The South Cariboo has had an interesting history that started long before man arrived. At one time it was a boiling sea of volcanoes covering the land with thick layers of pahoehoe lava.
Then in a complete change the entire area was smoothed and carved by the great ice sheets that blanketed the lava fields during the last great ice age. About 10,000 year ago this ice started to melt sending torrents of water cascading off the edges of the Fraser Plateau.
This deluge cut canyons through the layers of lava that has made for some of the
spectacular scenery that makes the Cariboo such a great place to be.
The evidence of this tumultuous past is everywhere. From the hundreds of lakes (no, that is not an exaggeration) to the beauty of Canim Falls and Painted Chasm to the volcanic core that stands as a ancient sentinel over the tiny town of Lone Butte.
First Nations people came to this land early, evidence found in Soda Creek carbon dated at approximately 2300 B.C.. This is the area of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) First Nation and is a part of the Lake Division of the Shuswap Tribe within the Interior Salish Nations in B.C.. Pictographs can be seen on both the north and south sides of Mahood Lake at about the half way point.
Fur traders for the Hudson's Bay Company used the Fur Brigade Trail to pass through 100 Mile House from 1820 into the 1850's. They would move trade goods up the trail to supply inland forts with goods to exchange with First Nations for the furs they would move down the trail for eventual shipping to Europe and Asia.
Fur trader's gave many place names to the South Cariboo including 100 Mile House's original name of Bridge Creek, so named for the logs thrown down to make it easier for the horses to get up the steep banks of the creek.
Other names that echo this era are Green Lake, called Lac Du Vert by the French traders; Horse Lake recalls an unfortunate incident in the 1820's when several horses drowned crossing the end of the lake. Lac La Hache translates in Axe Lake for the luckless trader whose axe went to the bottom.
The late 1850's seen the beginning of the Cariboo Gold Rush and British Columbia became an official colony of Great Britain in 1858. As the fur trade declined in importance the forts were used more and more to supply miners and settlers who flooded up the trail.
The trail ceased to used in some places and widened and improved in others with the construction of the Cariboo Wagon Road, north of 100 Mile House is such a place. You can still walk a section of the original Fur Brigade Trail west of Little Fort where it winds to the top of the Thompson Plateau.
The Cariboo Wagon road was constructed with the sweat and sometimes lives of The Royal Engineers whose advance guard arrived in 1858. These were volunteers who all had to be a tradesman of some type and independent thinkers for they often worked in small groups with little supervision. Sometimes the independent attribute backfired with several men deserting, lured by the seemingly endless wealth of the gold fields.
Volunteers were enticed from the small villages of England, Ireland and Scotland with the promise of thirty acres in the new colony of British Columbia, something unattainable for a labourer in their home countries. This was later raised to 130 acres in recognition of their accomplishment.
Sgt. John (Jock) McMurphy of the Royal Engineers fell in love with the Cariboo during his time laying the route for the wagon road. He wrote in his journal about how plentiful the grouse were and streams full of trout, saying it reminded him of his youth spent on the moors of Scotland. On his subsequent retirement he opened a roadhouse at 74 Mile, calling it Loch Lomond House. His wife and eleven children helped to run the inn and he advertised that the bar contained "civility and the best liquors and cigars"
His bliss was short lived however, in 1865 while the family was away in Victoria the business was robbed of anything of value and the family moved to New Westminster.
Thirty thousand people poured into British Columbia when gold was found in what was then known in New Caledonia. Many people where flowing north from the United States and the British government was worried about maintaining their sovereignty. They quickly formed an official colony with the new name of British Columbia under the care of Governor James Douglas.
While some made money toiling for gold many made very good livings meeting the needs of the miners. Mule packers, stages and coaches pulled by oxen and horses moved people and freight up the new road north. One ill fated enterpriser brought in camels to move freight but his plan failed because the camels were not suited to the rough ground and often grew lame.
Horses and mules were frightened by the sight and smell of the understandably ill tempered camels and some actually bolted right off the road to their deaths. One trigger happy traveler thought one was a grizzly and shot it. The commotion caused by the camels caused them to be banned from the wagon road and the last of the unhappy imports is thought to have died around 1910.
Others enterprisers made money setting up roadhouses where weary travelers could eat, drink, sleep and rest their animals. Lilloet was officially Mile 0 of the route and roadhouses sprang up with their names designated by their distance from there. This is how 100 Mile House eventually got its name.
As 100 Mile was then known as Bridge Creek, 1862 seen Bridge Creek House come into being. By 1867 business was going so good the house was expanded to include four other buildings with the original becoming the store and telegraph key.
Bridge Creek House had a reputation of good home cooking with lots of fresh vegetables, pies, bread and milk. Although one lady traveler remarked that the host was a bachelor and could have kept the house a little cleaner. No doubt she found many of the Cariboo houses rough after leaving the comforts of established Victoria.
