Wilderness Adventures in British Columbia and Yukon since 1988

Bowron Lakes History

bowronhistoryThe area was originally peopled by the Takuli or Carrier who sustained themselves by trapping, hunting, fishing and gathering activities. Early European records make mention of a small village on Bear Lake with less than 100 people. As with many First Nations people the tribe was decimated by a smallpox epidemic in the 1860s.Archaeological evidence points to earlier habitation but there is no information about who these people may have been.

The connection to Takuli language is still evident in the park. Lanezi (“long”) Lake, Itzul (“forest”) Range, Tediko (“girls”) Range, Mount Ishpa (“my father”), and Kaza(“arrow”) Mountain pronounce this connection.

The Cariboo Goldrush of the 1860s , centred in nearby Barkerville, brought many of the first non-natives to the area. Looking for gold, they explored further into the Bowron Lakes and brought attention to these areas. After the goldrush some remained and trapped and guided. Soldiers returning from World War I and their families were given land grants in the area. This gave rise to farming and the development of a few hunting lodges.

By the 1920s local outfitters proposed that the Bowron Lakes be established as a wildlife sanctuary to ease the decline on the animal populations. This resulted in the creation of a park reserve in 1925. Over the years the size of the area was increased until finally the Bowron Lakes were designated a provincial park in 1961.



  • Bowron Lake was at one time called Bear Lake. It’s name was changed in the early 1900s to Bowron Lake after John Bowron, Barkerville’s first gold commissioner.
  • Bowron Lakes* Billy Barker, for whom Barkerville was named, struck gold in a creek near the Bowron Lakes. This lead to the Cariboo Goldrush of the 1860s. He died in a nursing home in Victoria, BC in 1894 and is buried there
  • The unusual spelling of the word “caribou” is attributed to a newspaper article in 1861 which referred to the goldrush as the “cariboo” goldrush. For whatever reason, the word has stuck.
  • By the mid-1860s, Barkerville had a population of approximately 5,000. Although largely transient and dependent on mining, it developed into a real community. It had several general stores and boarding houses, a drugstore that also sold newspapers and cigars, a barbershop that also cut women’s hair, the “Wake-Up Jake Restaurant and Coffee Saloon”, a theatre (the Theatre Royal ), and a literary society (the Cariboo Literary Society). Horse racing and prize fighting were common entertainments. Among the so-called “sober set,” church services were extremely well attended.
  • In September 1868, Barkerville was destroyed by a fire that spread quickly through the wooden buildings. Rebuilding began immediately, and at an impressive pace. Within six weeks, ninety buildings had been rebuilt. Even so, Barkerville’s population was declining by the end of the century and it eventually became a ghost town. In 1958, the government of British Columbia began the restoration of the town to its old glory and is today a
    prime tourist attraction.