Highway 26 stretches eastward from Quesnel. It’s a quiet, two-lane route that treats you to beautiful views of forests, lakes and mountains. At about 80 kilometres long, it’s a relatively short stretch of highway. But don’t let its serene setting fool you.
This road was once one of the most important routes in the province, because at the end of that 80 km you’ll find Williams Creek. That’s where Billy Barker first struck gold in 1861 and where you’ll find the town that still bears his name – Barkerville. It was the start of the Cariboo gold rush. A time when tens of thousands of fortune seekers made their way into the interior to strike it rich. 80 kilometres is nice and easy on a paved road, but imagine what it must have been like back then. Without a road. On foot. Carrying your worldly possessions on your back.
Of course, that trip was a lot longer if you were heading up from the Fraser Canyon after that gold rush had petered out. Many who attempted the trip didn’t make it, but many of those that did ended up in Barkerville. It wasn’t just a popular destination; it was the place to be if you were looking to get rich in the Cariboo. In fact, at its height, Barkerville was the largest town in western Canada.
We’re working to maintain this link to our past, and we’ve spent a lot of time and effort to resurface the highway and make travel safer and easier. And drivers aren’t the only ones that are benefiting, either. There were several old culverts along the highway that failed and were too narrow to let fish get through. Working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Ministry of Environment, we replaced those old culverts and put in new ones, so now the fish can get around better, too. If only the prospectors who originally forged this route could see how it’s changed.
If you have thoughts of striking it rich in the Cariboo gold fields, it might be a little late for that dream to pan out, but you can still experience what it was like to catch gold fever. As B.C.’s largest living museum, a trip to Barkerville is like going back in time. You can watch people in period dress, take a stagecoach ride, visit the general store, blacksmith or any of the other many shops and immerse yourself in life as it was in B.C.’s early days.
If you’re looking for a road trip this summer, Barkerville is definitely a destination to put at the top of your list. If you’re interested in more information, you can check out their web site for a list of activities and attractions.