It is just about 85 years since the fabulous gold strikes were first made in the Cariboo and the feverish trek northwards to the new El Dorado began in earnest. Thousands poured into the country and pushed eagerly up the long trail into the Cariboo. Until the completion of that remarkable engineering feat which provided a road link between Yale and the interior of the province through the forbidding precipices of the Fraser Canyon, the feasible route which had then been opened up from the coast to the interior was that which connected Harrison with Lillooet. Therefore Lillooet constituted the jumping-off place for the 300-mile grind over practically virgin country to the Cariboo goldfields and the high hopes of fabulous fortune. It is because of this that Lillooet took its place as the southern terminus of the Cariboo Trail and as Mile 0 in the system of identification which developed for the various stopping houses as these sprang up along the road. Thus 100 Mile House indicated that this stopping place was 100 miles from Lillooet, and the mileage calculations seem to be fairly accurate even today.
The Mile House came into existence at stopping places along the road for the weary travellers and their pack animals on the long journey to and from the goldfields farther north. 100 Mile House itself was built in 1863 and the original structure added to and embellished from time to time, stood as a monument to those pioneer days until it was destroyed by fire in the spring of 1937. Incidentally the date of its construction indicates 100 Mile House was in existence 20 years before Vancouver was even thought of! The old building was interesting. It consisted of a central portion, a storey-and-a-half high, with a single-storey wing on either side. In the middle on the ground floor was a low-ceilinged room in which the “bar” was located. Up above, under the eaves of the roof, were the sleeping quarters. The space was divided into a number of cubicles, although this architectural improvement might have been installed at a later date. In any case only one of the “bedrooms” had a window in it.
Stopping Places on Cariboo Road
While 100 Mile House remained a stopping house on the Cariboo Road, and so remains to this day, even though the accommodation in the new lodge is altogether up to date and comfortable bearing little resemblance to the primitive facilities of years gone by, there gradually developed holdings in connection which permitted ranching activity to be undertaken. The property passed through various hands and was acquired by the present owner, the Marquess of Exeter, in 1912. The Bridge Creek Cattle Ranch, as it is known, with headquarters at 100 Mile House, comprises some 14,000 acres of land, mostly deeded, and carries at the present time about 800 head of cattle. The adjoining ranch to the north was built up a few years later by Lord Egerton of Tatton through the purchase of a number of properties, including the 105, 108, 111 Mile Houses. This outfit is called the Highland Ranch and comprises some 35,000 acres. These two ranches are now operated under one management. Between them they cover a lot of territory. It is a park country with plenty of open pasture land, interspersed with clumps of poplar and pine, and with some good stands of fir along the ridges. Water, which is so important to a good ranching country, is abundant. There are over 20 lakes on the properties and half a dozen creeks. The summer range for the cattle is mostly in the timber where the vegetation grows lush and green, the open pastures being kept for the spring and fall grazing. The first shipments of beef are usually ready in July and are dispatched to the coast market over the Pacific Great Eastern Railway from Exeter station, two miles from the “100” where there are stockyard and weighing facilities. But while this is a splendid ranching country, the raising of good beef cattle is not the only activity of importance focalized at the 100 Mile House.
Serves Community Needs
The lodge was mentioned before. This building was constructed in 1930-31 and serves the discriminating travelling public today, even as the old “100” seems to have filled an important need in the less critical days gone by! Besides the lodge there is a modern coffee shop right beside the main road, which was only completed and opened for business the latter part of 1946. The large general store was destroyed by fire last fall, but will be rebuilt in due course; in the meantime business is carried out in makeshift accommodation. There is of course a post office, government telegraph office, garage and gas station, and a number of tourist cabins. It is a growing little community, being the centre for a large district, and it will no doubt keep developing as the years go by. Indeed the whole Cariboo is coming into its own — not on the old basis of an unstable population seeking fickle fortune, but on a foundation of established homes and progressive and diversified industry; the livestock industry, the mining industry, the tourist industry, the hunting and fishing industry, and all those related industries which serve a prosperous and growing population. And 100 Mile House takes its place in the pattern of expansion.
But while all this development proceeds apace, the country itself remains little changed. The thunder of the falls on Bridge Creek, a mile from the “100” yet provides a background of soothing sound on a still summer’s evening. The wild laughter of the loon echoes from the lake up the valley. The wind whispers through the evergreens as they stand sentinel on the surrounding hills, against the night sky. Even if the “100” should some day become a “city,” the beauty and the loneliness of nature would never be very far away.