This is Cowboy Heritage week and if any B.C. community has the right to celebrate, it is us. Williams Lake began as a cowtown and actually it still is. The city is the service centre for the ranching community and we have the world famous Stampede to boot.
It began during the Gold Rush. Some of the adventurers who came to the Cariboo Chilcotin seeking their fortunes found their future, if not their fortunes, in the area’s lush grasslands. Drovers, Stopping House proprietors, and others realized this would be a great place to raise cattle, and they stayed to do that. One problem, there was no nearby market and they had to drive their herds to the rail-head at Ashcroft. It was a long and brutal trip for both man and beast. In the early days of the 1900s, the government of the day realized the cattle industry had economic potential and decided to extend the Pacific Great Eastern railway to the province’s interior. The First World War stalled the process but in 1919, the first train arrived in Williams Lake, which immediately became B.C.’s major cattle shipping centre. An instant settlement popped up and what had been a farm became the service centre for the vast Cariboo Chilcotin. Coincidentally, a stampede was also held that year.
Mining comes and goes. Forestry is a relative newcomer and some fear its glory days are fading. Ranching endures. Generations of cattle have been raised on the same grasslands for over 150 years. If that isn’t sustainability, what is? The thing is, ranches are somewhere “out there,” and the busy stockyards are tucked away in the north east end of town. Out of sight, out of mind.
Although Williams Lake began in 1919 with the coming of the PGE, it didn’t become a formal village until 1929. As it happens its 88th birthday, March 15, is in the middle of Cowboy Heritage week. This would be a good time to drop into the museum which focuses on our ranching/rodeo history, among other things.
Speaking of forestry, a reminder, the Future of the Forests forum is tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Centre.
Diana French is a freelance columnist, former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.