Barkerville – the Centre of the Cariboo Gold Rush

It wasn’t a picnic by any means. The miners usually lived in small tents or rough cabins, had to face severe winters (or get out of town), uncomfortable summers and a poor diet, which usually consisted of beans and bacon. That’s not all. Extremely hard labour, avalanches, frequent floods and numerous accidents shortened the average miner’s life to about 35.

Despite all the misery, the prospect of riches brought thousands of men and women to the Cariboo region. While the BC gold rush began in 1858 in the Fraser River, it wasn’t until the early 1860s that gold fever reached epic proportions. In 1862, Billy Barker and his partners struck gold on one of their claims, an event which only added fuel to the mining hysteria that took place around Williams Creek. (Some estimates say that by 1896, over a million ounces of gold had already been mined in the area.)

As a result, by 1864, there were 10,000 miners seeking riches on Williams Creek and Barkerville (named after Billy Barker) was the largest town west of Chicago and north of San Francisco.

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Kasia and I have visited almost all the major western ghost towns. We have to admit that we found Barkerville the least appealing. We were looking for something remote, pure and not commercialized so we enjoyed visiting Sandon in the West Kootenays and Elkhorn in Montana. Eventually, we knew we wanted to photograph the Gold Rush Trail in British Columbia and it would be a great omission if we left out Barkerville.

It turned out we were wrong about Barkerville. After staying there for two days, we found we thoroughly enjoyed it. Indeed, Barkerville is quite special. It is the largest historic site in British Columbia. Not only have the buildings been preserved but this town is alive, thanks to the dedicated people who dress and act as if it was indeed, the Gold Rush of the 1860s.

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One of the interesting historical facts about the Cariboo culture was that miners helped each other, in stark contrast to the lawlessness of the California gold rush. Some say it was partly due to the harsh conditions, while others cite the role of Judge Begbie and his uncompromising but fair enforcement of British justice. (In fact we attended a short presentation of a court proceeding – highly recommended!).

As expected, such a popular site was full of tourists at this time of year but we wanted to photograph it as though it was still 1862. The only time the streets of Barkerville were free of tourists was in the early morning and late evening. We usually started taking photos at 5.30 AM and stopped when the first visitors arrived around 8.00 AM. Then, sometimes after 5 PM we could start again.

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We were shooting with the X100S and the Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 56mm F1.2. All images were processed in Lightroom 5, mostly de-saturated to convey the historic mood of the place. We took some portraits of the people working in Barkerville and the JPEGs turned out really well (we will share them in our next posts).

You can achieve a very similar de-saturated look with the following in-camera settings:

Sharpening: +1

Colour: -2

Highlights: -1

Shadows: 0 or -1

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Next time…

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2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “Barkerville – the Centre of the Cariboo Gold Rush

  1. Pingback: St. Elmo – The Story of Annabelle |

  2. Pingback: Along The Gold Rush Trail |

  3. You made me go to Shaniko and the Palouse; now it seems I have to go to Barkerville. It’s obvious that your enjoyment of Barkerville shined through to these great photographs – they are uplifting.

    Question: did the shot of the J.P. Taylor Drug Store get flipped somehow to make the sign read backwards?

  4. Thank you Olaf and Kasia for sharing this interesting story about Barkerville. With your very good pictures you gave us a chance to go back in time and see this famous place as it was 150 years ago. Now you can try to imagine how it was when thousands of people moved around. Very impressive project. Good job!

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