Robert Borland

Robert Borland

Haphazard History: Borland name embodies gold rush spirit

One of the original streets in the town of Williams Lake was named Borland Street, and out in the 10 Mile area, we find Borland Valley.

One of the original streets in the town of Williams Lake was named Borland Street, and out in the 10 Mile area, we find Borland Valley, Borland Creek, and Borland Meadow.

I’ve also mentioned in a previous article that our town was almost named Borland. So who was this fellow and what do we know about him?

As it turns out, Robert Borland was an early gold seeker who became one of the most prominent        businessmen    in the Cariboo before losing his fortune and going back to his prospecting roots in his twilight years.

Robert Borland was born in Port Hope, Ontario in 1840. During his teenage years, he heard stories about the gold rush in British Columbia, stories of fist-sized gold nuggets lying on the ground just waiting to be picked up.

So, when he turned 19, he made his way overland across the country, working at various odd jobs along the way.

By 1862, he had arrived in the Cariboo, and, like so many other gold seekers, he followed rumours of gold strikes in the Quesnel Forks, Keithley Creek, and Snowshoe Mountain areas.

Somehow, he was always behind the curve, and he met with very little success, barely eking out an existence in the goldfields during the summer, then migrating south to Victoria in the winters where he took on any job he could find.

Then, one day in the summer of 1869, his luck changed. He met George Veith, another man with a serious case of gold fever who had also been unable to strike it rich.

The two of them decided to join forces, pool their meagre resources and “mine the miners.”

They opened a little store on the flats near Keithley Creek on the south side of the Snowshoe Mountains from Barkerville. Right from the outset, their fortunes changed. They happened to be in the right place at the right time, and the place began to boom. As the town of Keithley Creek grew, so did the store, and every improvement they made generated more income.

Soon, they added rooms to accommodate the miners and gold seekers who were rushing into the area and before long they were operating a large stopping house complete with a saloon and gambling area.

By 1871, the firm of Veith and Borland, headquartered in Keithley Creek, was well known throughout the Cariboo. That year, they established a sawmill, as well as opening a slaughter house and a second store in Quesnel Forks.

They set up and operated mail service to and from Barkerville, and they formed a pack train of 64 hand-picked mules, which they contracted out to the Hudson’s Bay Company to supply its northern outposts.

They also continued to speculate in mining, either by developing their own claims, lending money to down and out miners for a share in promising ground, or purchasing claims from the estates of miners who had met an untimely end.

Borland once claimed that more than $2 million had passed through his hands during his years at Keithley Creek.

In 1884, Veith and Borland bought the 150 Mile House, which had suffered a major decline over the years. They rebuilt the hotel and the store there, and brought the ranch back to its former profitable condition.

Under their management, the 150 Mile Hotel and Store also flourished.

Between 1886 and 1890 the firm reached its peak with two working mines, four general stores, three hotels, several cattle ranches, a packing house, and a freighting service.

The Keithley Creek holdings, for example, included a post office; a hotel with a saloon; gambling room; dining room; kitchen and pantry; 10 rooms; Borland’s Willow Ranch at the mouth of Keithley Creek; a significant interest in the Keithley Creek Onward mine, and much of the Keithley Creek townsite.

Borland was very much a hands-on owner. He often accompanied the pack train as they transported goods to the Skeena region.

On one occasion in 1889, as he rode ahead of his mules into Hazelton, he was surprised to find that the local natives had surrounded all the white settlers in the HBC fort and were refusing to allow them to leave. Since he was a neutral party who had traded with both groups, he was able to convince some of the natives to paddle him down the Skeena River. He caught a passing steamboat and arrived in Port Essington, then made his way to the captial city of Victoria where the legislature happened to be in session.

Borland entered the chambers and startled the members by announcing.

“Gentlemen, do you know there is a war going on in Hazelton?”

In 1898 at the age of 58, Borland married 16 year old Chrissie Glassey of Hat Creek. She was a young, beautiful brunette who was also an accomplished musician.

She enjoyed hosting lavish social occasions which featured her grand piano recitals. Borland didn’t have a chance. Chrissie lived life to the fullest, spending money on clothes, furs, and frequent trips to Vancouver.

Largely because of Chrissie’s spending, in 1899 the Veith and Borland partnership dissolved and both men went their own ways.

Borland purchased the Pinchbeck Ranch at Williams Lake for $17,000, then refurbished the Lake House there for his young wife. They moved in and for some time the place was noted for its great parties.

Borland, however, continued to work hard, building up the ranch operation and opening a post office and store. However, trouble between the Borlands soon developed.

Even though Chrissie had a Chinese cook, several servants, unlimited access to Borland’s money, and even though their home became renowned for gracious living in the Cariboo, she was not happy.

She began spending more and more money on trips to Vancouver of ever increasing lengths.

They began to have arguments about what she was doing on these trips. Borland continued to pay the bills, but the marriage was on the rocks.

In 1912, he sold the ranch to the government, which had plans to develop it as a new townsite when the Pacific Great Eastern railway came through.

Robert and Chrissie separated. She moved to Vancouver and he went back to the Willow Ranch at Keithley Creek. There, he lived a simple existence, without much money (he was still supporting Chrissie), but happy in his old age.

He raised some stock, tended a garden, put up hay, and continued to prospect for gold up in the Little Snowshoe region.

He also cared generously for some of the old timers who had fallen on hard times, providing them with room and board for $1 a day.

Robert Borland died on January, 22, 1923 in Quesnel at the ripe old age of 83. The cause of his death was listed as “a severe attack of indigestion which had a weakening effect on his heart.”

He was buried in the little Keithley Creek Cemetery and his grave can still be seen there today.

At the time of his death, he had very little in the way of financial assets. Chrissie had seen to that.

His life was one full of highs and lows. He lived a true gold rush adventure and now his name lives on in the places and street called Borland.