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History

Cowboy Jim McConnel in the Chilcotin | Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin

Cariboo History

A braided story of First Nations, fur trading, the Gold Rush and ranching weaves the history of the Cariboo to life. The story of the South Cariboo is written in the numbers signposted along Highway 97’s original roadhouse towns. About every 21km/13mi along this historic 644km/400mi route, a roadhouse was located.  Travellers could journey its entire length by stagecoach in four days, providing they could afford $130 for a one way ticket. Today, Hat Creek Ranch is one of the Cariboo’s largest surviving roadhouses, just 11km/7mi north of Cache Creek amid rolling, sagebrush hills at the junction of Highways 97 and 99. This B.C. Heritage Site marks the crossroads where all major threads of the South Cariboo’s compelling history – fur trading, ranching, First Nations culture and gold – intersect. Most of the roadhouses are long gone, while a few have evolved into villages and towns where modern-day travellers can still trace the region’s gold rush past through a landscape that appears airlifted out of an old western.

Prospectors and merchants ventured to the Central Cariboo in 1859 after the news of a big gold strike on the Horsefly River, 65km/40mi east of Williams Lake. The following year, William Pinchbeck, a tough police constable from Victoria, arrived to keep law and order; juggling jobs as lawyer, judge, and jailer while building a homestead and rest house with restaurant, saloon, general store and race-horse track. Race days attracted hundreds of spectators, including one memorable contest in 1861 when the stakes were a whopping $100,000. Pinchbeck was a busy man, his roadhouse, already famous for its White Wheat Whiskey (from his own distillery at 25 cents a shot), suffered no lack of business and he came to own almost the entire Williams Lake River Valley. Pinchbeck’s grassy gravesite above his former ranch is one of the most famous in the Cariboo, overlooking the Williams Lake Stampede Grounds.

The Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s came to an end about a decade after its start, and its prospectors fled. With paddle-wheelers plying the Fraser River and interior lakes, and a major railway to come, the region’s newly settled farmers and ranchers stayed on. Soon a new wave of modern-day adventurers followed, seeking their own golden dreams in the North Cariboo, a region as rich in untapped wilderness as it once was in gold.

To the northeast of Quesnel, the Blackwater River is the eastern entry point of the Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail (Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail). Extending 420km/261mi westward to the Pacific, this historic trail was once the Nuxalk (nu-halk) and Carrier First Nations’ primary trade route. Here in 1793, famed explorer Alexander Mackenzie traced its unmapped terrain to become the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean by land.

Chilcotin History

Unlike the Cariboo, the Chilcotin was never invaded by swarms of gold crazed prospectors, so developed much differently. It’s a world of few roads, little industry and pockets of people, the majority being First Nation. It has an impressive diversity of wildlife, including Canada’s largest population of bighorn sheep, rare white pelicans, trumpeter swans, bears, lynx, wolves, mountain caribou and hundreds of wild horses. This makes it the perfect place for anyone wanting to explore the pristine Canada of their imagination.

Nothing reflects the spirit of the region more than the completion of Highway 20, at one time known as the Freedom Road, because its completion freed up access to the central coast. Until 1953, the road ended at Anahim Lake, 137km/85mi short of Bella Coola on the coast because the provincial government refused to extend it – claiming the mountainous terrain was too difficult. So, local volunteers working from opposite ends with two bulldozers and supplies purchased on credit finished the job. This determination and independent spirit remains in the fabric and character of the Chilcotin and Coastal residents today. The rustic road was not really considered a highway when first completed, but it was enough to convince the government to take over maintenance and improvements in 1955.

Those who settled this isolated region had to be tough – like Nellie Hance, who, in 1887, became the first white woman to travel into the Chilcotin by journeying 485km/301mi riding side saddle on horseback to reach her husband Tom’s trading post near Lee’s Corner (also known as Hanceville).

Others were not only tough but, perhaps, a little crazy. Rancher Norman Lee, after whom Lee’s Corner was named, set out from his spread in May 1898 with 200 head of cattle on a 2,500km/1,553mi trek to the Klondike goldfields. None of his cattle survived the journey, but Lee did, arriving in Vancouver five months later with a roll of blankets, a dog and one dollar. Borrowing enough money for the train to Ashcroft and a horse to ride home, Lee was soon ranching again and by 1902 was well on the way back to prosperity. His descendants are still ranching in the Chilcotin today.

