The Gold Rush Trail – a retrospective

An amazing trip back into part of the colourful past of our beautiful province. I would be hard pressed to name anyplace in my travels that can compare to the natural beauty of our home. This journey will close out with a collection of photographs from our travels. I leave for Oaxaca Mexico and the Day of the Dead festivals in just under two weeks. I do hope you will join me for the next adventure!

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Food Storage and Meal Planning

Meal planning and household management in the 19th century Cariboo was similar in some ways to modern day practices and vastly different in many others. While very little planning is involved in many meal decisions in modern times (a spur of the moment restaurant meal or fast food purchase are examples of this), meticulous planning was essential for the survival of a Pioneer family through a long, cold winter.

Wild foods – plant and game – were to a large part responsible for stocking a larder, together with vegetable garden production, fowl and beef production. Vegetables and fruits were canned and pickled. Children contributed to the family table early in life, with youngsters learning to shoot at an early age. Many young children were waterfowl hunters.

While we have the luxury of sending a trained dog out for a downed duck across the pond, the children often shot a duck, stripped off clothes, swam out to retrieve the duck, dried themselves off and got dressed while waiting for the next flock to come overhead – then repeated the process again. 

Cattle were herded up the Cariboo Wagon Road starting in the 1860’s to feed the hordes of hungry miners along the routes. Basic meals of beans, side pork and beef were commonplace. Beans could be shipped and stay relatively unspoiled, while beef on the hoof was slaughtered as needed. Many homesteaders in this area would make a run before winter to Ashcroft to stock up on flour, salt and other essentials that could not be produced on the homestead. Large amounts of whiskey were often consumed during these shopping trips as men caught up with friends that they may see only a few times a year. Produce grown at home was dried, salted, pickled and kept in root cellars. Cabbages were hung upside down with the roots attached, carrots layered in sand in barrels and potatoes stored in bins.

The root cellar at Hat Creek ranch is the size of a small house and built into the hillside behind the main road house. Heavy wooden beams support the earth roof. Here would be stored root vegetables, sauerkraut, bacon, potatoes, fruit such as apples and any other food stuffs that kept in a cold, humid environment. Scurvy was a known scourge at that time and some of the old house hold manuals advised drinking the juice from canned fruits as a breakfast drink to increase vitamin C in the diet. 

Sources of protein were more varied than today :-). Recipes for muskrat, skunk, squirrel, porcupine, beaver and Lynx are common in some of the old cookbooks. I have included some of these below. Please note my disclaimer – I have tried none of these and accept no responsibility of how they will taste, look or what they will do to your digestive system 😀 Recipes are from the Northern Cookbook by Eleanor Ellis

Boiled Muskrat – Clean and wash muskrats, cover with cold water and add salt. Boil until soft. H.P. Sauce is good to eat with this.

Muskrat – Open fire method. Get a Y shaped stick, put the rat on it and roast slowly over an open fire. This is the best lunch when one is out shooting muskrats – tea and roast muskrat.

Boiled porcupine – make a fire outside and put porcupine in the fire to burn off the quills. Wash and clean well. Cut up and boil till done.

Baked Skunk – Clean, skin, wash. Bake in oven with salt and pepper.  this tastes like rabbit. Skunk fat is apparently  very good for whopping cough.

Pemmican – Pound dried moose or deer meat on a piece of canvas or stone to fine crumbs. Pour hot melted moose fat over the crumbled meat in a pan. let freeze – serve cold. Very rich.

Boiled smoked beaver – Smoke the beaver for a day or two. Cut it up and boil in salted water till done.

Defintely a different world.

The Women of the Cariboo 1860-1950

Old letters and accounts written by the first non-indigenous women who settled in the Cariboo reveal a life both rich and full of hardship. In one diary a typical day in winter is described by a woman whose husband was away in the bush hunting. Fire lit,  four children under 6 fed and dressed  – she left them in the house (babysitters were unheard of and according to a number of the accounts I have read, children as young as four were reliable to be left unattended) and tended to the livestock close to the house before hitching up the team and heading several miles to where the hay was kept, loading up enough hay to feed their cattle for the day and then heading back to the homestead. Another job en route was breaking the ice on the nearby lake so the cattle and horses could drink.  Then back to the house for the unending chores of the day and the extra work created by several feet of snow outside and sub zero temperatures. 

