Barkerville in British Columbia, Canada was once a bustling town, the centre of the Cariboo Gold Rush. Today, it’s a ghost town, abandoned after the miners moved on to seek their fortune elsewhere. Gold Rush ghost towns are common in the western United States and Canada. As soon as the gold was gone, so were the people.
In its heyday, Barkerville was a bustling town, full of the excitement of new discoveries in the west. It was even the biggest city north of San Francisco and west of Chicago and the pride of British Columbia. The town is located 80 kilometres (50 mi) east of Quesnel on the north slope of the Cariboo Plateau.
Gold was first struck in the area in 1861 and word spread like wildfire. The town of Barkerville appeared almost out of nowhere with a large number of settlers arriving on a daily basis chasing their fortune. It was named after Billy Barker, a prospector from Cambridgeshire, England. Word of his strike reached far and wide and the town boomed in the Cariboo Gold Rush.
Barkerville wasn’t an easy place to get to so settlers had to carry their belongings on their backs or in packs initially. The Cariboo Road made access easier and the growth of the town accelerated. By the mid 1860s, 5000 people were residents of Barkerville and shops, saloons and even a theatre were built. St. Saviour’s Anglican Church came along soon after. Goods were hard to come by as a result of the difficulties in getting to the town and so prices were high and continued to grow with shopkeepers making exuberant amounts of money. Of course, when the gold rush ended, they were left bankrupt.
Farming followed the mining activity in the town and cattle were driven up the Okanagan valley to provide meat for the residents of Barkerville. Large cattle ranches were founded in the area surrounding the town.
Barkerville boasted a large Chinese community who were important to the economy of the town. The Kwong Lee Company was a general store selling groceries, clothing and other items. They also built dormitories for transient miners and a nursing home for the elderly.
A great fire ripped through the town on 16 September 1868, destroying many of the wooden buildings. Life went on in Barkerville and ninety buildings were rebuilt in six weeks. The town also took the opportunity to improve infrastructure which hadn’t been planned upon the town’s creation earlier in the decade. The schoolhouse reopened in 1880, however by the turn of the century, the gold rush had ended and people began to leave. There was a brief revival in the 1930s when the price of gold went up during the Great Depression but that was short lived. Barkerville soon became a ghost town with just a very small population remaining.
The government of British Columbia made the decision to buy out the remaining residents in 1957. They restored the town to look as it had been in its heyday. It is now operated as a tourist attraction called the Barkerville Historic Town and Park. In 2008, Barkerville’s Chee Kung Tong Building was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. The Gold Rush Trail hiking route is also popular among tourists.
Some of the residents that left in 1958 were moved to New Barkerville, a purpose-built village on the peak of the Reduction Road Hill, in the forest one kilometre from Barkerville. Today, some of those homes accommodate tourists who come to the area to visit the town they abandoned.