How important was the
Cariboo Road? What would be the state of development for Western Canada today if that road had not been forced
through where a road could not
go a century and a half ago? Without the force created by the scramble for gold
would it have been built at all?
There had been trappers in the
for decades. Many indigenous people and a few of European heritage had traded
furs with the British
Columbia Mountains Hudson’s Bay Company
and the American Fur Company for decades. As a result there was transportation
up as far as was navigable by stern-wheeler to Hope and sometimes Yale down
stream on the Fraser from Hell’s . Gate
The HB Company’s steamer SS Beaver was the first having entered Pacific waters in 1835. She supplied trade goods to the various posts –
, Hope and Fort
Langley for example – and carried
furs away for transport to Fort
With the news of gold and the edict by Governor Douglas that none but those
ships under British flag would be allowed up the Fraser some American ships
were newly registered at Victoria
and new ships were built in the colony.
Steamer "Onward" near Hope BC
Those who participated in the initial rush of 1858 could travel up the Fraser to Yale or up the “
(Harrison Lake & Port Douglas) to Lillooet. After that, they walked.
There were horses in the Chilcotin Country (west of the Fraser) raised and trained by at least two of the tribes in that district. However, they were prized processions of those peoples and not about to be turned over to strangers for a few shiny yellow stones. Therefore, those miners who made it to the various gold bearing areas –
, Antler Creek, Keithly Creek,
etc. – did so on their own two feet. Quesnelle
This is a very large and extremely rugged country. To reach any of those creeks mentioned one must travel over mountains, through desert and back into mountains. By the time prospectors made it and panned some gold they had often exhausted their supplies even though augmented with venison, elk and anything else edible.
It wasn’t until 1862 that any horses or mules appeared along
Not until the Williams Creek Cariboo Road
was completed in 1865 did those numbers become significant enough to make a
difference in the cost and availability of supplies. Supplies did come up through the Okanagan country to Kamloops but the supply was too small to have an effect on the cost of goods a weeks travel to the north. Besides, the HBC posts along that route already needed the supplies and the available transport.
For instance, along Williams Creek (Barkerville) a pair of rubber boots carried in on someone’s back would sell for about $75.00 in 1863 and in 1866, transported on a pack train or freight wagon for about $25.00. Even the latter figure was a little high since the equivalent in 2015 would be about $500.00. Gold was fairly stable throughout the 1800s at about $21.00 per ounce unless turned in at the HBC store or such commercial venture. Most charged 3% to pay for transport, etc. bringing the value down to around $16.50. To buy the same amount of goods in 2015 as the $16.50 would buy in 1870 one would need about $310.00.
was paid for by the miners with licensing fees and royalties demanded on the
mineral they took from the colony. In later years there was an import duty on
the cattle brought in from
and Oregon Territory California.
Here are a couple of pictures of the road where it goes through Hell's Gate. Not only does it show the timbers used to hold a road but also demonstrates why a pleasant 6 week walk to the gold fields did not include strolling along the pine clad river banks of the gurgling mountain stream.
The road was built in sections by several contractors. Those contractors employed men of varying backgrounds including one crew made up chiefly of Chinese laborers from
Some of these men stayed and turned to mining, raising livestock or farming the
land. Some of those who came for gold opened businesses including the road
houses that served travelers on the road. Some of those laborers, teamsters,
drovers, engineers, miners, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, wheelwrights, coopers – people
from every trade, profession, or aspect of life became the populace of the
Colony and later Province of British Columbia.
Without the force exerted by the “need” for gold was there any reason for someone from
to walk for weeks into the cold north over mountains and streams? Without this
same force and the resultant funding who would want to take the time to build a
wagon road along a sheer cliff face, across a “water-less waste” or through a
bottomless bog? With no road to lead them into the lush mountain valleys and
plateaus who would consider such beauty could be found or that such fertility
could be planted and reaped in the lands beyond those canyons and crags?
Cottonwood House, one of the many road houses serving travelers, freighters and stage coaches. Today it is a historic site and museum for those going into Barkerville from Quesnell.
Wright's Ranch or 127 Mile House another stop for the BX Stage, a stop for travelers, a holding ground for beef cattle and a source for milk and pork.
108 Mile House.
Ninety seven years after the
Road was completed to Barkerville my father moved
his family to BC’s Peace River Country. Without that Cariboo
Road much of the resultant development of the
province would have been slowed and may not have happened. As a result I might
be living in Ontario having just
retired from some factory job.
Now that is a downright terrifying thought!