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Horseback riding, Echo Valley
(Albert Normandin photo)

Cariboo Chilcotin Coast

Gold Rush History

With the discovery of gold on the Fraser River, the Cariboo Gold Rush began in 1859.

Three years later an English prospector named Billy Barker struck one of the area's greatest gold claims. People said Barker was foolish when he chose a spot downriver from everybody else, near Stouts Gulch, and started digging the deepest mine-shaft around. But he and his seven partners struck gold, and within 48 hours they pulled out over 60oz/1,700g, then worth roughly $1,000.

Barkerville Historic Town

Tens of thousands of people followed the dream, making their way to the goldfields and often converging on the bustling boomtown of Barkerville. By 1864, Barkerville boasted that it was the largest town north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. Today visitors can capture the gold rush spirit at Barkerville Historic Town.

A road to the Interior

Continual waves of prospectors signalled the need for construction of a road that would allow mule trains, freight wagons and stages coaches to reach the Cariboo interior. A detachment of the Royal Engineers supervised construction of the historic Cariboo Wagon Road.

Built entirely by hand, pick and shovel, workers blasted through the rock barrier of the Fraser Canyon between 1862 and 1864 to forge the road. Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World," the Cariboo Wagon Road stretched 642km/400mi from Yale to Barkerville. Today's Highway 1 between Yale and Lytton, and Highway 97 to Quesnel, approximate the route.

George Vanderwolf: Gold Panner

Hunched over a silt-filled pond, gold panners do a swivel motion with their hips. The hope is for gold among the gravel in the bottom of the pan. While this vision seems to belong to days long past, there is still gold to be found on the Bridge River according to George Vanderwolf, a Bridge River miner since 1953.

Today, George leads seekers of the bright yellow metal on half-day excursions most often resulting in a small harvest of gold. Along with the excitement of finding the tiny nuggets, George will enthrall with stories of Horseshoe Bend, where miners made millions from 1908 to 1914.

After the Gold Rush

By the 1880s, the Cariboo Gold Rush was in decline. Gold was still mined by hydraulic or deep-pit methods, but was beyond the reach of individual miners, and the yield was low. Many prospectors left the region but some saw, in the bunchgrass hills of the Cariboo region, ideal ranch country. They settled in to raise cattle. The southern Cariboo region is still considered cattle country and many of the original ranches remain.