Like so many towns in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region, Wells' history and development can be traced back to the Gold Rush. Many of the buildings in Wells still reflect this heritage.
During the mid-1800s, the town of Wells was merely a campsite for prospectors. But that would change. In 1927, Field Engineer Fred Wells, known as the "Father of the Cariboo", founded the Cariboo Gold Quartz (CGQ) Mine and very quickly the little camp became a settlement with stability and character. By 1934, the village was formally named after the CGQ founder.
The growth of Wells and the mine attracted a more permanent population, which replaced the tough, nomadic, gold-digging fortune hunters who had combed the hills and creeks since the days of Billy Barker, the famous prospector from the 1800s. The mine continued to expand over the next 20 years, until the late 1950s and 60s, when rising costs and a drop in world market values for gold resulted in both mines eventually closing – permanently.
Modern day Wells is a thriving arts community, and is divided by the highway into two main sections.
The portion on the north side is the original building site of the mining town that was established when the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine was formed. Buildings here have been restored to showcase art galleries, the Sunset Theatre, the general store (built as the post office), the district offices (originally the drug store), and the museum (the original mine office).
The lower southern part of town, which houses the gas station, several accommodations and restaurants, was, for the most part, built on top of the original mine land.
Tours and Museum
Most of the buildings in Wells have been renovated as businesses with a focus on the arts community, but have still been kept to a sort of 1930s theme. Stop in at the Wells Museum, which occupies a building that once housed the old Island Mountain Mine office. Explore its diverse collection of artifacts recalling the second Cariboo Gold Rush from 1930-1967. Of particular interest is the giant chess set made from drill bits as well as the two vaults used for gold and money located on the sides of the building.
Or explore the area's historic and heritage sites. Pick up the historic walking tour brochure from the Wells Visitor Centre or one of the local businesses.
Barkerville Historic Town (located only 5km/3mi from Wells) was established in 1862, and thrived for many years despite a fire in 1868 that nearly consumed the entire town. Barkerville has since become a premiere heritage site and features more than 125 restored heritage buildings along a Victorian-era streetscape.
Historic Hikes in Wells and Barkerville
The mountains around Wells and Barkerville are filled with mining history where tourists can follow the footsteps of those early pioneers. The original Gold Rush pack trail has been restored and sign-posted by the Friends of Barkerville for those wishing to do a gentle hike and to feel the experiences of days gone by.
Or explore ghost towns and abandoned mine workings, hosted by knowledgeable and experienced guides who will point out historical sites and allow for time to explore and take memorable photos. For more information on local history and culture, check with the Wells Visitor Centre.