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Ghost Towns of Canada: Barkerville, British Columbia

Barkerville was first established as a product of the gold rush.

Barkerville is a ghost town found in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The town was the main town during the Cariboo Gold Rush of the late 19th century and is also one of the best-preserved towns of that period. Barkerville was established in 1862 and was named after the first gold miner to strike gold in the town, Billy Barker. Today, Barkerville is a famous tourist attraction due to its cultural and historical significance.

Gold Rush and Establishment of Barkerville

The 19th century was an exciting and one of the most defining periods in the history of the British Columbia Province of Canada. It was in the early 19th century that gold deposits had been discovered in much of the province, particularly in the Cariboo region. The discovery coincided with the decline of gold deposits in the California mines as well as in the mines along the Fraser, and this ultimately led to the rise of the Cariboo gold rush. Among the prospectors who moved into British Columbia was Billy Barker, an English sailor who previously had no luck in striking any gold deposits. Billy Barker had heard of the rich gold deposits in William Creek and traveled to the region accompanied by many other English prospectors. Luck was on Billy Barker’s side as he struck huge gold deposits on August 13th, 1862 and his claim would eventually be established to be 37,500 ounces of gold. Soon the news of the rich deposits had spread all over North America attracting thousands of people. In just a few years, Barkerville had grown to become one of the largest cities in North America and the largest in British Columbia. To cater for the increased demand for supplies in the city, the colonial authorities constructed the Cariboo Wagon Road which allowed the bulk transportation of supplies. Even the 1868 fire which consumed much of the city did not deter the growth and popularity of Barkerville.

Decline of Barkerville

However, as is the case with many gold-rush cities, Barkerville’s prominence was short-lived. By the 1870s, the gold deposits in Barkerville became scarce which ultimately led to miners to seek other alternatives in other parts of British Columbia and North America in general. As the miners moved away from the town, the traders who had the miners as their clients had to shut down their establishments and move away as well. By the start of the 20th century, the town had become disserted. The founder of the town, Billy Barker shared the same fate as the city. Billy’s personal life had crumbled after his wife left him for younger men and this led him to spend his fortune on alcohol and saloons. Billy would later die of cancer on July 11th, 1894. Barkerville, later on, experienced a sudden growth during the Great Depression of the early 20th century, but after economic condition had improved, the town was again disserted leaving only a handful of residents.

Tourist Attractions

Barkerville was restored in 1957 and was used by the Canadian government as a tourist attraction with the ghost town being renamed as Barkerville Historic Town. During the process of restoration, the few residents who lived in the town were relocated to New Barkerville. Later, in 1960 a museum was opened in Barkerville (one of the best historical mining museums in the world) as well as the Barkerville Historic Park. The opening coincided with the 100-year anniversary of Billy Barker’s gold strike in the town. One of the oldest buildings in Barkerville, the Chee Kung Tong Building was in 2008 designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.

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