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Williams Lake

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Williams Lake: Gateway to Cariboo Country and the Wagon Trail to BC's Gold fields

As the 1850's Gold Rush progressed up the Fraser to the Interior, trails were built, improved and finally upgraded to roads. Independently owned roadhouses sprang up every 30-40 km along the Cariboo Wagon Road, providing food and shelter for miners, travelers and pack animals. By 1863, the road was completed to Soda Creek, and serviced by the Barnard Express Stage Company. One of the many stops along the way was 150 Mile House. The small community became the departure point for mining settlement that sprung up on the banks of Keithly, Antler and Horsefly Creeks.

An 1863 traveler described the 150 Mile Roadhouse as "A large, square unfinished house, billiard room, lots of geese, ducks and chickens and all kinds of vegetables". The village around the house included a district telegraph office, express office, post office and provincial constable's office. Groups would travel from roadhouse to roadhouse for nightly dances usually lasting until dawn. Gold Rush Trail. When the Wagon Road was extended from Lac La Hache to Soda Creek, the initial intention was to route through Williams Lake. However, when the road was at 140 Mile House , a falling-out over an attempt to borrow temporary funds to meet the payroll resulted in a rerouting through 150 Mile House.

When rails replaced wagons for the transport of goods and people, Williams Lake replaced 150 Mile House as a center for goods and services. There are two stories about the origin of "Williams Lake". One is that it was named for Chief William, a Shuswap from the Sugarcane area who did much to avert hostility between Indians and white settlers. The other is that it was named for William Pinchbeck, an early settler who was well known for his pack train service to the gold fields. Pinchbeck also built a ranch, hotel, stopping house, brewery, and had large fields, vegetable gardens and whiskey still

.In 1919, Williams Lake town site was surveyed into blocks and lots, streets and avenues. In September, the first train arrived. Later that year the Pacific Great Eastern station was built and the railway bridge crossed the creek. The station now houses an art gallery.

The village of Williams Lake was incorporated in 1929. Throughout the 1930's and 40's, Williams Lake continued to grow as a cattle town. In the late 1940's and 1950's the forest industry began to develop in the area. Between 1961 and 1981, the population grew from 2,000 to 9,300 due to expansion of the forest industry, the establishment of Gibraltar Mine and the emergence of the city as an administrative center for the Cariboo. The famous Williams Lake Stampede was officially started in the 1920's. It had its roots in horse racing and contests from the early days on the Pinchbeck farm, and is now a major professional rodeo.

Steamboats were operating from Soda Creek by October 1963, but men were still running the river in other craft. Steamers traveled the upper Fraser River from 1863 to 1921. During the Gold Rush, Soda Creek boated one of the original telegraph offices, a sporting house, floor mill and various shops.

When travelers left Soda Creek, they headed north along the Fraser to Australian Ranch via Fort Alexandria, a Hudson's Bay trading post named for Alexander Mackenzie. The ranch was established by two miners who came to the Cariboo from Australia during the Gold Rush.

The modern day traveler is more likely to arrive in the Cariboo Chilcotin region via air at Williams Lake Airport, whose quality of service was rewarded in 1993 with the Airport Excellence Award for Community Relations. Or you can arrive at a slightly more leisurely pace aboard BC Rail's Cariboo Dayliner from North Vancouver, and take in the spectacular scenery of Howe Sound and Whistler on the way. Or if you're coming by car, follow the Gold Rush Trail (Highway 97) - guaranteed to be less treacherous than the route struggled over by the region's first prospectors.

Named "Columneetza" , meaning "meeting place of princely people" by the Athapascan natives who once lived in this area, Williams Lake has now grown to be the main administrative, commercial, and supply center for the central Cariboo and Chilcotin regions. Ranching, forestry, transportation and services are the community's principle industries.

Truly cowboy country, Williams Lake is famous for hosting one of BC's largest stampedes and has a distinctly western frontier character. Guest ranches abound so the visitor can indulge all his wild west fantasies, or if gentler pursuits are more to your taste, you can bird watch at the Scout Island Nature Center or take the Marguerite Ferry located 63 km north of Williams Lake and imagine yourself back in time on one of the old paddle wheelers floating upstream to Quesnel.

Williams Lake is the gateway to the Big Lakes country. Take Highway 97 to 150 Mile House, where a good paved road, once an early prospectors route, will take you to Horsefly, the scene of the first Cariboo gold discovery in 1859. The Horsefly River is famous for its fly-fishing and hosts the second largest annual sockeye salmon run in BC, at the end of August. 45 km further north is picturesque Quesnel Lake, set against the backdrop of the Cariboo Mountains. One of the province's largest lakes, it offers exceptional fishing, yielding popular trout species. http://www.techcentre.bc.ca/connector/williamslake/qtran.htm


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