It’s Day 8 and its been a glorious day as far as the weather an scenery has been concerned. But before I get too over excited lets get you back to a few days ago.
Nice run up through the island via Campbell River were we stopped over for one night before travelling on via Telegraph Cove and then on to Port Hardy. The trip to Telegraph Cove is one of the tour highlights as we charter a boat and go out cruising the offshore islands searching for wildlife but sadly the whales were not around but we did have some great encounters with the Bald Eagles. Having spent some four hours at sea we returned to dry land and within minutes of departing we came across a young black bear feeding on wild raspberries whilst balancing on a wire fence!
We left Vancouver Island via Port Hardy on the 15th June to embark upon our 15 hour sailing up the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert. Given that I had checked everyone in and paid the night before we still had a 05.30 departure in order to make BC Ferries stupid check-in arrangements – this time to re-check the boarding passes issued and then seal up the coach with us onboard until we were safely on the ship! Anyway the cruise up to Prince Rupert was completed in wonderful weather so folks caught sight of some of the most spectacular scenery on this planet plus a few whales as well. We arrived somewhat tired at around 10.30pm and transferred to our hotel to crash out.
The following morning we awoke to typical Prince Rupert weather, cold, heavy mists and rain all day so nothing to report other than how to dry out clothes. There is a lot of history about this place but sadly its a city that continually falls on hard times. Its early development was in large due to a chap called Charles Melville Hays who was the then boss of the Grand Pacific Trunk Railroad. His dream was to create a new eastern port with fine hotels, steam ships that would link to his newly constructed trans-Canada railroad and provide another route for the developing passenger business to reach the west coast and the cities beyond. Sadly he was to perish along with all those that went down on the Titanic so his dreams were never fulfilled. Since then the city has bounced from highs to lows where it is currently languishing.
So on to today when we journeyed east via the Yellowhead Highway from Prince Rupert to Smithers which is about half was to Prince George all up in the northern part of British Columbia. Its a great drive because for most of the journey one travels along the banks of the mighty Skeena River following the railroad which are flanked by lovely mountains, which at this time of the year are all capped with snow. A stop for coffee in the township of Terrace, which is home to the famous white Kamodie bear (never seen one) and it was onwards to Old Hazelton for our lunch break in this quaint old frontier town which in the old days marked the limit of how far the stern wheeler steam ships could navigate the river. It also marks the point where the Baulkly River joins the Skeena. After a nice lunch folks visited the Kasn tribal village on the banks of the river before we eventually headed further east to our overnight stop in Smithers which marks the half-way distance from Prince Rupert to Prince George.
Well we are now in a somewhat overcast Whistler after travelling through some wonderful parts of Northern British Columbia where the weather has been superb.
Day 9. Our tour departs from the town of Smithers – perhaps a somewhat strange name but as with many places in this neck of the woods it was named after a senior superintendent within the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad when it came this was in the 1890′s. In fact this guy had no modesty as he name a street Alfred (his first name) and the nearby lake Kathryn after his daughter. Anyway onwards in our journey that took us through such places as Houston, no not Texas, who’s only claim to fame is that it has the worlds largest fly fishing rod! Well of course it can also lay claim to having some excellent fishing as well.
One interesting fact on route concerns Grizzly Bears at a place called Bulkley Hill just a few miles west of Houston.
The Hungry Hill Grizzlies as locals and the media called them referred to the strange events that took place here from 1998 to 2005. The story starts in 1998 when a local rancher came across a full-grown cow that had been killed by a bear. The rancher called in the conservation officers and over the following three years more that 30 kills were reported, traps were set but this elusive bear was never caught. By now the media had branded it “The Phantom”. Finally in 2001 the call came and the officers dashed to where a huge grizzly bear had been caught in a snare. As the approached the bear stood up, snapped the wire and charged but luckily both officers managed to get a shot off each and the bear fell dead all but 7 metres from the two officers! When weighed, the grizzly checked in at a massive 1012 pounds by far the largest bear ever seen. But this was not the end of the story as four years later the killing started once again but this time the authorities were luckier as the offending bear was soon caught and shot. This grizzly weight in at just 37 pounds less than ‘The Phantom’ and it is believed the two bears were related. Now for a number of years when we have stopped at Houston to admire the fishing rod we have also wandered up to the Information Centre where, on display, is a large Grizzly. Well this time I asked about it and to my surprise it is indeed the second of the two giant grizzlies – so there – living (well perhaps stuffed) proof!
Lunch this day was at the excellent Bavarian styled North Country Inn in township of Vanderhoof , yet another settlement created by the building of the railroad and the name given was that of the railroad official tasked with laying out a town site. It was commonplace for the early railroad developers to gain parcels of land either side of the track in order to recoup some income by selling off plots on new town sites. Interestingly Vanderhoof is Dutch for ‘of the farm’ which as it turned out was quite appropriate as this is now the centre of a large agricultural community. It can also lay claim to being the geographic centre of British Columbia. Following our welcome break it was on to Prince George and then south on Highway 97 to the quaint township of Quesnel (pronounced Quinel). Highway 97 forms part of the historic Caribou Wagon Road that provided access to the rich goldfields of places like Horsefly and Barkerville.
