Merritt has a rich and varied culture and history built upon First Nations heritage, fur trading, ranching, and mining.
Today, visitors can explore this past at the Nicola Valley Museum or on a walking tour of the town heritage buildings.
Merritt's history dates back thousands of years to First Nations inhabitance. The original settlers, the Nlaka'pamux Nation of the Interior Salish, have farmed, hunted, and fished the rivers and lakes in the area for more than 5000 years. The fascinating story of the Salish peoples' contribution to Merritt's past and present is chronicled at the Nicola Valley Museum. The museum features extensive exhibits of First Nations artifacts and intricate artwork.
European pioneers settled Merritt in the 1850s, while looking for a route between British Columbia's coast and the interior. Merritt comprised a vast expanse of grasslands in the Nicola Valley where livestock could roam, so ranching soon took root and large tracts of the valley were used for raising cattle.
North of Merritt, along Highway 5A, Nicola, Douglas Lake, and Quilchena ranches connect the area's past and present. Nicola Ranch features renovated heritage buildings that were once part of the Town of Nicola, including Murray Church (1876), arguably one of the most photographed of BC's historic churches.
The Quilchena Ranch dates from the mid-1880s. Originally built as a roadhouse to serve stagecoaches traveling between Kamloops and Merritt, the original roadhouse (now a store) still stands by the road to serve travelers. Douglas Lake Ranch is one of Canada's oldest ranches. Drive onto the ranch and visit the General Store, housed in one of its original buildings.
Modern Merritt originated in the 1880s, when three large ranches were joined to form a community known as Forksdale, at the junction of the Nicola and Coldwater rivers. In 1885, coal was discovered nearby and became another industry for the town. Its discovery compelled the Canadian Pacific Railway to extend its line into the region, which led to a community that expanded around the railhead. The name was changed to Merritt in 1906 in recognition of William Hamilton Merritt, a mining engineer and railway promoter.
Tours of Merritt's downtown begin at Bailey House, where the Visitor Centre is located. Pick up a walking tour map here. Overseen by the Nicola Valley Heritage Society, Baillie House is the oldest building in town and consists of a house, barn, store, storage garage, and garden. Businessman Cosam Bigney built it in 1809 for his English finance.
Merritt's most visible historic building is the Coldwater Hotel. Completed in 1910, the copper domed building was originally constructed to house business people attracted to area's booming ranching and coal industries. Today the hotel's restaurant and pub are a local gathering place.