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!