On August 21, 1860, gold was discovered in the creeks running into the Quesnel River in British Columbia, and prospectors swarmed into the area later known as Barkerville. Billy Barker, from Cornwall, England, decided to sink a shaft and not pan for gold. He tried Williams Creek, and by August 1862, had sunk a crude shaft 40 feet into the bedrock. By this time, Barker was almost broke, and other prospectors told him that he was crazy to go on. Determination paid off. Before the end of the month, Billy Barker struck rich pay dirt. his claim was only 600 feet long, but he took gold worth $600,000 from it.
Then Barkerville grew up almost overnight. It became a town of log shanties, saloons, and false-fronted stores built on stilts along narrow, muddy streets. People flocked there from all parts of the world. There were not only miners, but clerks and card-sharks, bankers and barbers, poets and priests, dudes and dancing-girls. There was real inflation in Barkerville; boots sold for $50 a pair, and soap for $1.25 a bar. Entertainers, including strolling Shakespearean players, were paid in gold dust!
Disaster came in 1868 when Barkerville was destroyed by fire. Fortunately, when the gold petered out, many Barkerville residents stayed in British Columbia to share the wealth of other, less fickle, natural resources. Billy Barker was one of the many, although he didn’t benefit much. he married a very expensive woman who spent money as naturally as she breathed! Barker ended his days in the Old Men’s Home in Victoria.
Barkerville was a ghost town for many years, but was rebuilt almost in its original form in 1958, when British Columbia celebrated its 100th anniversary. Now it is a historic park, and during Barkerville Days in the summer, thousands of visitors enjoy the sights and entertainment of the gold rush days.
Want to learn more? I suggest visiting the Vancouver Sun, the Ghost Towns.com (the only thing I don’t understand is why they say it sometimes snows in the summer …). A few other places are the British Columbia Heritage for a very interesting article by Lorna Townsend, and another is a site I just found, the Look and Learn – I can’t describe the site very well, so I encourage you to look around the site after you have read “A second gold rush followed patient Billy Barker’s find.”
- Meet Billy Barker: Quesnel’s most famous and successful miner (sandmanhotelgroup.wordpress.com)
- After the Gold Rush (canadacrossings.com)
- Billy Barker Daze (cantankerousmule.wordpress.com)