Heritage Sites of the North Cariboo
Xatśūll Heritage Village
The Xatśūll Heritage Village (pronounced hat-sull) is run by the Xatśūll, or Soda Creek First Nation. There you can discover first hand Shushwap First Nature culture by discovering ancient styles of lodging: pit houses, teepees; experience traditional meals; learn about traditions near the Sweat Lodge; or listen to the elders’ stories. One can see petroglyphs and artifacts on site. Xasull means “on the cliff” and archeologists have found evidence of more than 2000 years of inhabitation by the northernmost of the Shushwap people. The site is located off Highway 97 North.
In 1793 explorer Alexander Mackenzie arrived along the Fraser River at what is now Fort Alexandria. The First Nations people he met there advised him that the river farther south was impassible and Alexander Mackenzie therefore turned back towards Quesnel to continue his trip towards the Pacific along what is now the Alexander Mackenzie Grease Trail to Bella Coola. Later, in 1821, the North West Trading Company built what was to be one of its last fur trading forts before its merger with the Hudson Bay Company later that year. It became the north terminus of the Hudson Bay Company Brigade trail, and later, as gold rush fever filled the Cariboo, the fort became a road house and a sternwheel stopping site to ferry people up the Fraser to Quesnel. There have been many different sites in the same area for Fort Alexandria, but the current location can be seen and visited from Highway 97 North.
In 1863 Cariboo road builders finished their road north at Soda Creek, an entry point to the Fraser River. From Soda Creek the Fraser River was navigable by sternwheelers as far as 650 kilometers north. From Soda Creek sternwheelers would ferry miners searching for gold to Quesnel where they would continue on to Barkerville. In 1865 the Cariboo road was completed to Quesnel but sternwheelers continued to operate until 1921. Today Soda Creek is a quiet ghost town accessed from Highway 97 North, but you can still see the town site, cemetery and historic jail, where the very same man who built it was the first to spend a night there.
Rudy Johnson Bridge
When Rudy Johnson’s wife nearly drowned crossing the Fraser River on the Soda Creek Ferry, Johnson decided he needed to build a bridge. He located a bridge in Alaska, dismantled it into 3000 pieces and paid to have it transported to the building site near Soda Creek. As there was not enough room on the river edge to build the bridge using traditional methods, Johnson borrowed techniques from loggers and assembled a 300 foot truss to span over the Fraser River. For 10 days half the bridge hung over the river on skyline cables, and it is the only private toll bridge the Fraser has ever known. Completed in 1968, the government incorporated it into the provincial highway system in 1978 and it is still used today as an access point to the West Fraser Road north to Quesnel from Soda Creek Road out of Williams Lake or off of Highway 97 North.
Just over 200 km north east of Williams Lake exists Barkerville, once a booming gold rush city, later a forgotten ghost town, and now a popular National Historic Site. In 1862 gold was discovered on Williams Creek by Billy Barker, the town’s namesake, who would, despite finding the richest claim in the area, die penniless. Today the town is reanimated, filled with costumed townsfolk, chances to pan your own gold, take part in a re-enactment of a court case judged by Judge Begbie, the ‘Hanging Judge,’ watch one of the theatre performances at the Theatre Royal, and much, much more! To get to Barkerville follow Highway 97 North to Quesnel and then take Highway 26 east.