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Reports

Thursday, 13 March 2003
Elk Lake --> historical Barkerville, BC, Canada

This morning Thomas woke me up around 7.30 in the morning. We had to wake up this early as we had quite a trip to make today and we were going to join in on a school class’ cross country skiing trip.
We left the house along Elk Lake after a quick breakfast bite around 8.30 and got on the highway north towards the town Quesnel.

Quesnel is known for the world’s biggest plywood plant.

I was greeted with scenes out of an environmentalist’s nightmare: whole mountainsides cleared out of trees, hill-sized pils of sawdust, and unbelievable large lumber mills surrounded by stacks of logs and finished timber that stretch literally as far as my eyes could see.

In other words: Quesnel stinks!

Thomas bought some groceries in Quesnel and then we rushed out quickly again, on the highway, 90km eastbound to the Barkerville Provincial Historic Park, located in the middle of the Cariboo Mountains.

In 1862, Billy Barker found gold at Williams Creek, a discovery that started a rush of fortune seekers from all over the world. Between 1862 and 1870, over 100,000 people travelled the Cariboo Wagon Road, named as one of the Eighth Wonder of the World, converging on the goldfields, and the bustling boomtown of Barkerville (2). In its heyday, this was the largest town in the Canadian West.

In other words: Barkerville was once the biggest town west of Chicago and north of Los Angeles. It is hard to imagine that Barkerville must have been BIG!

Nowadays Barkerville is a restored gold mining town. Large scale mining activity ended decades ago, but Barkerville remains a town of discovery, a living museum visited by people from all over the world.

In the winter months the town isn’t open in full service, but still worth a visit. During full-service-months attractions include not only the heritage buildings and Victorian-era shops, but also live merchants, outdoor displays of machinery and equipment – even a live theatre production. Real actors re-enact events and characters of the past, making it all feel as if you have stepped back in time.

Thomas Schoen runs the St. George Hotel Bed & Breakfas on Barkerville’s Main Street, one of the two unique places where visitors can stay overnight these days, which wasn’t possible in the past.

After Thomas and Bettina made name with their historical native town replicas, Thomas was asked to be the proprietor of this exclusive hotel. And Thomas was ready for something else and accepted the job wholeheartedly.

The building was once constructed in 1898 by the Johnson Brothers of Quesnel on the site of the earlier hotel and saloon, the St. George’s. During the 1930’s it was known as the Nicol Hotel. Today the St George Hotel is totally renovated into a exceptional comfortable bed and breakfast inn, but with all the pleasures history has given to this place.

After arriving in Barkerville and dropping our stuff in the hotel, we had to rush out again to the next-door town Wells. The school class was waiting for us outside the Community Building, which is also the school for a total of 8 children. The principle of the original Wells-Barkerville School is also the teacher of all grades!

While we all got our gear ready (Thomas’ friend David had arranged some boots and skis for me) I heard some details about the history of Wells.

When the rest of the world suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s, called "the most disastrous decade of the twentieth century", the community of Wells was a boomtown of jobs, opportunities, and money to be made. It was going that well that there were golf courses in the fields and there even was a race track. While the whole nation was in economic debts, Wells was the place to be!

The forties however came with World War II designating Wells and it's one resource, mining, a non-war industry creating an economic slump for the town. The effects and aftermath of these world events helped shape Wells past and present...

These days Wells has some 200 residents and the party seems to be over when gold devaluated…

We started our cross country ski trip just outside of town, in the fields that were covered with a nice layer of snow. Fortunately for all of us, the weather brightened up and clouds gave space to friendly sunlight.

I had never ever cross country skied before and I had a hard time getting into it. For most people it is no more than moving one foot forward, followed by the next foot and you slowly slide over the tracks through/over the snow. And enjoy it. But I had a hard time enjoying it and couldn’t figure out what is supposed to be so great about cross country skiing.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled with mountain skiing and I don’t really want to move the skis myself.

The worst part was when the class was climbing up a mountain (on skis I say!) and I didn’t seem to have any grip on my skis to get up there too. Lazy as I sometimes am, I disconnected myself from the skis and climbed up that hill with the skis over my shoulders. That went much faster!

Up that hill the class had a lunch break. A small fire was made and everybody was invited to have a few hotdog rolls and play around with marshmallows. It was clear to everybody that I have never cross country skied before, but they were assuring me that going down hill was the most fun part.

So that’s what we did a small hour later.

I still enjoy it on real mountain skies more. And that conclusion came when I got down the hill, on its small tracks through the forest, ready to end up in the fields, when my skis decided not to like me anymore. Smack! I went flat down on my face. Of course that was a big laugh for Thomas!

Back at the car I asked Thomas if it was my bad timing, or the weather that melts the snow a bit. There should be a good alternate reason for me not enjoying my first time of cross country skiing. “Probably you just can’t do it,” he said sincere.

During my travels I learned that I couldn’t eat everything (apricots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes), like I always said. And today I also learned I can’t do everything either: cross country skiing was not invented for me...

And I just have to live with that. Bummer…

We got back at the hotel in Barkerville in the end of the afternoon. We were invited to join dinner with two friends of Thomas later today and after a short joyful walk through the deserted town, I had a quick nap in my room.

It was around 7pm when we left Barkerville again, to visit the original German man Jens and his Australian wife Danielle. They live as remote as remote can be, all the way in another valley, along Bowron Lake.

Bowron Lake is famous for its canoe trails, as there are four lakes that are connected with each other in a square. A canoe trip all around would include a few days of camping.

We drove to Bowron Lake just after sunset, but arrived there in total darkness. Jens and Danielle live there in all luxury, but totally depending on generated power, satellite television and a poor two-way radio. An 800 litre tank provides them with fresh water.

We had dinner with them and I enjoyed the stories they told about living this remote. They live in the middle of nature and are surrounded by the wildlife they share the space with; moose, deer, wolves and bears are seen regularly in the summertime. Danielle works at the offices of Barkerville and Jens is a carpenter. Sometimes, Danielle doesn’t like the remoteness that much. “I am used to it, I come from wide spread Australia,” she said. “But she misses the horses,” Jens joked.

Later this evening Thomas drove us back to our current home in Barkerville again. It took about an hour to get back on icy roads that slither in the total darkness…

Good night Barkerville!

Ramon.