The original 150 Mile House and Store.

The original 150 Mile House and Store.

Haphazard History: 150 Mile House an important supply depot

This is part two of this edition of Haphazard History continued from the Aug. 3 Tribune.

This is part two of this edition of Haphazard History continued from the Aug. 3 Tribune regarding gold miners such as Thomas Davidson and Edward Tormey and others who had a hand in shaping the 150 Mile House area during the Cariboo Gold Rush.

They also had built the bridge over the Quesnel River to Quesnelle Forks and there they operated the hugely successful Bridge House Hotel and Saloon.

In October of 1869, word spread of a big new gold strike in the Omineca Country, north of Prince George. By the spring of 1870, traffic along the Cariboo Wagon Road had increased dramatically, and roadhouses like the 150 Mile House were enjoying renewed activity and prosperity. In addition to the usual attractions of drinking, gambling, billiards and ladies of the evening, performances by travelling variety shows and amateur musical troupes were also staged. Horse racing was also a major attraction.

150 Mile House became an important supply depot for huge pack trains and freight wagon convoys that serviced the mining operations and communities further north.

In the winter time the little settlement would grow substantially. As the cold weather took hold in the goldfields, much of the mining would cease, and the population would move south to “warmer” areas with less snow and more hospitable climates. Many chose to winter over at 150 Mile House. For the miners, this was a time to relax, regroup, and prepare for the next mining season. Whole communities of goldfield workers, both Caucasian and Chinese arrived, set up camp and stayed until the spring melt was finished.

The Caucasians lived mainly in little temporary cabins along the creek (at the rear of the present day Marshall’s Store), while the Chinese lived in an area alongside the wagon road (where the school playing field is today). The miners spent their money freely — poker games, Mahjong games, horse races, dog fights, liquor, brothels — and many miners had difficulty in finding enough to pay for supplies when it was time to return to the goldfields in April or May. The residents of 150 Mile House did a good business “mining the miners.”

While Adler and Barry operated the saloon and roadhouse, Edward Tormey continued to run the ranch until early spring of 1871 when he left on a short trip to California.

A month later, he died unexpectedly in San Francisco. Edward’s brother Martin inherited the ranch, but very shortly afterwards, he and Adler and Barry sold the property, roadhouse, and store to Aschel Sumner Bates, originally from Boston,Massachusetts.

As the story goes, the three partners, Adler, Barry, and martin Tormey won an Omineca region gold claim in a high stakes poker game. Once they had ownership to this claim, gold fever hit them and they sold everything to head north and seek their fortune.

Aschel Bates was a shrewd investor, having interests already in Peter Dunlevy’s Exchange Hotel at Soda Creek, the sternwheeler S.S. Victoria and large ranches at Soda Creek, Deep Creek, and elsewhere in the region.

Under his watchful eye, 150 Mile continued to be a very successful operation with 2,000 acres of land producing hay and grain, several hundred head of cattle, more than 200 acres in fruit and vegetable crops, the store, and the roadhouse with its saloon, and a blacksmith shop/livery stable. In 1875, the operation was leased out to James Griffin, a one-armed former Welsh miner.

“One Hand Griff” added a post office, and a steam flour mill was built. Later, this mill was converted into a steam sawmill capable of cutting 10,000 board feet of lumber daily.

On New Year’s Day in 1879, Aschel Bates died of a heart attack at the age of 50. However, just prior to his death, he had sold all of his 150 Mile House holdings to Gavin Hamilton for $35,000. Hamilton had been a Hudson’s Bay Company Factor at Fort St. James, and after 35 years of service to the company, he and his wife Margaret (one of Peter Skene Ogden’s daughters) wanted to retire and move south where there was “civilization” and formal schooling (at St. Joseph’s Mission) for their 15 school-aged children.

Bad luck and adversity dogged Gavin Hamilton’s tenure at 150 Mile House. Within months of his moving there the sawmill and a full storehouse burned to the ground. Then, in the spring of 1880, the creek flooded, wiping out his grain, hay, and vegetable crops for that year, causing a net loss of approximately $13,000.

His youngest daughter, Marion, was kidnapped and was never seen alive again. The perpetrators were never found.

Hamilton’s losses just kept piling up and in 1883, he sold all his holdings there to George Vieth and Robert Borland for only $5,000. Glad to be out from under what must have seemed to him to be a cursed place, Gavin Hamilton and his family moved to Lac La Hache and set up a homestead there.

The company of Vieth and Borland was well known in the Cariboo. They operated stores and roadhouses (hotels) in Quesnelle Forks and Keithley Creek, and had a solid reputation as honest and reputable merchants. Gradually they restored the ranch, the stopping house, the saloon and the store at 150 Mile House to their former flourishing condition, and the economy of the little settlement boomed once again.

The advent of hydraulic mining, most notably at the Bullion Pit, but also in other smaller sites to the northeast ensured a steady demand for supplies and freighted goods.

By the mid-1880s the town of 150 Mile House boasted a hotel (roadhouse), a saloon, a store, a telegraph office, Northwest Mounted Police barracks, a freight office, a government Agent’s office, a jail, a bank, a doctor’s office/clinic, a post office, a school, a blacksmith’s shop, two-large livery barns, a big ranch house and several family dwellings. In the summertime, the population was about 200 people, while in the winter, it would swell to up to 600 souls. With the resurgence of mining in the 1890s the Cariboo Road continued to be busy and it remained so right through the great Klondike gold strike of 1898 and into the new century.

In 1899 the Vieth and Borland partnership dissolved. Vieth, whose health was failing, went into retirement at Keithley Creek, while Borland purchased the Pinchbeck ranch at Williams Lake. The company broke up and the 150 Mile Ranch, store and hotel sold for $90,000 to an English syndicate named the Cariboo Trading Company.

The operation remained reasonably profitable, but in the early morning of Feb. 13, 1916 the 150 Mile House Hotel burned to the ground. Apparently the fire started in the liquor cellar, and it spread very quickly since there was very little water available to fight the flames at -20C. The residents of the town rushed to the scene, but the only item they managed to rescue from the fire was the big piano which was right inside the door. It was pushed outside onto the roadway and sat there all night long with its strings pinging as they contracted in the cold.

The Cariboo Trading Company continued to operate the store and the ranch until 1928, but they did not rebuild the hotel.

In 1920, the PGE railway line was completed into Williams Lake.