Despite the grinding day in and day out work, the inhabitants found time to get together with neighbours for parties and dances. Horse drawn sleighs were common in the region and often small vacations would be taken – visiting several households over a period of about a week. Family and friends were of the utmost importance here – my sense is that this interconnectedness and the physical fitness of the people then was responsible for many of these women living well into their 80’s and 90’s.

Marjorie Abram (nee Dench) with her hunting dogs and rifle. Majorie settled at Demspey Lake north of 108 Mile house with her husband Art Abram in 1938. They built and ran  a hunting and fishing lodge in 1946. The lodge burnt down in 1958 and the Abrams relocated to Victoria. They moved back to Dempsey lake in 1973. Their son Arnold still farms the property. One of Arnolds earliest memories of his mother is when he was about three and riding on the saddle in front of his mother on the way home from a neighbours. His mother suddenly told him to hang on and using her rifle dropped a belligerent bull moose from her horse. She then continued the ride home and brought the menfolk back to butcher the moose before the local coyote and beer populations located the carcass.

Hazel Park and her friend Joyce Walker. Joyce came up to visit hazel from Vancouver every fall to go bird hunting on horse back.

Dorothy Wendell of Barkerville was out hunting with her husband and another gentleman when she wandered off from the main party. The photo above shows her with the two hides of the grizzlies she shot that day. One surprised her coming out of the bush. She shot it and waited as often a grizzly would suddenly come alive again if approached too soon and maul or kill its attacker. She thought she saw it move and shot again – killing a second bear. The dumbstruck men appeared moments later.

There were some women who didn’t make the transition to the Cariboo world. One interesting story is of a wealthy British spinster who arrived to homestead in 1924-25 in the Bridge Lake area. Gertrude Boulter lasted one winter before escaping to Guadulajara Mexico – the transition from  upper class British home to a Cariboo winter in a log cabin must have been quite an experience. Her letters have never come to light but would be an interesting read if found.

Strong women were admired in the region. When a local boy told his father that he wanted to marry the small., pretty daughter of a neighbour, his father said that she didn’t look very strong and was small. His son replied he was marrying a wife not a work horse :-). The union was a highly successful one and their decendents live in the area to this day.

Barkerville to Lac La Hache and Dempsey Lake, Road Houses of the Cariboo Wagon Road

 Ice sheets falling off our awnings as we packed up camp Friday morning bid us farewell to Wells after a hard frost settled during the evening. Our route from Wells west and south was stunningly beautiful accompanied by the brilliant fall colours.

C19290A8-DA3D-4740-8D19-A00410BF96D2Our first destination was Quesnel where we topped off diesel tanks and picked up some supplies. Travel back down the now paved Cariboo Wagon Road 🙂 took us towards Lac la Hache – the site of an important roadhouse on the CWR – as well as (more importantly at this moment 🙂 ) the modern day site of one of the best bakeries in the world – Lac La Hache bakery, owned and run by a German family of bakers. Our pull off the highway next to the bakery was copied by a number of other RV’s – all with the same objective – the bakery 🙂 We had ordered ahead, a good thing as the line up (including folks speaking a number of different languages – Asians and Europeans ) stretched out the door and we probably could have used a wheel barrow to transport our treasures back to the RV’s.

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This bakery should be on everyone’s stop – highly recommended is the Pioneer bread and the streusel cakes. http://www.lac-la-hache-bakery.sfobc.com

Roadhouses of the Cariboo Wagon Road

Many of the roadhouses which provided food, team changes for the stagecoach and rest stops along the Cariboo wagon road were built to maximize potential profits based on the best guess as to where contractors hired to build the various sections of the road would actually end up putting the road. Between Cottonwood and Richfield the route of the CWR was changed three times, putting some roadhouses out of business – one can only wonder if some gold or access to future profits changed hands during the rerouting. Mile zero of the CWR was Lillooet – the end of the line was Barkerville. The road houses were located at Ashcroft, Hat Creek ranch, Clinton, Pollards Cornish Ranch and Road House, 59 Mile House, 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, 108 Mile Ranch, 118 Mile house, 150 Mile House,  Quesnel HBC store and Cottonwood House. Areas chosen for roadhouse construction was generally fertile with good grazing for animals and favourable growing conditions for vegetables and other food crops.

