10 Facts – Cascade City

The town of Cascade City was constructed as a Canadian Pacific Railway boom town located in the Boundary Country which was alternatively known as the ‘Gateway to the Boundary Country’ due to its close proximity to the Canada-U.S. border in the West Kootenay region.

The original site of the town of Cascade City.

The original site of the town of Cascade City.

On this day, in 1899, a fire swept through the area, destroying a large percentage of the town and so here are ten facts about Cascade City:

  1. It was founded in 1896 and named after the nearby Cascade Falls which occurred on the Kettle River.
  2. The property in this area was originally owned by Aaron Chandler, an American from North Dakota who, on seeing financial possibility in the area, began to divide the land and sell it off to businessmen.

    The tents used by inhabitants in the early years of the town.

    The tents used by inhabitants in the early years of the town. Image from Wikipedia.

  3. The original industries of the town were mining and the construction of rail in the region but the prosperity of the town was further elevated in 1897 when the Cascade Water and Power Company formed an electric dam on the Kettle River in 1897; this supplied electricity to Grand Forks, Phoenix, and Greenwood.
  4. In its early days, the town only had two buildings which were a general store and a restaurant while its inhabitants stayed in tents.
  5. However, by 1898, there were 15 hotels along with numerous brothels which were worked by women with remarkable names including ‘Scrap Iron Minnie’ and ‘Rough Lock Nell’.

    The Cascade Hotel; one of many that sprung up in the town. Image from wikipedia.

    The Cascade Hotel; one of many that sprung up in the town. Image from Wikipedia.

  6. It wasn’t until the Doon Gang Tobacco Robbery in 1897, when the gang broke into the general store and made off with 150 pounds of tobacco, that the need for a police force and a jail became evident. In this case, the shop book-keeper had to make the arrest himself and detain the leader in a local carpenter’s home.
  7. August 12, 1899; the CPR arrived in the town from the Kettle River Bridge to a town-wide celebration complete with $25 worth of refreshments for the railway laborours.
  8. Unfortunately, only 6 weeks after the arrival of the CPR, a fire swept through the town burning down 6 hotels and several other structures in under an hour.  At this time, the town had no fire department and so a firebreak was created by using dynamite on some of the threatened buildings.
  9. This bad luck continued in 1901 when the rebuilding of the town was disrupted by the outbreak of a second fire.
  10. After this, all but 75 inhabitants of the town moved on to other locations and the town quickly faded into obscurity.

    The town of Cascade at the height of its occupation before it was destroyed by fires. Image from Wikipedia.

    The town of Cascade at the height of its occupation before it was destroyed by fires. Image from Wikipedia.

The town , surprisingly, continued in its reduced capacity for a number of years where it was used as a customs port where, in 1920, it was inhabited by somewhere around 150 residents and consisted of one public building in the form of a store.  Today, much of the original town-site is covered by the Christina Lake Gold Club’s course and the only remaining memento of the town itself is the cemetery located on the opposite bank of the river.



Billy Barker – The Founder of Barkerville

William (Billy) Barker was a hugely successful prospector during the Cariboo gold rich that has been immortalized through his namesake, the town of Barkerville.  However, despite these claims to fame, the last years of his life were actually rather tragic.

William (Billy) Barker; image from www.barkerville.ca

William (Billy) Barker; image from http://www.barkerville.ca

Born in England, there is some conflict over the date and location of his birth.  1817 appears to be the most commonly agreed on year (that’s the date that has ended up on his gravestone) but there are claims to 1819 and 1820 as well with the location typically being given as Fenland or Cambridgeshire.  As a waterman, he was employed to work on small boats moving cargo around the smaller canals of England but this career path came to an end around 1845 when the introduction of railroads into the shipping business put him out of work.  The ending of his livelihood in England resulted in Barker travelling to America where he joined the Californian gold rush without having much success.  Regardless of this, he followed many of his fellow prospectors north to British Columbia where he had arrived by 1859.

Despite being one of the first to discover a large amount of gold in the Cariboo region, Billy had to work through three unsuccessful mining locations before he struck lucky.  His first stop was in the area now known as Lillooet which is roughly 400 km south of Barkerville and by 1861 he had worked his way up to what is now Quesnel.  In 1862 he arrived in the aptly and optimistically named Richfield which was only about a 30 minute walk away from what was soon to become the town of Barkerville. Not having any better luck in this area then he had had in any of the previous, Billy decided to look below the canyon of Richfield where Barkerville now lies.  This area was much harder to mine than most and the other miners reported thought he was crazy to try his luck here.  But, this is where his previous experience ended up coming in handy.  Most of the Europeans who mined in the North American gold rushes were from wealthy families and were unaccustomed to the long hours and tough working conditions of the prospector life and so Barker, with his working class background, was likely better suited to this life.

In most areas, gold lies only about 3-5 meters below ground but in the canyon chosen by Barker, he ended up having to dig down almost 20 meters before striking lucky but that clearly ended up being worthwhile.  His mine ended up producing 37,500 ounces of gold (roughly $40 million Canadian today) and the town of Barkerville quickly sprung up around him once word of his find got out.

