The Wagon Road today is a modern highway that closely follows the pioneer route. The original 380 miles between Yale and Barkerville were built for around $1 million, an amount that wouldn’t pay for a single mile on many sections of the route today.
Simon Fraser recorded that they were often in imminent danger, a one-mile section section of highway that includes a 2,000-foot-long tunnel cost $5 million. Along sections of the Thompson River, steel retaining walls had to be built into the channel, resulting in construction costs of $1 million a mile. The bridge built by the Royal Engineers over the Fraser River at Alexandria in 1863 cost $45,000; its modern counterpart just downstream was over $4 million.
The northern terminus of the Cariboo Wagon Road was Quesnel for over 40 years. In the first decade of this century railway construction across Central B.C. created a rush. The road was extended northward 75 miles from Quesnel and strings of freight wagons loaded with settler’s effects and materials for townsites rumbled over it. Three communities grew around the former Hudson Bay Trading post of Fort George. Prince George was the only one to survive, and became one of the fastest growing communities, and is now ranked as the provinces ninth largest city.
The spectacular growth of not only Prince George but also Quesnel, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and other Cariboo communities resulted in a new form of gold. But it does not come from the creeks, but from the forests. In terms of wealth, the forests yield more in a year than the creeks in a century and they have provided stability.
Once again, thousands ventured North, this time bringing their families, building homes, establishing businesses and secondary industries and made possible the construction of new highways, railways, airports, schools, hospitals and even entire communities. The young people of today with faith in their ability and country, are the pioneers of the 20th century.
In an area where miners drowned in rapids and were killed by Indians, massive ladders help salmon upstream. The ladders, actually a series of baffles, reduce the current from 25 feet a second to 1 1/2. Although from above, both the river and the fish ladder look small, the logs stranded on top of the ladder are full-length trees. The entire Fraser River churns through the cleft between the rocks – the formidable barrier appropriately called “Hells Gate.”
Bridges as the one over Nine Mile Canyon (pictured above) enable travellers today to cover in minutes treacherous sections that once took hours, even days, for oxen, mule and horse-drawn wagons.
As paved roads reached northward from the heavily populated Lower Fraser Valley, the Cariboo became a vacation wonderland. With hundreds of lakes offering outstanding fishing, dude ranches in rolling rangeland, and some of the continent’s finest big-game country, the region annually attracts thousands of visitors. A wide variety of resorts and other accommodation, including a variety of stores and similar businesses provide all facilities.