Monday, November 4, 2013

Barkerville is always a blast

To get away from grind of work and the pressures of daily life, I loaded the wife and kids into the mini-van and headed out on a family vacation.
The destination was the historic gold-mining town of Barkerville. This was the fifth time I have been the to the old Cariboo community and I have a great time, every time.
There is just something intriguing about turning the clock back 150 years to a day when men were men and women were, um, well, based on the stories I read some of them were a lot like the men as well.
You had to be of hardy stock to live so deep in the woods, taming an untamed land. The lack of bathroom facilities alone would be enough to keep me in the city, but many made the journey through the wilds of B.C. in search of gold.
William 'Billy' Barker actually did not start the gold rush in the Cariboo region, but he did haul out a lot of gold. He hauled out some $600,000 in gold, which even today is an astounding amount of money.
Barker had the richest claim in the area yet he died a pauper in Victoria. His grave did not even have a marker until the 1960s.
So Billy was a great gold miner, but not so great with money.
Barkerville is a steady climb up a mountain roughly an hour from Quesnel. By stagecoach it was a two-day journey.
We went for a ride on the stagecoach around the historic settlement that lasted about 20 minutes and my butt was already getting sore, so I could not fathom doing that for days on end.
For those walking to the gold fields, the journey could take weeks. Did I mention my concerns over the bathroom facilities?
On this trip, we stayed at the Wells Hotel, which was built in 1934. It was the oldest hotel I had ever stayed in. The rooms were the smallest I have seen and there was no phone or TV in the room. It was one of the coolest hotels ever.
Not very often do we get to actually interact with history like that, so staying there added to the already historic feel of the journey.
There are a couple of bed and breakfasts and a hotel in Barkerville itself where people can stay, and actually spending the night in the old town is something I have got to do one day.
The buildings in the once-thriving town are as close to original as they can be and offer a fascinating look at how life was way back then.
There are actors strolling about in period costumes who put on performances in numerous locations around town throughout the day.
It seemed every half hour or so, someone would break into a routine depicting life long ago. The performance at the water wheel was my favourite street show, mixing humour with the telling of the history of gold mining. They are all free and add greatly to the experience.
The show at the Barkerville theatre is a must see. You do have to pay for this one, but it is well worth the cost. The stagecoach ride costs extra as does panning for gold, but all add to the adventure. And when you pan for gold, you will find several flakes of the precious metal that is put in a little vile that you can take home as a souvenier.
At the far end of Barkerville is China town, where you can get a glimpse into how the Chinese helped settle the region and the contribution they made to the town.
One of the things that impressed me about the entire Barkerville experience was the lack of price gouging. I know, I couldn't believe it either. Typically a tourist destination has you paying through the nose for everything (Disneyland charged me $8 for a hot dog.)
But the prices in Barkerville are reasonable. Wake Up Jake restaurant has wonderful food for the same price as just about any restaurant I have been to recently. The 'general store' also has reasonable prices on their confectionaries, souveniers and other items. For those with a passion for pastries, the old bakery offers up fresh treats, breads and other items – at a reasonable price.
There are some expensive, high-end items to be found, but there is also a bevy of well-priced items ideal to take home as a reminder of your trip.
And it is likely a trip you will remember, especially if you harbour a fondness for the rugged frontier. My children remember their excursions back in time and the city of gold still has enough magic in to keep even teenagers from getting bored.

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