As white settlers arrived, most of the First Nation Chilcotin chiefs were friendly and cooperative, particularly when treated with equality and respect. Many of the First Nations worked with settlers as ranch hands, cowboys, packers and guides. Others started their own freight companies using teams and wagons, or homesteaded ranches while their wives sewed and sold moccasins and gloves made from tanned deer and caribou hides, and robes made from marmot fur.

Coast History

The Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, became famous for his expeditions in and across the South Pacific. But, well before this fame, he explored British Columbia’s central coast extensively, researching the lifestyles and origins of the indigenous people who live here. As a result of his investigation, he was later able to theorize about similarities among the British Columbian First Nations people and those who lived on far-removed Pacific islands. That gave rise to his theories – and later explorations – about indigenous peoples around the Pacific having related roots. Even though his theories were never accepted by anthropologists, Heyerdahl’s life’s work began in the inlets, islands, and mainland of this craggy coastline and directly led to his legendary explorations.

Of course, Heyerdahl wasn’t the first non-native person to explore these shores. In 1793, an intrepid 29-year old Scotsman named Alexander Mackenzie – accompanied by seven French Canadian voyageurs and two First Nations porters – paddled into the Dean Channel near present-day Bella Coola. That event completed the first crossing of North America to the Pacific. Before returning east, the explorer scrawled an inscription on a rock using a reddish mixture of bear grease and vermilion: ‘Alex Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, 22nd July, 1793.’ That rock still bears his words, permanently inscribed by surveyors who followed.

The highway through the Bella Coola Valley parallels the ancient trading route, or ‘grease trail’, taken by Alexander Mackenzie on his way to the sea in 1793. Long before Mackenzie’s arrival, the Nuxalk (nu-halk) people thrived here alongside the salmon-filled rivers. The valley was part of a trade corridor between coastal and interior native groups, where furs and leather were exchanged for salmon and eulachon (oo-lick-an) oil. The oil was obtained from the rendered fat of the small herring-like fish that was valued for its calories and vitamin content. It was then transported along the ‘grease’ trails.

The landscape northwest of Bella Coola is some of the most isolated in the province. Across a 3,000,000hec/7,413,160ac area that lies within the Great Bear Rainforest remains the largest tract of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world. Several ancient First Nations cultural sites can be found here, as well as a striking array of wildlife, including the Kermode (or Spirit Bear), a rare, white-coated variation of the black bear that is sacred to B.C.’s First Nation people.

Explorers from Russia, Britain, France, and Spain also came to this region in the last quarter of the 18th century, motivated by the chance of trade, although Spain was here to protect its then territorial waters. Getting here by ship is much easier now than in either Mackenzie or Heyerdahl’s time. Ports of call may include Bella Bella, McLoughlin Bay, Shearwater, Klemtu, Ocean Falls, and the Hakai Pass.

Barkerville Historic Town & Park

Barkerville Historic Town & Park

Welcome to the Granddaddy of them all – Barkerville Historic Town & Park – the final destination on the Cariboo Waggon Road. In 1862, Billy Barker struck gold in this area of the Cariboo and 150 years later, the town…

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Copper Sun Gallery

Copper Sun Gallery

Copper Sun Gallery is located on the traditional Nuxalk territory in beautiful Bella Coola, B.C., offering handcrafted Nuxalk art made locally. You’ll find that the art and jewellery from this region has its own distinct style unique to the Nuxalk…

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Fawn Lake Resort

Fawn Lake Resort

For some people it is simply paradise, for others the best fly fishing spot in the area, yet others love the tranquility of our cozy resort.
For all of us, staying at Fawn Lake Resort is like coming home to…

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High Country Inn - Likely, BC

High Country Inn

Located in the quaint rural community of Likely, High Country Inn is situated on the sunny side of the valley overlooking Quesnel Lake. Our well maintained rooms come with satellite TV, internet, fridge and all the comforts one would need…

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Kokanee Bay Fishing Resort

Kokanee Bay Fishing Resort

Come relax, unwind and enjoy our little bit of paradise! Six cabins set along the lake for you to enjoy the sunrises and the sunsets. The cabins have everything you need, including bathrooms and kitchens with all the cookware –…