The roadhouse at 100 Mile changed hands many times over the years. It was owned at one point by the Stevenson brothers who built a large barn to service horses. Although it had to be moved from its original location it can be seen from the highway at the north end of town. They also constructed a mill at the falls in what is now Centennial Park and you will see evidence of it in the form of a stack at the falls and flumes snaking through the forest higher up. The roadhouse finally fell into a state of disrepair and eventually became somewhat infested with bugs. The buildings finally burnt to the ground in 1937.
Other roadhouses of note in the area include 59 Mile House; built overlooking Painted Chasm it included a fifty stall barn to accommodate the horses of Barnard's Express Company. A roadhouse was constructed at 70 Mile. Incredibly, this house operated continually from 1862 to 1956 when it was consumed by fire.
The 105 Mile House was unlike most of the Cariboo roadhouses in that it was a handsome building built in a Victorian style. This house was moved from its original location and now resides at the 108 Heritage site where it can be toured by the public.
108 Mile House started as a somewhat cruder affair in 1867. It was only eight miles from 100 Mile House so stage coaches probably passed it by, although it would have been a welcome site to those walking pack animals. By 1875, although there was no evidence of ownership, it was known as the 108 Mile Hotel and was run by one Agnus McVee and her husband Jim. It was rumored that the McVee's would supplement their income by selling girl hostages to lonely miners or by bringing southbound travelers to a quick end, relieving them of their gold and unceremoniously dumping their bodies in nearby lakes.
The stolen gold was then buried in various locations in the surrounding countryside. Stashed gold has turned up at a couple of construction sites but it is widely believed that there are tens of thousands of dollars worth waiting like a buried lottery for the right passerby.
The next owner tore down the building and reassembled it at what is now the 108 Heritage site. Several more buildings such as a blacksmith shop and an ice house were added, the most notable being the Clydesdale barn built in 1908. This is the largest log barn of its kind in Canada and is still standing at its picturesque location on the shores of 108 Mile Lake.
The builders of the 111 Mile House felt they had a good location and built a large and impressive, two-story inn. They were right because four horse stagecoaches from Barnard's Express made it a regular stop as a horse change station. It operated till 1909, sat empty for awhile and finally became part of the 3000 acre Highland Ranch. Today only one small building remains beside the creek.
The 118 Mile House is not as old as some but the building still stands on private property visible from highway 97.
The roadhouse at 127 Mile started as a blue army tent. It operated as a bar while a building was erected. It was a large, attractive two story building but the location was popularly known as the Blue Tent Ranch for many years. In 1904, it went the way of many buildings in an era of woodstoves and no fire departments, it burned to the ground.
Two friends, British noblemen, Lord Egerton of Tatton and the Marquis of Exeter bought land here in 1912. Lord Egerton bought land from the 105, 108 and 111 Mile ranches. He later sold this property to Fred Davis. The Marquis purchased Bridge Creek House and 12,000 acres of ranchland surrounding it.
The Marquis visited periodically but hired a manager to run the ranch, listed in a 1919 directory as William Henry Buse.
In 1930 the Marquis of Exeter's son, Lord Martin Cecil arrived to run the ranch and one of his first projects was to construct the 100 Mile Lodge to replace the decaying Bridge Creek House. The Lodge still stands behind the Red Coach Inn to this day as well as a Barnard's Express stagecoach. The stagecoach era was coming to an end but there was now a railway in place with passengers disembarking at Exeter station..
Canada was in the throes of a depression at this time and making money on a ranch was difficult. The young British nobleman worked as hard as any of his ranch hands however and kept the ranch intact.
He married a European debutante and brought her to the Lodge in 1934 where she helped with the running of the inn.
When the population of 100 Mile House was only about twelve people, Lone Butte was becoming a busy centre for ranchers in the surrounding areas. The Cariboo was poised for a boom though and it came in the forties and fifties with dozens taking advantage of abundant timber and establishing sawmills at places like Forest Grove and Lac La Hache.
Construction began on a modern highway linking the Cariboo with Vancouver. And 100 Mile House was ready to offer accommodation. The lodge had been built to offer all the luxuries, such as generator powered lights and hot and cold running water (summer only) in many bedrooms. Good food was supplied by the ranch itself, beef, milk and fresh vegetables.
In 1949, three brothers named Jens leased land from Bridge Creek Ranch and each built a house in 100 Mile. This leasing agreement was repeated by many others until the town was incorporated in 1965 and the properties were offered to sale to the tenants.
Lord Martin Cecil helped to plan the burgeoning town and donated land for a park (now named Centennial Park), a bird sanctuary at 100 Mile Marsh and land for most of the other publicly owned buildings the population enjoys today.
With its proximity to both the highway and railroad, 100 Mile House has become the hub for the little satellite communities that once were bigger than it.
While it is still known for its ranches and logging industry it has also become important as a centre for log home building.
Lastly it is known for its friendly people running modern day roadhouses because the people who follow the road north are no longer seeking furs or gold but a memorable vacation. There are still many grouse in the forest and the creeks still teem with fish.