Between a rock and an arts place: can a B.C. town survive another gold rush? – by Andrew Findlay (The Narwhal – April 9, 2022)

The Narwhal

On a brisk December day, Judy Campbell walks down Pooley Street in Wells, B.C., a tiny community 80 kilometres west of Quesnel on Highway 26. Cold snow squeaks underfoot and the snow banks are piling high. Campbell turns left and opens the door to the education and cultural centre, Island Mountain Arts. A rush of warm air flushes her face. The town of Wells and the surrounding region have gone through multiple transformations since miners and prospectors first moved in, more than 150 years ago.

In 1862, William “Billy” Barker struck paydirt on Williams Creek. The gold strike triggered the Cariboo Gold Rush and the town of Barkerville sprung from the wilderness. Sixty-five years later, miner and prospector Fred Wells started the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Co. in his namesake town, seven kilometres away.

By the early 1940s the population had ballooned, peaking at around 4,500, according to the Wells Historical Society. The town grew around the mine. The bars were hopping, hotels thrived. When the mine closed for good in 1967, jobs went with it. The vacuum left behind would be slowly filled with creatives like Campbell and others seeking affordable small-town life.

Campbell and her then-husband arrived in Wells six years after the last gold bar was poured at the long-running Cariboo Gold Quartz mine. It was a -20 C winter day but the locals were kind and welcoming, and you could rent a cabin for $20 a month. Campbell embraced Wells.

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