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Kopas Store

Kopas Store

Make sure to stop into Kopas Store on your next visit to Bella Coola, offering a wide selection of locally-produced goods and products, plus supplies for the discerning sportsman. In addition to supplies, you’ll also find indigenous jewellery, art, toys,…

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Lil'tem Hotel

Lil'tem Hotel

From rainbow trout fishing in the nearby lakes, to exploring the hiking trails in the surrounding mountains, this small community offers a friendly and comfortable place to stay while enjoying the area. Also rich in St’át’imc Tsal’alh culture, Seton Portage…

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Marigold Fishing Resort

Marigold Fishing Resort

Located on the shores of Loon Lake just 4.5 hours from Vancouver, Marigold is pet friendly & a recipient of the TripAdvisor certificate of excellence. Our comfortable, lakefront cabins & RV’s have fully equipped kitchens, hot & cold running water,…

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Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast - Williams Lake, BC

Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin

The Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin hosts a collection of nearly 30,000 artifacts exhibiting the depth and breadth of the region’s history. Stop by to view the western displays, including the largest saddle collection in Western Canada and the BC…

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Nusatsum River Guest House

Nusatsum River Guest House

Centrally Located in the Bella Coola Valley, 10 minutes east of Hagensborg, and 30 minutes west of Tweedsmuir Park Bear viewing station. With stunning views of the Coast Mountains you can relax in comfort on the decks, or take a…

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Robert's Roost RV Park/ Dolly's Reach Bistro

Robert's Roost Rv Park/ Dolly's Reach Bistro

Whether you want to relax on an outdoor sun platform while the kids play in the Overhead spray park, hang out at Dolly’s Reach – with pizza and a beer, shop in our on site clothing and gift store or…

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Shearwater Resort & Marina - Denny Island, BC

Shearwater Marine Resort

Looking for wilderness and adventure or just to switch off and unwind? Set on the waters edge of Denny Island, our two lodges and a variety of vacation homes cater to your every need. We offer comfortable rooms, a communal…

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Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort

Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort

This National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World is renowned as a top luxury wilderness resort, guest ranch, and eco-retreat. Here you can explore BC’s back country by foot, mountain bike, canoe, helicopter, or horseback. Hone in on your love…

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Spirit Bear Lodge, BC | Douglas Neasloss

Spirit Bear Lodge

In a land sculpted by the last ice age, where deep coastal fjords cut into the snow capped mountains and temperate rainforests lead to remote beaches, Spirit Bear Lodge takes visitors from around the world into the heart of the…

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Tallheo Cannery

Tallheo Cannery

Discover Tallheo Cannery Guest House, set in the heart of Bella Coola. Surrounded by acres of coastal rainforest and private rocky beaches, this once thriving salmon cannery & community has been transformed into a unique experience for travellers.

Experience one…

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The Historic Chilcotin Lodge

The Historic Chilcotin Lodge

The Lodge is located in Riske Creek on the Chilcotin Plateau, not far from the confluence of the Fraser and Chilcotin Rivers. It is also close to both the Junction Sheep Range Park which contains a large herd of California…

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Tweedsmuir Park Lodge

Tweedsmuir Park Lodge

Home of the grizzlies! Rated by CNN Travel as one of the province’s “best luxury lodges, Tweedsmuir Park Lodge is intimate, with 9 chalets & located in the Great Bear Rainforest. Guests can partake in fishing, heli-hiking, First Nation tours,…

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Tyax Lodge & Heliskiing - Gold Bridge, BC

Tyax Lodge & Heliskiing

Resting on the shores of Tyaughton Lake in the heart of the southern Chilcotin Mountain of British Columbia, the resort showcases rugged mountain peaks, pristine lakes, stunning glaciers and a diverse ecosystem of wildflowers and wildlife. Do as much as…

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Xatśūll First Nation - Soda Creek, BC | Michael Bednar

Xatsull Heritage Village

The Xatśūll First Nation community invites you to visit and experience their spiritual, cultural, and traditional way of life at their National, Award-Winning Heritage Village. There are regularly scheduled daily tours and you can take part in a variety of…

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Xwisten Experience Tours  - Lillooet, BC

Xwisten Experience Tours

Visit the Bridge River Fishing Grounds – the past and current fishing area of the St’at’imc People. Learn about the traditional, wind-dried method of preserving the salmon still used by its people today. Also tour the extensive archaeological village site…

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