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Unfortunately most of the original Road House buildings have burnt down at some point – wood stoves, stove pipes running up through halls accessing rooms above the kitchen and sitting areas below, wooden construction and open flames are not a good combination. A little liquor was probably involved in some cases as well 😉

The history of the Cariboo Wagon Road contractors is a colourful one including characters such as Pegleg Smith, Malcolm Munro who ended up bankrupt with time spent in a Federal Penitentiary for mismanagement of funds and G.B. Wright who delayed certain parts of the road in order to maximize the profits from his paddle steamers that plied the Fraser.  It seems that history does repeat itself…..

Our destination and residence for the next 10 days or so is Dempsey Lake

a few miles north of 108 Mile Ranch. More to come as we explore the history of the area. 

 

Wells and Barkerville

The road from Hat Creek ranch to Williams Lake is one of the loveliest in the Cariboo. Glorious autumn colours accompanied us on our travels and traces of the 2017 fires which threatened Williams Lake and jumped the highway south of the city are rapidly disappearing as Mother Nature makes her repairs.

 

Our drive for the day was complete as we dropped into the lovely valley housing the historic  mining town of Wells.

Founded in 1934 by Fred Wells and originally known as the Cariboo Old Gold  Quartz Company town, Wells has reinvented itself as a historic tourist stop, complete with funky restaurants, bars, accommodation and a small downtown area with original buildings. Cariboo Joys RV park just on the outside of town was our destination.

 

Owned by Joy Stepan – her story is one of the many of the Cariboo. Her great grandfather was a prospector in the 19th century Australian gold rush – he struck it rich and turned his gold into a real estate empire. Joy was born in Australia, immigrated to Canada and eventually a need for a change in life style brought her to Wells. We were greeted warmly and settled in quickly. Our sites are full service and directly across the road from the Wells bog, a spectacular mix of gold and russet. A bonus for dog owners is the abandoned service road which runs parallel to the bog, providing a good place for dogs to air and explore. If you come here I highly recommend Cariboo Joys RV – it is a small park – 10 sites, the showers are excellent, facilities immaculate, and there is a well stocked reading room in the office area.

Barkerville

When Billy Barker struck gold on Williams Creek in 1862 he inadvertently changed the history of the province of BC. Gold piqued the interest of Queen Victoria who had considered the territory of New Caledonia (as BC was called) – if she thought of it at all – as dispensable – after gold was discovered her opinion changed :-). Barkerville at its height was considered more important than Victoria and Vancouver – who were considered to be too far away from Barkerville. 🙂 The gold rush brought in settlers to the areas and opened up the interior and northern areas of the area which soon became known as the province of British Columbia and a part of Canada. After burning to the ground in the 1875 – popular folklore says the start of the fire was a stove pipe knocked over by an amorous miner chasing a Hurdy Gurdry  girl around a kitchen looking for a kiss – the town was quickly rebuilt with a number of improvements which included putting all buildings on stilts (similar to building styles in the modern day Carolinas) to avoid the massive spring flooding that occurred when the 20-40 ft of yearly snow fall melted and ran off the logged mountains surrounding the town. The greatest amount of mud was deposited at the bottom of the town next to the church. A blessing the reverend said – as it brought the worshippers closer to God.

Hardy Gurdy girls have been misrepresented in literature over the years as ladies of the night, whereas they were girls hired out for a dance to miners at saloons. Recruiters went to a Europe in a time of depression in the mid 1800’s and searched for peasant and lower class families in debt with daughters 14-16 years of age. The recruiter would then offer to clear the family debt in exchange for giving the daughter a better life in Canada. Unknown to the families, the daughters were then indentured servants so to speak – with huge debts to work off for their clothes, passage to canada, food etc. Of the $1 a dance earned by the girls, a fraction of that went to retiring their debt, the majority ending up in the pockets of their “owners”. Many never did work off their debt, some did or had their debt paid off by a miner who fell in love with them and offered marriage. The women of the Cariboo were tough. The photo below spoke to me – the stylish woman in a model like pose on the snow next to the huge grizzly she had just dropped with what looks to me like a pea shooter of a gun. Love it 🙂

The site was remarkable for its authenticity , the talent and knowledge of the actors representing Barkerville residents and for the recreations of past lives and homes. We visited meticulously restored homes, stores, hotels and businesses.

