Another Canadian Gold Rush Story

Barkerville, BC, Canada

September 5th, 2002

In winding down our great summer vacation to Canada and Alaska, We decided to take in one more tourist attraction. Billy Barker worked in England before he came to Canada.  He arrived in British Columbia in 1858 and made his way up Williams Creek in 1861.  He was a prospector by hobby and like most, eked out a living at what ever he could.  However Billy's life changed on August 17th, 1863 when he hit pay dirt at forty feet below the surface and was instantly rich. He wintered in Victoria, returning in the spring to find the town of Barkerville rising around his company's rich claim.  Thus the first Canadian gold rush was started, almost a half a century before the great Klondike gold rush.  Between 1862 and 1870, over 100,000 people traveled the Cariboo Wagon Road, to the gold fields of Barkerville.  Like Barker himself, who would sell his claim and give much of his money away, the gold was soon gone and the once prosperous town slipped  into obscurity, only to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes to become one of central British Columbia's leading attractions. Without consideration for the dismal weather which produced an on and off drizzle, we wandered down the three main streets taking in the some 120 heritage buildings which have either been restored or accurately reconstructed.  Even with the season coming to an end, the docents were everywhere acting out their parts of this once booming gold town.  With literally hundreds of buildings to explore we had to pick and choose those to be reviewed.  Early on we stopped by to check out one that explained the Chinese presence in BC.  The building was filled with old Chinese artifacts and little tidbits of information about the rarely seen world that lived in co-existence with its European dominated populations.  Supplying a bulk workforce during the gold rush days, the Chinese formed many societies. The Chee Kung Tong or Chinese Freemasons grew out of the Hongmen Secret Society in China, which was dedicated to the overthrow of the ruling Ch'ing dynasty.  The Chee Kang Tong was a prominent group in the Chariboo.  At least six stores in this town were recorded as being members.  However in Canada, the organization functioned much as a benevolent society, taking care of its members and leading the festivities on celebration days. Funds were collected from members and used for a variety of purposes including construction work, hospital maintenance and burial transfers. 
On the back street toward the end of the day, we ran into two of the best characters we have met in all the living museums we have traveled to.  These two despicable characters had plans to sell us, and the others who had gathered a valuable gold mine.  The comedy hour was as informative as it was humorous.  The show had, as a backdrop and prop, one of the original gold mines, reconstructed in a most authentic manner.  The structure consisted of a water flume which brought water up to the top of the structure. Then there was a rope operated elevator which used the water to create the left needed to remove the ore from the mine shaft which was some 25 feet underground.  The water was also used to supply the sluice box which ran out from the bottom of the structure.    Mixed into the delightful rhetoric these two were producing was a myriad of information about this type of mining.  As they explained, the science of finding gold under ground is to understand how it got there in the first place.  Gold, which is often found in the rocks which make up some mountains is washed away by rain and snow water.  Placer gold which is the paper thin flacks more commonly found is moved by water current down stream.  As gold is about 14 time as heavy as the gravel traveling with it, it quickly found the bottom where it laid until nature moved the river.  The old river bed was then filled in by natural geological processes, which places the gold underground up to 50 feet down.  Bedrock stops the gold's progression down through the soil.  Sooooo, a miner would dig a hole down to the bedrock and then pick a direction he believes crossed the old path of the a river.  He would dig along until he crossed the gold laying on the bedrock, and whallaa, he had hit a vane.  He then turned in the direction of the  old river bed and the gold deposits.  Having found the gold is only the beginning.  He then had to remove very heavy ore from the tunnel and raise it to the top of the mine shaft. This is done, in this case, by constructing the ingenious structure before us.  Water is the required element to make it all come together.  Hopefully the present river bed was not far from the old one and water could be diverted. and the water was then raised in the flume.  Water weighs around 8 1/2 lbs per gallon so you can see the potential for using it as a power source.  Under the flume was an old wooden paddlewheel which had a rope attached to a Polly that pulled the barrel up.  At the front of the flume was a sluice, laying on the ground, with ridges in it.  The ore was place in this sluice and water,
by way of a bypass, was allowed into the sluice to flush the  gravel away, leaving the placer gold laying against the small wooded ridges placed across the sluice.  Laura was invited to join in, and though the rain was continuing she pulled the water door up and let the water over the ore.  There was much more, to numerous to mention in this fascinating historic place.

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