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.


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.


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👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