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Historic Ashcroft

Ashcroft was given the breath-of-life when the Canadian Pacific Railway was finally pushed through to the far limits of 'the west' in 1885.

The town was 'born in a hurry' amid what seemed providential circumstances, for its setting was in the right place at the right time -- at the most northerly point of the railway before it swung east, and close to the lifeline to the interior, the Cariboo Wagon Road. In the midst of a quiet grainfield, in a bend in the Thompson River, Ashcroft burgeoned quickly into the 'Gateway to the Cariboo', supplanting the town of Yale, which had claimed this distinction over 20 prosperous years.

The site for the town was part of a ranch originally owned by John Christopher Barnes and his partner William Brink. The addition of Oliver Evans, who married Brink's daughter, and Bill Bose, who married Barnes' daughter, completed the list of founding fathers, all of them Americans who had worked variously as cowboys, prospectors, muleskinners and packers.

In 1883 before 'opportunity had even lifted a hand to knock' Barnes and his new partner Evans had the door open in the form of their brand new Thompson River Hotel, near the ferry, every inch of it trundled slowly up 'The Road' in Bill Bose's ox-drawn freight wagons.

Though they had gambled, fortune smiled on this 'family firm', and railway crews arrived in 1884. Evans and his wife executed a quick and rather simple survey for a townsite, he dragging a chain for marking, and Mrs Evans and the children placing the stakes.

When the C.P.R. built a station inland from the Thompson River, Evans and Barnes simply had their hotel picked up and moved directly opposite and renamed it the Ashcroft Hotel. From then on the town began to flourish. With the building of a bridge across the Thompson, a wagon road connecting it with the Cariboo Road, and the all important move of the B.C. Express headquarters to Ashcroft in 1886, the 'Portal to the North' was wide open.

The pleasant shrill of steam whistles down the canyon signaled the arrival of trainloads of supplies, and people from across the nation and across the ocean, bound for the northern settlements. Those early years from 1886 to the turn of the century were filled with excitement, high expectations and the wonderful feeling of hope for the future, characteristics of a new frontier in the throes of building.

The main street was busy with a steady stream of northbound freight wagons, loaded with everything from mining machinery to milady's silk petticoats. Stagecoaches came and went bearing mail and express, gold on the down trips, and passengers from every walk of life heading for the Golden cariboo -- adventures, businessmen, ne'er-do-wells, miners, gamblers, aristocrats, land hungry settlers and ladies of dubious repute. Camped just outside town there might be a couple of packtrains waiting for special cargoes.

Accommodations and services increased rapidly with the influx of people, some of whom stayed to settle. By 1887 the little town boasted a second hotel, three general merchants, two blacksmith shops, two forwarding businesses (similar to wholesalers), B.C. Express Office, incorporating connections with the railway telegraph office, a post office, a beginning Chinatown and a school of sots.

Large ranches had built up from Lytton to the Cariboo in response to the miners' need for beef, and grain and hay for their mules and oxen. Several established in the immediate are produced beef, wheat for the grist mills, oats, barley, hay, vegetables and some fruit. Ashcroft became an important trans-shipment point for cattle, handling between four and five thousand per year. Accordingly, large holding corrals were built at the north end of town for fall drives.

Ashcroft continued to grow through the 90's, subject to ups and downs at the whims of the economy, but the hardest blow fell in the early teens of the new century with the building of the P.G.E. Railway and the take over by mechanized transport. The loss of the town's strategic position as the supply centre for the north spelled the end of an era and a way of life, the most colourful and romantic of its history.

Today, all of Ashcroft's exciting history can be viewed at the Ashcroft Museum, located on the corner of Fourth and Brink Streets in Ashcroft, BC.



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