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You can stay on site if you wish in a authentic boarding house, take a course in blacksmithing, cooking, take in a music hall performance and ride a stagecoach – a  highly recommended trip! 

Cariboo Gold Rush Trail

Our route along the Cariboo gold rush trail in BC will take us two days from Vancouver island to Barkerville. 

A similar route followed by men and women lured by the ancient scent of El Dorado in the 1850’s and onward, often took weeks and sometimes months depending on weather conditions, skill and often just plain luck. As we sat on a warm and comfortable BC Ferry making the transit from the island to the mainland my thoughts went to the tired muddled folk who often disembarked onto the mud choked streets of what was then Fort Victoria (modern day Victoria) from one of a number of hastily refitted tramp steamers heaved off the scrap heap in California and used to transport the thousands of hopefuls north to Vancouver island from San Francisco. Once in Victoria the journey had just begun as supplies and permits needed to be obtained and then passage to the mainland arranged. Many would be miners whose exhausted cash reserves could not stretch to the paddle steamer fare to the mainland formed small groups and paddled a canoe across the straight of Georgia and up the Fraser river to the start of their northern trek on foot at Fort Yale – modern day Yale.

After exiting the ferry a few hours drive brought us to the town of Hope one of the stops along the gold rush trail and the entrance to the Fraser Canyon, as well as a few kilometres down river from Fort Yale.

The terrain begins to climb steeply after Hope and then Yale is reached. Our diesel pick ups pulling out supply wagons 🙂 made short work of the hills – a very different prospect was faced by earlier travellers with a 70 pound pack on their back and an often recalcitrant mule packing the remainder of their gear.

 

Both horses and mules were used as pack animals in the early days. They were joined briefly by camels which were a miserable failure in the Cariboo. Being a desert animal, their hooves were ill suited for the rocky terrain in the mountains. In addition they often spooked the other pack animals – horses and mules – with sometimes disastrous results as miners watched their  animals and gear disappear over the edge of a steep trail or cliff face.

After less than a year the camels were released and abandoned to their fate in the southwestern interior of the province. Some historians believe that camel sightings following their release may have lent credence to the Sasquatch myth in the area. Rich gold strikes in the Cariboo in the 1860’s caused the building of roads to accelerate in the region with the Cariboo Wagon Road being the first to be built – this road is followed more or less by the modern highway that connects Vancouver to the Fraser Canyon and north to Quesnel and Barkerville.

Cariboo Wagon Road. Arrow shows wagon and horse on the Road
Road today

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once past Lillooet the muddy expanse of the Fraser River is replaced by the clear aquamarine/blue waters of the Thompson River which we followed for the remainder of our day to our destination at Hat Creek Ranch just north of Cache Creek.

 

The Hat Creek Ranch was a transit point for the stage coach which serviced the Gold Rush Trail – we are looking forward to exploring the site tomorrow before our push north to Barkerville.

Hat Creek Ranch

The site itself was first settled by a Donald Mclean – a former fur trader for the HBC. Donald knew of the gold strikes but as HBC policy at the time was to not encourage settlement in Canada due to possible impact on the fur industry, he stayed quiet.  However as a true insider trader he positioned himself in such a way that when the news broke of the strikes on the Fraser, McLean was ready and waiting for clientele at Hat Creek Ranch on the direct route from the coast to Barkerville.  In its heyday Hat Creek Ranch was a stagecoach depot and roadhouse on the road connecting Yale to Barkerville.

 

A stage coach trip from Yale to Barkerville was the fastest way to get north taking 7-10 days – however the $130 one way fare was beyond the wallets of many.  Stagecoach horses were bred for speed and generally galloped for as much of the route as possible – road conditions permitting. Teams were changed every 18 miles and HCR was one of the depots where fresh horses were obtained and accommodation was available for those who could afford to pay the $2 a night.

 

The ranch itself grew all of the fruits and vegetables for its patrons, as well as chickens, pigs and beef. At one point HRC was also exporting food to the coast. 

