British Columbia’s central interior has been profoundly shaped by gold thanks to a simple, working-class English prospector named William ‘Billy’ Barker who, in 1862, spearheaded a twenty-year, multi-billion dollar industrial revolution that literally helped build a Province.
As with many early miners, Barker’s story began in the American gold fields in the mid-1800s where people from all over the world travelled to seek their fortune. By the mid-1850s, gold finds were slowing and rumours began to surface of ‘easy gold’ on the Fraser River. Barker had worked without much success in California and so he, along with thousands of men, headed north to the British territory that is now British Columbia. In addition to the north-bound travellers, groups later called “The Overlanders” trekked across Canada from the East, and hordes of people were arriving by boat from all over the world to travel up the Gold Trail from the coast towards to Fraser River to find fortune.
Eventually, prospectors made their way to the hills that surround Barkerville and one of the first finds was by William “Dutch Bill” Dietz, for whom William’s Creek (which flows through Barkerville) is named. A small town began to spring up around the area, optimistically named Richfield.
Barker eventually ended up in Richfield, trying his hand at a few spots around William’s Creek where his lack of success continued. As time passed, he decided to mine further down the creek, in the area below Richfield. Many people questioned his decision, saying he would find no gold there. But Barker persisted and endured, and was finally proven right on August 17, 1862, when he and his crew ‘struck the lead,’ at a depth of 52 feet.
Today, the extraordinary town of Barkerville (named in Billy’s honour) still stands as testament to BC’s golden beginnings. With a unique streetscape of 125+ heritage buildings, authentic displays, satellite museums, restaurants, shops and accommodations there is still so much to explore. Declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1924 and a Provincial Heritage Property in 1958, Barkerville is now the largest living-history museum in western North America, where exciting seasonal events and fun-filled daily activities await.
Although gold rush towns boomed all over the west in the 1800s, Barkerville is unique, with over 100 heritage structures still standing on the spot that they were built. In addition, there are two historic cemeteries and over 200,000 precious objects and photographs in the museum collection. Barkerville’s Chinatown is the largest collection of pre-railway Chinese buildings in North America and Barkerville has one of the largest Chinese archival collections in Canada with approximately 18,500 items.
This level of collection and preservation is unusual and presents both a tremendous opportunity and a big responsibility. It is a testament to the forethought of the British Columbia residents in the 1950s that supported the Restoration Project. The Barkerville Heritage Trust (the non-profit charity that manages Barkerville on behalf of the Province) is committed to continuing this legacy by ensuring that the highest possible standard of care is given to the buildings and the collection and that a rigorous level of accuracy is maintained when presenting the site to the public.
Barkerville does not represent any single moment in time, but rather the ongoing process of community development – from the discovery and growth years in the 1860s, through many ‘boom and bust’ cycles, and finally, the transformation into a historic site and tourist attraction from the 1950s to the present.
When complete, this Collections and Research section of the website will introduce you to the history of Barkerville, current research and to the portions of our collections that can be viewed via the web.
Do you have an item that is connected to Barkerville’s history that you would like to add to our collections?
You can download a copy of our Aquisitions Form, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss possible donations. Please note all donations must meet Barkerville’s Collections Criteria in order to be accepted.