Haphazard History: Barney Boe, a Cariboo legend

Barney celebrated his 100th birthday in 1987 at his home on Williams Lake

One of the truly unique characters in the history of Williams Lake was Barney Boe.

He was born in Norway in 1887, the oldest of seven children.

He left home at the young age of 14 because he couldn’t get along with his stepmother. He made his way to the U.S., working on sailing ships for a few years, and he ended up in San Francisco just a few months before the huge earthquake and devastating fires of 1905.

There, he learned English from a Chinese cook while working in a restaurant as a dishwasher.

After the earthquake, he headed up to Alaska with a cousin to work in the goldfields.

They did not do very well, and in 1909 he headed south, finding a job in New Westminster, B.C. as a logger.

He helped to clear cut Queen’s Park when it was covered in virgin timber. Along the way, Barney apprenticed as a plumber, and he eventually started up his own plumbing and heating business, located on Seymour Street across from the Hudson’s Bay Company store in downtown Vancouver.

In the early 1920s, Barney got the contract to install the plumbing and heating in the PGE station house in Williams Lake.

Several other of the larger buildings in the town also needed skilled installations, so Barney decided to stay, and opened a plumbing and heating business on the corner of Second Avenue and Oliver Street (now the location of Shopper’s Drug Mart).

At that time, the “Second Cedar Creek Gold Rush” was in full swing.

It is estimated that, in 1922, 7,000 men flocked to Cedar Creek, just outside of Likely, to try to make their fortunes.

Barney also became smitten with gold fever, but he played it smart.

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He struck a deal with the six partners of the Cedar Creek Mining Company to manage the extraction, concentration and shipping of their gold for a 30/70 per cent split, with options to buy if the partners wanted to sell.

Everyone got rich, especially Barney, who by 1930 was the sole owner of the company.

He also acquired other placer mines in the area, most notably a prosperous claim at Harvey Creek near Keithly, which he worked right up until the 1970s.

One day, in the fall of 1928, Barney, who was an all around athlete, was returning from participating in an outing at the Vancouver Rowing Club in Stanley Park.

He spotted a brand new four-door Auburn sedan convertible at a dealership in the city, and he decided to buy it.

It was a Sunday, and the place was closed, but that did not deter Barney.

He copied down the emergency number from the dealership door and convinced a salesman to come in, sell him a car, and take his 1927 Studebaker roadster in on trade.

The Auburn had an eight-cylinder, 115-horsepower engine, which would take it up to 85 miles per hour — a nearly unheard of speed for the day.

It cost $2,095, which was about four times what normal people were paying for their automobiles.

Barney paid for it in cash, and headed home to Williams Lake.

That Auburn eventually travelled hundreds of miles up and down the gravel roads from the Cariboo to Vancouver, and back and forth from the lakecity to the Likely/Keithly Creek area.

In just eight years Barney put 200,000 miles on the odometre.

However, by 1930, Barney had turned his sights on to another mode of transportation — flying.

In the late summer of that year, he took a train to Edmonton, then linked up with a pilot friend, and travelled on to Duluth, Minnesota.

There, bought a new 1930 Fleet Biplane, a two seater with an open cockpit.

He had pontoons added on to it, and he learned to fly it by following the CNR railway tracks on the way back to B.C.

It was one of the first float planes in the area, and its arrival was noteworthy.

For example, on Oct. 3, 1931, Quesnel’s Cariboo Observer noted: “Barney Boe, of Likely, arrived in town last Friday evening by seaplane and spent the week here, before leaving for the Chilcotin in the fore part of the week.”

People saw and heard the little yellow and black biplane overhead, and they all knew it was Barney.

His flying days were not without incident.

He crash landed on lakes in the area at least a couple of times, once at McLeese Lake, and once on Williams Lake.

The Williams Lake incident was an interesting one. Barney had flown out to his Cedar Creek mine late one afternoon, only to find that one of his workers had severed some arteries in his hand.

The first aid treatment had been to plunge the hand into a barrel of flour, but the bleeding persisted.

The man begged Barney to fly him to Williams Lake to access a doctor and a hospital.

Barney explained that he had never flown a plane in the dark, and that his plane did not have suitable lights or instruments for night flying, but the man pleaded that he did not want to die, so he was stuffed into the open cockpit and Barney took off.

They made it to Williams Lake without mishap, but by the time they arrived it was really dark.

Barney tried to land on the lake, but he hit the water too steeply, and the plane went under.

Barney swam ashore, found a rowboat and rowed back to the plane, pulled the mine worker into the boat, and rowed back to the shore where, by then, some people, including the doctor, were waiting.

The cold, drenched and weakened worker grasped Barney’s hand and shook it, saying: “Barney, you’re a damned good pilot. I’d fly with you anywhere!”

For almost two decades, Barney logged thousands of miles in this little aircraft, checking on his business interests in several remote areas.

Then, in 1946, when he was almost 60, he began downsizing, and he sold it.

In 1977, the plane was acquired by the Royal B.C. Museum because it was the oldest active registered aircraft in Canada.

It hangs today in the Clifford Carl Hall entrance to our provincial museum.

The Auburn car had quite a story, too.

After he quit using it on a regular basis in the mid 1930s, Barney left it with his son, who parked it behind the general store at Keithly Creek.

When the store burned down in 1938, the back end of the car, with its wooden framework, was totally destroyed.

Barney’s son began work on the car, hoping to modify it and turn it into a boat-tail speedster.

Sadly, he never completed the work.

When the Second World War broke out, he joined the air force and was shot down over Holland in 1943.

The partially dismantled car then came into the possession of Phyllis Duncan, Barney’s daughter.

She loaned it to the war effort in the Lower Mainland, where it was used in classes for women learning how to repair automobiles.

In 1970, a car collector/restorer from Coquitlam found the Auburn rotting away in a barn on Phyllis’s property in Langley.

Over a five-year period the car was completely restored.

Barney was the proud passenger for the inaugural drive — the first time the car had been on the road in almost 40 years.

Barney and the car made an appearance in the 1987 Williams Lake Stampede Parade, where Barney was awarded a Stampede Lifetime Membership.

The Auburn car is now in a private collection, and still makes regular appearances at car shows and special events.

Barney celebrated his 100th birthday in 1987 at his home on Williams Lake, where he had lived since the early 1940s.

He passed away at his daughter’s home in Langley in 1992 at the amazing age of 105.

His exploits and experiences as a businessman, builder, gold miner, pilot and entrepreneur are inextricably linked to the story of our city and the Cariboo.

– Many thanks to the Vancouver Sun, April 4, 2008) and The Stew (November 2016) for help on this one


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A 1928 Auburn four-door convertible sedan. (Photo submitted)

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