Reliving Canada’s Gold Rush in Barkerville, BC

Barkerville is located in central (or northern, depending on where you live) British Columbia. It is a community set back in time east of the town of Quesnel. Spend a day at Barkerville, and try your hand at panning for gold as well as experience the feel of a historical town, learn about the time of the gold rush, and visit some stores from this time period. 

Brief History of the Canadian Gold Rush

The Canadian gold rush is credited with bringing settlers to parts of Western Canada in the mid to late 1800s. Prior to this time, there had been gold rushes in California, but they were beginning to dry up. People were hearing stories of “easy gold” to be found in Canada and decided to go see for themselves. These discoveries were often made accidentally by fur traders. Then word would spread, and more people would flock to the area. 

Some prospectors also came to the area looking for gold after hearing the Haida people had discovered it in the Queen Charlotte Islands. The gold was found in deposits of sand or gravel in a stream or riverbed. Once these discoveries were made, some companies set up mines to see what else was there. There were a few different locations of Canadian gold rushes, but one of the early ones was near the Fraser River and then eventually towards what is now Barkerville. 

It is important to note that when these places began to be settled, it did displace the Indigenous peoples who had been living on and working the land for years before this. While the gold rushes of this time had little effect on the Canadian economy, it did have a large effect on the way of life of the Indigenous peoples who inhabited these parts of Canada. 

In some cases, the prospectors would continue to move north towards Alaska as their searches dried up, but in most cases the areas did become permanent settlements for white people. This led to rapid resource development, growing industries, violence, and systems of authority that were not familiar to the Indigenous communities and were devastating to their way of life. (Those who are in charge of the historic site currently have spoken about this here on their website.)

Billy Barker Strikes Gold

Billy Barker, who the community is named after, had begun his days of finding gold in California, but it was on Williams Creek, BC where he really struck it big while mining at a depth of 52 feet. This find became the beginning of a multi-billion dollar industrial revolution that the surrounding communities and the province of British Columbia was built on. Though he continued with other mining ventures, none other paid off like this one. 


Visit Barkerville, BC

Barkerville was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1924 and is the largest living history museum in western North America. You can learn so much about the history of the community and the time period with the many different videos available here on the website

When you visit Barkerville, you have the option of doing a guided town tour or walking around and exploring yourself. There are restaurants and shops authentic to this time period, and you can even get an old-fashioned photo done. Many of the structures still seen in Barkerville are the same exact structures from its booming years. As you walk around, there are many shows and demonstrations you can watch and learn from. These include but are not limited to

  • Cooking on an authentic wood stove (Sometimes you get to taste test!)
  • Indigenous and Chinese cultural sessions 
  • Experience a working blacksmith shop
  • Authentic classroom session at the local schoolhouse
  • Presentation and demonstration of a working wooden waterwheel
  • Horse-drawn stagecoach tour
  • Drum circle
  • Hands-on gold panning lesson

These and other experiences allow visitors to immerse themselves in what life was like back in the days of the gold rush and the subsequent boom of settlement in the area. You can even take in an hour of comedy and music in the theatre! There is no better way to learn about history than to experience it first hand! A day in Barkerville will delight all your senses and leave children and adults alike with memories that will last a lifetime. 


If you are not able to visit in person, you can book a virtual field trip for $35. There are a few choices of field trip themes, but each is best with a minimum of 5 participants. 

Read About Other Historical Field Trips in Canada

Perhaps you like the idea of an educational field trip like this but do not live anywhere near Barkerville, BC, check out some of these other articles by The Canadian Schoolhouse on other historical field trips in Canada. 

Saskatchewan Landing Park - Stopping House, Trails & Water

Learn About Historical Halifax 

The Homeschooler’s List of Historical Places in Canada

Kings Landing, New Brunswick - Travel Back in Time for a Day

This article has been written by homeschooling staff writers of The Canadian Schoolhouse (TCS). Enjoy more of our content from TCS contributors and staff writers by visiting our themes page that has a new theme topic added every month!

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"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).