Bowron Lake Park was originally protected as a Game Reserve in 1925. In 1961, it was established as a Class A Park. It was named for John Bowron, the first Gold Commissioner of nearby Barkerville. There are several trappers’ cabins along the circuit, dating from the 1920s. Although no intensive gold mining occurred in what is now Bowron Lake Park, the surrounding area has a rich history from the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s.
Bowron Lake Park has a strong history of First Nations and European use and settlement. Much of this use has been intertwined with the presence of plentiful wildlife and rich fisheries in the park. The physical evidence of the park’s heritage is distributed throughout. Some evidence, like the old trappers’ cabins, is in plain sight while some evidence lies buried. In other cases, the history of the area exists only in the memories and stories of First Nation elders or handed down to second and third generation landowners and local historians.
While the word “wilderness” is often used to describe Bowron Lake Park, its mountains, lakes and rivers have been used for food, shelter and sustenance, economic development and recreation long before society decided to protect it as a provincial park. The marks and evidence of its former residents and users can be found in the old cabins, trails, axe blazes, crumbling chimneys, rotting mileposts, the occasional projectile point and the long since removed rail portages.
First Nations use
Many early European visitors to the area wrote about the First Nations people they encountered. They talked about the trapping, hunting, fishing and gathering activities of these people and speculated about which “people” they were. Early accounts suggest they were the “Takulli” or Carrier people, but others mentioned Shuswap or even Iroquois. Many of these accounts refer to a village situated at Bear (Bowron) Lake complete with between nine to eleven kekuli (pit) houses and approximately 100 people. As in many First Nations communities, the smallpox epidemics of the 1860s struck hard in this community. The village site itself apparently sloughed into Bowron Lake in 1964. Some reports attribute this sloughing to undermining and mud slides, while others blame the event on the seismic shock from the 1964 earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska. Other First Nations sites have been noted, including clam middens, buried campfires, projectile points and cache pits, but little formal archaeological or traditional use work has occurred.
Many of the place names in Bowron Lake Park have their origins in the Carrier language, including Mt. Ishpa (meaning “my father”), Kaza Mountain (meaning “arrow”), the Itzul Range (meaning “forest”) and the Tediko Range (meaning “girls”). Lanezi Lake is also derived from Carrier language and means “long”. Lanezi was known as Long Lake for years.
The Gold Rush
The Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s brought many of the first non-natives into the Cariboo Mountains. Miners and prospectors working along the Fraser River tributaries eventually founded the mining town at Quesnel Forks. Continuing upstream past Cariboo Lake, they came upon what they called Swamp River. This may have been the area in Cariboo River Park. As the miners and prospectors continued on, they would have found Cariboo Falls, and then Unna Lake, Babcock Lake and others in the chain. They likely would have continued up the Matthew River, exploring the valley and perhaps spending time at Ghost Lake in Cariboo Mountains Park. Miners prospecting from Williams Creek and Antler Creek would have eventually found Bowron Lake (then known as “Bear Lake”), since the Antler River joins the Bowron River right below Bowron Lake.
Exploration of the Bowron and Cariboo Mountains country continued throughout the 1860s and onward. Canadian Pacific Railroad engineers looked for links through the mountain passes and John Bowron, the Gold Commissioner, sent parties exploring into the hills to look for new gold-bearing ground and routes. One of the routes from the Cariboo to Tete Jaune Cache in the Robson Valley was located along the Goat River Pass. Mileposts were put in and the trail was cleared enough for dog sleds in the winter. The Grand Trunk Railroad, which was built in 1914, put an end to the effectiveness of the Goat River route. Another route through the mountains, called the “Dominion Route” was located between Lanezi Lake and Castle Creek.
From the earliest days of non-native settlement in the Cariboo Mountains, Bowron Lake played a central role. Early entrepreneurs in Barkerville caught kokanee in the lake and sold them to the hungry miners. (Rumour has it an ounce of gold bought a pound of the tasty salmon!) After the gold rush was over, trapping and guiding began to play a larger role in the economy of the area. After the First World War, returning soldiers were given land grants, and a number of families began farming along the Bowron River. Several lodges were built around the lake, and guides with names like Kibbee and Wendle were bringing in tourists for big game hunting.
Establishment of the Park
By the early 1920s there was a concern that wildlife populations were under increasing stress in the Bowron Lake area. Thomas McCabe, John Babcock and Joe Wendle proposed a no-hunting conservation area around the inside of the chain of lakes as a wildlife sanctuary where animals could reproduce without disturbance, using Yellowstone and Glacier National parks as examples. A 240 square mile reserve was established in 1925. Since 1925, Bowron Lake Park has been enlarged a number of times in order to make the boundaries make more ecological sense and to increase recreational access to the lakes. The largest additions came in 1961 when it was originally designated a park and in 2000 with the addition of the Betty Wendle, Wolverine and portions of the Upper Cariboo River.
The park is a wildlife sanctuary and is closed to hunting. Increased park visitation during recent years has placed a great deal of pressure on the park’s resources. If we are able to preserve the wilderness experience, it is up to each visitor to treat this special area with the respect it deserves by following the park’s rules and regulations.
One of the reasons Bowron Lake Park attracts so many visitors is the high likelihood of wildlife sightings. You may encounter both moose and bear. Never stress wildlife by approaching too closely. Binoculars and a telephoto lens are well worth bringing on your trip.
A wide variety of wildlife lives in the park, including moose, deer, mountain goat caribou, black bear, grizzly bear, waterfowl, beaver, and otter. Rainbow trout, lake trout, bull trout, Rocky Mountain whitefish and Kokanee salmon inhabit the waters of the park. In the winter, trumpeter swans depend on the open waters of the Bowron Marsh and Cariboo River.