ECHOES OF THE PAST
Fishing for history along the “Gold Rush” river
By Chris McBeath
As we jetted along the Quesnel River beneath the towering voodoos, the wind whipped up a refreshing spritz against my sun-warmed cheeks. The jet boat zipped across the swirling currents, weaved between sandbars, zig-zagged around the snags of fallen trees and even raced a belted kingfisher up river before coming to a halt in a scrubby cove. Here, an abandoned miner’s hut clung to a spit of shoreline; it had succumbed to the wild surrounds and now shared its water with a Beaver’s twiggy brushpile nearby. Once the main artery of Cariboo Gold Rush, the Quesnel River offers many such sights and our destination, the Quesnel River Lodge, was among them.
Built on the historic town site of the Quesnelle Hydraulic Gold Mining Company, and accessed only by jetboat, the new Quesnel River Lodge is a modern-day homesteader story that started with a handshake agreement and has evolved into a labour of love for Jeff and Patti Campbell. “There had been many offers to buy the land but the previous owner a real old-timer in these parts, claimed he was waiting for the right ‘custodian’, someone who appreciated the heritage and soul of the place as much as he did” explains Jeff. “We were overwhelmed when he offered it to us, and that was even before we realized exactly what we had purchased”.
What the Campbells had bought was not only one of the prettiest sites along the Quesnel River, it was a piece of British Columbia history they have since embraced. Armed with a sepia photograph that shows the settlement’s original layout, Patti and Jeff are slowly retrieving the company township from memory. But it’s no easy task. The Lodge is remotely located and every light-bulb, ratchet and stick of furniture must be cajoled along the river for some 35 miles from Quesnel Forks itself an echo of gold-infused, headier days. While blackberry vines, ivy and fallen white birch have crushed many of the ancient log structures, their remnants are still very much in evidence. Abandoned mining equipment, too, crawls out from beneath the undergrowth and is testimony to the grit and determination the miners endured so long ago.
“Every time we walk through the trails, we make another discovery” comments Jeff, as his son Cody lifts a wiry bramble bush and reveals a stash of cast iron molds once used for casting gold bars. The Campbells have already re-roofed one historic building thought to be general store and motel, to preserve it from further decay, and plans are in hand either to restore others or to build private guest cabins in their place. For example, the lodge lies on the site of the stables, behind which was the Chinese bunk house, while the River’s Edge guest cabin, overlooking the former reaction ferry river crossing, is where they believe the pump house once stood.
Because of its remote location, the lodge is first and foremost a comfortable and sought-after fishing destination. The pristine river teems with pink, coho and Chinook salmon, and hosts the second largest run of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River System (approximately one million pass by the lodge each year). And where there are migrating salmon, the eagles surely soar. Come spawning season, dozens of eagles gravitate to the water’s edge and put on a spectacular show. The Quesnel river is also one of the province’s most diverse sport fisheries for rainbow and bull trout, kokanee, and char.
“Every year we add something more, whether it’s building another guest cabin (currently, the lodge can accommodate up to 14 guests) or clearing the land to access another ‘discovery’” says Jeff. “Quesnel River Lodge will always be a wilderness destination and eventually, with a little imagination, it will also be an experiential story of this remarkable time in history.”
If You Go:
Contact The Campbells: 250/747-3562; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Day and overnight trips are available through through Cariboo River Fishing and Jet Boat Adventures (tel: 250/992-6661); and Mountaineer Vacations offers all-inclusive packages.
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