The completion of the Cariboo Wagon Road marked a pivotal point in B.C.’s history.
Considered a major legacy of the gold rush era, it was one of the most difficult construction jobs in the British Empire. The colony needed a road to connect Fort Yale with the gold fields in Barkerville, and a small body of Royal Engineers sent from England surveyed and supervised the construction of this 400-mile road.
The route was built entirely by hand, pick and shovel. Workers built bridges and blasted out footings for the road to go through the side of hills, alongside the Fraser and Thompson rivers.
Early in 1862, a commanding officer of the Royal Engineers and a road contractor convinced Governor James Douglas that the best route would begin at Yale (head of steamboat navigation on the Fraser River) and follow the Fraser Canyon and Fraser River north to Lytton, then along the Thompson River to Ashcroft, and overland to Clinton.
Work on the new road began in sections in 1862. However, the first part from Yale north through the Fraser Canyon proved the most difficult. It followed the west bank of the Fraser River from Yale to Spuzzum, where it crossed to the east bank by a 300-foot suspension bridge. The first section was completed in 1863, and by 1865 stage coaches were carrying passengers to Barkerville.
Today, only small sections of the original Cariboo Wagon Road remain to connect us with our past. They serve as a physical reminder of an era that helped shaped the province’s identity.
The 150th anniversary celebration Aug. 17-18 in Yale commemorating the completion of the first section of the Cariboo Wagon Road provides an opportunity to pay tribute to these pioneers. We should be proud of their dedication. The Cariboo Wagon Road not only allowed the interior of what is now B.C. to be populated, but made it possible for many people to bring services to those remote areas and to the miners that were working there.
This weekend, take some time out to appreciate how we got to where we are today.