Unfortunately, it appears that Billy Barker was unprepared for his sudden increase in wealth; reports indicate that he ended up smoking up to 30 cigarettes a day in order to deal with the stress.  He died penniless in Victoria on July 11, 1894 demonstrating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease as well as possible cancer of the jaw.  Currently, his grave is located in Victoria’s Ross Bay Cemetery although there has been talk in recent years about potentially having it moved to Barkerville.

The Grave of Billy Barker; image from www.flickr.com

The Grave of Billy Barker; image from http://www.flickr.com

10 Facts – 100 Mile House

Established in the 1800’s as a rest stop and supply station for miners heading to the Fraser Canyon gold rush, 100 Mile House obtained its name due to its distance from the town of Lillooet which was considered to be mile zero by the gold rushers. Here are ten additional facts about the town:


Map of the region. Image from cbc.ca

Map of the region. Image from cbc.ca

  1. It was originally named ‘Bridge Creek House’ after the creek which runs through the area.
  2. Its name changed to 100 Mile House during the Cariboo Gold rush during which time (in 1862) a roadhouse was built in the area to mark 100 miles up the Old Cariboo Road.

    100 Mile House during the Gold Rush. Image from bcheritage.ca

    100 Mile House during the Gold Rush. Image from bcheritage.ca

  3. During its original function at the time of the gold rush, it was really just a collection of buildings owned by a man named Thomas Miller rather than an actual town.
  4. In the 1900’s logging was introduced to the area which provided a more stable industry, allowing the town to begin taking form.
  5. Shortly after this, during the 1930’s, Lord Martin Cecil left England and arrived in 100 Mile House to manage the estate there which was owned by his father, the 5th Marquees of  Exter.

    Lord Martin in the 1930's. Image from www.bridgecreek.ca

    Lord Martin in the 1930’s. Image from http://www.bridgecreek.ca

  6. This estate was actually a short distance outside of the town itself and had its own train stop on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway which ran through the area.
  7. Even at this time, the ‘town’ as it was consisted of only 5 public buildings; a road house, a post office, a general store, a telegraph office, and a power plant with a total population of 12 people
  8. Reducing this even further, the original road house burnt down in 1937.
  9. Over time ranches were established on the plateau near the town center.
  10. One of these ranches, the Gang Ranch, is one of the largest ranches in the world.

Today, 100 Mile House has a population of approximately 2,000 people and is a retail and service center for the Southern Cariboo area.  In addition to the services this town provides to the surrounding area, it is also a popular tourist destination with people who enjoy the outdoors with swimming, fishing, horseback riding, bird watching skiing, and golfing all being available in the surrounding area.

The welcome sign today. Image from www.campscout.com

The welcome sign today. Image from http://www.campscout.com

For more information check out the official website of 100 Mile House or the Destination B.C. site for the town.

Gold Rushes in British Columbia

Between the years of 1858-1863, in the interior regions of British Columbia, there were two major gold rushes which played significant roles in the shaping of the province.  These rushes occurred one right after the other in areas which had previously been known as prominent fur trading territories and had immediate impact in that they brought thousands of prospectors and adventurers to an area which had, up until that point, been sparsely populated at best.

Rush #1: The Fraser River Gold Rush

  • began in 1858
  • brought over 30,000 people – mostly Americans who arrived looking for opportunities after the California Gold Rush had run its course
  • occurred on the shores of the Fraser River between what is now Hope and Lillooet
  • had the major result of having the mainland of British Columbia declared a British colony in order to prevent a loss of British control in the region
A View of the Fraser Canyon.

A View of the Fraser Canyon.

An illustrated look at the B.C. goldfields.

An illustrated look at the B.C. goldfields.

Gold Rush #2: The Cariboo Gold Rush

  • from 1860-1863
  • this rush had more Canadian and British prospectors than its predecessor
  • the commercial center was Barkerville
  • the major result of this second rush was the construction of a 650 km road from Yale into the Cariboo Mountains which would become a major transportation route during the later development of the mainland
The town of Barkerville, taken in 1865.

The town of Barkerville, taken in 1865.

The Cariboo Road, going through the Fraser Canyon. Photo taken in 1867.

The Cariboo Road, going through the Fraser Canyon. Photo taken in 1867.

One of the major downsides of these rushes was that they were directly responsible for an increase in tensions and conflicts with the native peoples of the region.  While contact with Europeans had been made years prior, this interaction had been in the industry of the fur trade.  In this capacity, the new comers had arrived in very small numbers, had a far more temporary set up in the way of isolated forts, and had worked with the aboriginal peoples using their knowledge and skills in order to increase their trade.  This was still an introduction that altered the way of life for those native peoples in the area but it was an arrangement that worked more along the line of a partnership where things may not have been entirely fair and equal but there were benefits to be had by both groups through the cooperation.  In contrast to this, the gold rush arrivals were operating on a far more personal agenda and these newcomers simply swarmed in and took over the area.

While these alterations absolutely had their negative attributes both for the aboriginal peoples as well as for the fur trade itself, they did prove to be the catalyst that propelled British Columbia forward.  The sudden and massive increase in inhabitants lead to a sudden boom in business for a number of individuals including farmers, merchants, hotel owners, and builders as the province began to take on a more modern appearance almost over night.