Once home to 5,000 residents, the town now sits as an empty reminder of the fleeting magic of the Cariboo Gold Rush.
The US wasn’t the only country to ever experience a gold rush and in 1861, Canada had its own gold craze. The frenzy first began when gold was struck in the town that would soon be named Barkerville, heading up what’s known as the Cariboo Gold Rush. In its heyday, Barkerville was the most alluring and most popular town in British Columbia, with many people flocking to its town lines just to have a piece of the action. Gold was big not only in the western part of the US but also in western Canada, which led to a general movement to the other side of the country for those looking to get rich quickly.
Unfortunately, when gold rush towns are built, they’re often gone as quickly as the flame was lit. In the intensity to mine a region until it’s been fully tapped out, it’s easy to forget that to sustain a town, there needs to be a long-term line of work. And for many people, Barkerville was a reminder of the harsh reality that was the Canadian west during the Cariboo Gold Rush. The haste of gold mining also brought about the haste of leaving once it was over, and the town, now, remains a solitary, eerie reminder.
A Massive Town That Was Left Almost As Quickly As It Was Built
Barkerville went up seemingly overnight and for some, it was like a town had appeared before their very eyes with no one realizing just how quickly it was made accessible. The town itself, however, was not easy to get to; the first settlers of the town had no choice but to bring their belongings in large packs on their backs, and this is how the construction of the town was started. Next, a road came, and from that point on, it was nearly impossible to stop the influx of people… Then again, no one really had any desire to. Barkerville was a beacon of hope for those who were seeking a new and better life, but no one anticipated that the gold rush lifestyle would be so short-lived.
Barkerville saw upwards of 5,000 residents by the mid-1860s, less than five years after the town was first constructed. The town was bustling and businesses began to grow with anything from saloons to theaters being fair game. Small businesses were sustainable with the popularity the town was getting and for the time being, it was a great money-maker and provided opportunities abound.
The town even built a church that became the cornerstone for many in the community, St. Saviour’s Anglican Church. The only problem the town faced was getting certain products to the shops, as the road to Barkerville made travel easier, but couldn’t keep up with the supply and demand of a 5,000-person population. Therefore, prices of goods were inflated to support the rare deliveries which held steady for a while, before the gold rush came to a screeching halt and every business was left bankrupt.
The town kept growing and it seemed that no problem – including the delivery of goods – was a serious issue, as dormitories were added for minors and a home for the elderly was constructed. It seemed all of this would come to a screeching halt when a fire ripped through the town in 1868 but even despite this, the buildings that burnt down were completely rebuilt in a matter of only six weeks. For a while, it seemed that nothing could empty this town of those who loved it so much.
The Rise Of The Ghost Town Formerly Known As Barkerville
A schoolhouse was built in the town in 1880 and, sadly, this was the last building to ever be constructed. It was during this time that the gold rush itself had come to an end with the mines devoid of enough gold to keep the work going. With no gold to mine and no means of finding work nearby, people began to leave, with Barkerville declining in its population by the day. During the 1930s, some people moved into Barkerville during the Great Depression when the price of gold increased, but even this didn’t last long enough to be considered anything but a blip on the map that was Barkerville.
By 1957, the government stepped in and bought out any remaining residents (of which, there were very few) and it now stands as a historic site by the name of Barkerville Historic Town and Park. There has since been a new town that was built for the purpose of housing those who were relocated, called New Barkerville, and it’s here that some tourists stay when visiting the old, abandoned mining town down the road.
BY KATIE MACHADO