold Rush

By the mid-1800s the goldfields in California were largely ‘played out.’ In 1858, stories began to surface of ‘easy gold’ on Fraser’s River north of the border in Canada. Thousands of men headed north to seek their fortunes in British Columbia.

There are stories of entire towns in California emptying in a single day as news of the ‘New North-West’ gold rush reached the American goldfields.

As the gold in the gravel bars of the lower Fraser declined, prospectors followed the river north, eventually reaching the rich gold-bearing creeks of the Cariboo. In 1861 gold was found in a stream they named Williams Creek. Amid the clutter of flumes and sluice boxes, the town of Richfield sprang up.
William "Billy" Barker was an Englishman who arrived in Victoria in 1858. After two unsuccessful attempts to find gold above the canyon, he decided to try his luck downstream. Forming the Barker Company with seven other Englishmen in 1862, Barker sank a shaft below the canyon at Williams Creek where the depth of the overburden made people believe that gold would never be found.
The legend says that after digging 40 feet and failing to reach bedrock, Barker had a dream where he was playing poker. Despite protests the digging continued until bedrock and bonanza placer gold appeared at 52 feet.

Barker's claim turned out to be the richest in the area and the settlement of Barkerville was set up around his claim. He pulled out roughly 37,500 oz of gold in his life. He died penniless in a Victoria nursing home on July 11, 1894 with symptoms of Parkinson's disease and/or possible cancer in his jaw. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Ross Bay Cemetery.
Barkerville, once billed as the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Chicago, grew fast as word of Barker's strike spread. The prices of even the most everyday items were extremely high. High prices for goods in Barkerville did not ease up until the Cariboo Road had been finished, when goods could be transported by huge freight wagons. Soon, movers of freight boasted that they could pack and carry a set of champagne glasses without any breakage - for a price, of course.
Photograph taken in 1868 of Barkerville.
Barkerville's population was declining by the end of the century and despite a revival in the 1930s, Barkerville declined to a very small village.

In 1958, the government of British Columbia decided that the town should be restored and operated as a tourist attraction. Today, Barkerville appears as it did in its heyday and is referred to as Barkerville Historic Town.

Gold nugget from Emery Gulch, near Barkersville. Weight 35 gms.

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