Barkerville: 24 hours in an historic ghost town

Wine at Barkerville - jessicaquinn.ca

For my birthday this year (which conveniently fell on the BC Day long weekend), I wanted to do something different and special. After searching high and low for interesting options – something not too far away, different and not too pricey – I called the St. George Hotel Bed and Breakfast in Barkerville to see if they had any rooms (three days before the weekend – hah!). I was in luck – they’d just had a cancellation for Sunday night and I jumped on it. Barkerville it was.

Barkerville is an historic town about an hour east of Quesnel and two and a half hours southeast of Prince George. In the mid-1800s, it was a major settlement during the Cariboo Gold Rush. Now, it’s a thriving tourist attraction that features guided tours, functioning businesses and fun for the whole family.

Barkerville - jessicaquinn.ca

We arrived in Barkerville early in the afternoon and had lunch at Wake Up Jake before checking in. The St. George Hotel is located in the middle of the main street and decorated to its day, quaint, cozy and full of antiques. We were lucky to snag one of the rooms at the back of the house with a private bathroom (some of the rooms share a bathroom). Our room was beautiful, with its canopy bed and antique furniture.

St. George Hotel bedroom- jessicaquinn.ca

We spent the afternoon exploring the buildings in the town site (there are over 100!), which are frozen in time as if the old inhabitants still live there. Homes and stores are intricately arranged with remnants of the day, and it’s easy to lose some time peering in through the windows and doors, imagining what life must have been like. Throughout the day there are seemingly impromptu (but scheduled) enactments of conversations in the streets by actors as townspeople, who spend the day wandering around. This is pretty entertaining as long as you’re in the right place at the right time. We also walked the half hour trek up to the Richfield Courthouse to watch Judge Begbie deliver some justice. And no trip to Barkerville would be complete without actually panning for some gold, which we did in the troughs outside the gift shop, coming away with four gold flakes each.

Barkerville actor - jessicaquinn.ca

Gold panning at Barkerville - jessicaquinn.ca

Barkerville even has its own Chinatown, now one of Canada’s oldest. There are some great buildings in this area, including a museum and several art and gift shops, and a fantastic Chinese food restaurant called Lung Duck Tong. This is where we had our dinner, and where I enjoyed some of the best chow mein I’ve ever had. I hear the hot boxes are amazing too.

Barkerville's Chinatown - jessicaquinn.ca

As everything closes down in Barkerville around 6pm, we had the whole evening to entertain ourselves. Our B&B had a second floor balcony, so we decided to lounge up there and enjoy a bottle of wine we’d brought to celebrate my birthday. This was definitely one of my favorite moments of the trip – sitting up there, people watching. It had been pretty busy in the afternoon, but as we watched the people slowly filter down the street and out of the town, a very peaceful quiet came over everything.

Darkness settling on Barkerville - jessicaquinn.ca

When darkness fell, we took a stroll through the deserted streets, and I must say I stayed glued to my husband’s arm, positive that ghosts would come drifting out of every dark shadow. Luckily our only company was the town cat that apparently everyone collectively looks after, and who followed us around as if protecting us from whatever lurked beyond the light.

The next morning, we headed downstairs for breakfast. I had ordered the pancakes with apple compote (delicious!) while others joining us at the communal table had giant omelets. Knowing it was my birthday today, the proprietress, Saya, came out of the kitchen with fresh muffins with a candle in the middle and everyone sang happy birthday. Quite the hospitality, for sure!

Birthday muffins - jessicaquinn.ca

Afterwards, we had our photos done at Louis Blanc Photographic Gallery, where we got to dress up – I chose to be a saloon girl, and my husband a miner – and take home an old-fashioned framed photograph (for a charge). Our final activities of the day were to take in some “shows.” The town tour was guided by two “locals,” both full of humor and entertainment, who described some of the buildings and experiences of the mining town era. We also watched the Cornish Water Wheel show, which featured some very colourful characters – both educational and hilarious, I thought, especially when they included some of the audience in the show.

Water wheel show actor - jessicaquinn.ca

As our 24 hours in Barkerville came to a close, it occurred to me that while we didn’t actually see any ghosts, they were all around – in the history and the spirit of the town. We visited the old cemetery on our way out, taking in some of the old tombstones and paying our respects. Then we said goodbye to the unseen ghosts and made our way home.

Barkerville cemetery - jessicaquinn.ca

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