The township of Quesnel is at the heart of BC’s huge lumber industry so three major mills surround the town site and provide the major source of employment. The name Quesnel was not this time from any early railroad activity but given by one of Canada’s best know early explorers one Simon Fraser. A lieutenant on his expedition had the surname Quesnel and clearly he had impressed our Simon who duly named the site after him. This expedition would have been in the late 1700′s when he was working for the North West Company and his party over-wintered here on the confluence of the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers where the local First Nations peoples were friendly and food and water were bountiful.
Day 10 and it’s one of the highlights of the tour as we journey out to the historic gold mining town of Barkerville were one can rediscover gold country in British Columbia’s legendary and historic gold rush town of Barkerville, located east of Quesnel on the Cariboo Wagon Road. In 1862, Englishman Billy Barker, born in March, Cambridgeshire found gold on Williams Creek, a discovery that started a rush of fortune seekers from all over the world. Between 1862 and 1870, over 10,000 people travelled the Cariboo Wagon Road, named the eighth wonder of the world, converging on the goldfields, and the boomtown called Barkerville. In its heyday, Barkerville was the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. During the height of the Gold Rush it was thought that Barkerville would become one of the biggest cities on the West Coast, but when the gold played out, Barkerville died. It stood abandoned for more than 70 years. In 1957, the provincial government took over Barkerville and started the long process of restoring and reconstructing it into an historic site. Today, Barkerville remains a town of discovery, as it did in the days of old, a unique streetscape with over 125 faithfully restored heritage buildings, including a blacksmith, bakery and restaurants, and the remains of one of North America’s oldest Chinatowns.
Guided tours throughout the town bring the era of the Gold Rush to life, with period actors roaming the streets dressed in the costumes of historical characters, and greeting visitors as if they had just arrived on the Barnard Express stagecoach.
Our final run of the day is to the township of Williams Lake (known locally as Billy’s Puddle) were we overnight. Not too much to say about this ‘lumber city’ that’s home to around some twelve thousand folks which sprawls across the surrounding valley. That said, it does have a famous annual rodeo that takes place in July that includes ‘wild cow milking’ as one of its many attractions!
Day 11 and our tour heads for its final destination at Whistler but that’s not before we have checked out a few more of the countless attractions that BC has to offer the visitor. Staying on Highway 97 we pass through countless famous old staging posts that were simply named in miles like 150 Mile House, 100 Mile House and so on with the town site of Lillooet being mile zero at the start of this famous wagon route. There’s so much to see on this route that one has to be selective and try and take in the best so an early morning stop at a place called Chasm is great for a photo stop. Chasm is a natural valley carved out by a creek over thousands of years which now reveals multi coloured strata’s showing how much early volcanic activity there was in forming this land.
From here we move on to visit the past yet again at a place called Hat Creek Ranch one of the few sections of the original Cariboo Wagon Road that is open to the public. Hat Creek Ranch is a popular heritage site, with restored original buildings – some dating as far back as 1860. Before Donald McLean bought the roadhouse, he was a chief trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Turned Cariboo rancher, his roadhouse served the teams and passengers of the B.C. Express Stage Line. Freight wagons pulled by as many as 16 horses rumbled through the Ranch, carrying mining supplies and settlers’ effects to Barkerville and beyond.
Hat Creek Ranch passed from owner to owner, and each added or expanded, maintaining both ranch and roadhouse. Guides in period costume demonstrate various crafts, and visitors can enjoy wagon jaunts along the original Cariboo Road, which runs through the middle of the ranch. One can also watch the blacksmith at his forge, appreciate a collection of antique farm machinery, or tour the fascinating Shuswap Nation village display beside Hat Creek. This is also a rare opportunity to see an actual kekuli pit house.
From here we head due east making our way back towards the Fraser River canyon and then onwards to the town site of Lillooet. The land here is semi arid but still spectacular and views of the mighty Fraser are impressive. A brief afternoon tea stop at Lillooet which was an important town for those early prospectors coming either via the Fraser River or overland from what is now called Whistler as it marked the trail north to Barkerville before we take the beautiful Highway 99 for the last leg of our tour. Our route towards the townships of Pemberton and Whistler requires us to climb the Coastal Mountain range so views are spectacular and perhaps some of the best of this tour. Essential photo stops at Seaton Lake and Duffy Lake are a must and the snow capped mountains just add to the overall beauty of this place. Interestingly the Rockie Mountaineer train also has a route through here and although I have not as yet done that journey (Jasper to Whistler) the scenery must be awe inspiring.
Finally we make our decent from this high pass and within an hour we are at our final destination Whistler. For those who have not been here this truly is a wonderful resort and perhaps the best ski resort location in Canada. In a period of only some thirty years this place has been a rags to riches story and of course the town will go down in history for its successful staging of this years Winter Olympics.