As the prospectors followed the gold trail up the Fraser River, they soon discovered that the Quesnel river was the key source. They followed the river to where it was joined by the Cariboo river, and found gold bearing gravels in the creeks, lakes, and rivers and Quesnel Forks sprung up to supply them.
Established in 1859, Quesnellle Forks soon became another of the instant boom towns spawned by the gold rush. Boarding houses, bars and stores soon covered the flats between the rivers and toll bridges thrown up by eager businessmen. A great deal of profitable activity was in the immediate area, however, like any gold rush, claims were quickly gobbled up, and late comers were either forced to work for someone else or move on.
Even though Keithley Creek, Antler Creek and Lowhee Creek soon became the focus of the mining activity, Quesnel Forks continued to remain as a supply post for the northern miners. It was not until the Cariboo wagon road to Soda Creek was completed that Quesnellle Forks remained the major supply depot in the Cariboo.
Quesnelle Forks, situated 13 km. by road to the northwest of Likely, is located in the traditional territory of the Secwepemc people. This historic place has been valued by the Secwepemc people since time immemorial, as a gathering place, and as an important place to harvest food and medicine.
Quesnelle Forks also has a long history of Chinese settlement, as one of the earliest mining camps in B.C., and for its historic role as a major supply centre with up to 5,000 residents. In its heyday, it was known as the largest city northwest of San Francisco. By 1875, Quesnelle Forks had 200 Chinese merchants and miners, and had established one of the original Tong houses in British Columbia.
The ongoing stewardship of Quesnelle Forks, the oldest town in the Cariboo, by the local community is a testament of the value placed on this historic landscape.
Quesnelle Forks is further valued for the presence of a historic cemetery with its significant Chinese section, containing a small log structure known as a “Naguta”, used for receiving, storing and honouring disinterred remains until they could be returned to their homeland in China.
The Quesnelle Forks cemetery is also valued for its continuing use as an operating cemetery for the community of Likely.
Quesnelle Forks was named after early fur trader, merchant and explorer Jules Maurice Quesnelle, and to this day remains valued for its historic and modern-day gold mining activities.
This historic place includes a town site, a cemetery, a campground, trails, river frontage and a viewscape west in the direction of the original bridge over the Quesnel River. The area is bounded by steep hillsides and by the Cariboo and Quesnel Rivers.
The townsite contains 21 buildings in various states of preservation connected by well-maintained trails to the cemetery and a wilderness forestry campsite. Interpretive signs in Chinese and English are placed throughout the townsite. A low-mobility log building at the modern entrance serves as a Welcome Interpretive Centre.
Today, Quesnelle Forks has aesthetic and recreational value for its natural beauty, fishing and picnicking opportunities, bird and salmon watching, gold-panning, and world-class kayaking and river rafting on two natural rivers.