We had a wonderful morning touring the old stage coach depot, bar and working restaurants, taking a stage coast ride,

  

visiting the gardens, piggery, hen house, laundry – and outhouse – both child and adult seats available 🙂

Interpretation staff dressed in period costumes answered our questions as we drifted through the echoes of another time. 

The campground here is recommended if you are travelling with dogs. There are two large fields directly behind the camping area where dogs can run off leash. The restaurant serves a very nice breakfast (excellent corn bread!)  and the grounds are immaculate with free hot showers and a heated washroom facility.  Thumbs up all around👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

New Delhi

Construction in New Delhi began in 1911 under British rule. It is small enclave within the entire area of Delhi and is completely opposite from Old Delhi which was established by the Mughals centuries ago. Wide boulevards and gardens characterize New Delhi which houses embassies, government and military buildings, temples, the presidents house and some hotels. It is not a residential area and other than some monkeys and the few Pi dogs along the road, street life is largely non-existent. One could be in any European or North American city.

My New Delhi experience began with my driver and guide arguing over the route to take with resulting chaos accompanied by a disembodied voice from the Google maps app instructing us to “when possible make a legal u turn”. As very little of what I have seen of driving techniques on Delhi streets could in any form be called legal it was like an episode from the keystone cops. My seat belt went on pretty early in the trip.

Once the directional challenges were overcome, the day turned out well. The first stop was the Gurudwara Bangladesh Sahib Sikh temple with a healing lake – known as the Sarvovar next to it. Apparently there was a small pox epidemic in the 17th century – which was supposedly healed with water from the lake. Made for some good photo ops in any case.

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We also toured the immense temple kitchen where meals are made to serve to anyone who wants to eat every day.

Following a few more u turns in the middle of traffic and a few short cuts over traffic medians we reached the step well – Agrasen ki Baoli which is a protected monument in India. It is 60 meters long and 15 meters wide and is thought to have been built in the 14th century. Step wells were developed to deal with seasonal fluctuations in the water table which are common in India.

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As carrying water is often women’s work step wells were also traditionally associated with women. Was a wonderful site.

Back into the car 😦 seat belt tight and off we went. Our next destination was the newly constructed Akshardham Hindu temple. Due to security cameras are not allowed inside – which is a shame, however I got a photo from the surrounding motorway. Interesting to show the outlines of the temple – which was stunning inside and out – also the extent of the pollution in Delhi is readily visible from the photo.

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It is the third largest Hindu temple in the world. There are ten gateways to allow the passage of any of the 30 million Hindu Gods, incredible carvings in marble and sandstone. A visit to the toilet at the complex was an experience. It had just been power washed out with soapy water from ceiling to floor – I don’t think I was supposed to be in there as a couple of ladies got very vocal when I was leaving and demanded money – my best deer in the headlights look greeted them as I speedily exited 🙂

OK – back to the car… Seat belt on and away we go. The India gate was next on the Agenda and rapidly appeared….. The Gate is a war memorial dedicated to 70,000 Indian military who have died in 1914-21 – with all the names of the fallen inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe style gate designed by Edwin Lutyens. A black plinth with four eternal flames seven as the tomb of the unknown soldier at the base of the Gate.

There’s that car again…….. Last stop was the the Ghandi Smriti where Ghandi spent the last few months of his life and where he was assassinated. This was a place that I had really wanted to visit. The room were Ghandi slept and ate is perfectly preserved, the events leading up to his death, his writings, his philosophies, photos, and newspaper clippings providing a detailed look at the man, his beliefs and legacy. A short walk in his footsteps (outlined in wood) to the place of his assassination – now covered with a small structure referred to as the Martyrs column – completed a very moving visit.

 

the ride back to the hotel was (surprise!!!) a short one – there will be fingernail marks in the back of the seat in front of me for a while………

I fly home tomorrow, into winter again. This has been an outstanding trip, exhausting, stimulating, thought provoking and unlike anything I have ever encountered. It will take a while to assimilate it. Parts of India have certainly provided a snap shot of where the world is heading if we keep barreling along the same route. This was my first National Geographic G Adventures trip and definitely will not be my last. The upgrades in the trip style over the old classic level of service have been much appreciated particularly in this part of the world. Our CEO was excellent, as were the local guides along the way. A great group of sympatico people on the trip was the icing on the cake – A+ all around.

Until next time — Namaste!