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046 Bears and Trains, and the Cariboo Goldrush becomes a Bonanza

This week, I look at some new research on grizzly bears and train tracks within Banff and Yoho National Parks. As always, there’s some amazing science being done in the mountain west and this week showcases several new discoveries. I also wrap up the story of British Columbia’s Cariboo Gold Rush.

This week, I look at some new research on grizzly bears and train tracks within Banff and Yoho National Parks. As always, there’s some amazing science being done in the mountain west and this week showcases several new discoveries. I also wrap up the story of British Columbia’s Cariboo Gold Rush. And with that said, let’s get to it.

Look Out Bears, There’s a Train Coming

In episode 34 I talked about the incredible success that Banff National Park has had in terms of reducing the number of animals, such as grizzly bears, that are being killed along our highways. The system of over and underpasses that have been pioneered here are now serving as a template for many new areas that are trying to emulate Banff’s successes.

You can listen to the full episode at

While the highways have been getting safer and safer as the system of fencing and crossing structures are expanded, the one area that still shows little improvement is the Canadian Pacific Railway line through the mountain parks.

Canadian Pacific has worked closely with Parks Canada over the years to look at a variety of ways to try to reduce the numbers of animals that perish along tracks. Back in episode 19, I described some of the principal research being done on bear impacts along the tracks. You can listen to it at

In this episode, researchers looked into the timing and location of fatalities. They found that, while more bears use the tracks in the western end of Banff, more bears were being killed in the eastern portions of the park.

One of the conclusions was that the eastern portions are often closer to the busy highways which may have made it difficult for bears to hear the approach of trains. The bears also may need to have better sightlines so that they can see approaching trains from a greater distance.

Another study proposed another theory as to why bears in the west edge of the park fare better than those farther east – The Boss – Bear 122. The Boss is a regular visitor to the tracks in the western portions of Banff and into Yoho National Park and he’s even been bounced off a freight train and walked away unharmed.

One theory is that the Boss is so protective of the tracks that other bears simply don’t feel safe approaching his turf. Since he has been patrolling the tracks, no confirmed bear death has occurred since 2012. However, between 2000 and 2012, 14 grizzlies were killed along the tracks within Banff’s eastern border and the west end of Yoho. Perhaps the Boss is helping to keep the tracks safer.

Another study that I discuss in Episode 19 showed that an estimated 110 metric tonnes of grains are spilled along the tracks within Banff and Yoho every year – enough to support the annual food needs of some 50 grizzlies!

This week, I want to look at a new study that has been looking into just how much bears use the tracks as well as what foods were making the tracks so attractive. While there are obvious attractants, like grain spills and carrion, researchers did not know what the relative importance of each of these was to the bears.

Between 2011 and 12, they placed satellite collars on 21 different bears. The collars provided information on their position every 2 hours. In addition, they analyzed 230 grizzly scats collected between May and October over the years 2012 to 2014.

Surprisingly, of the 21 grizzlies, only 4 were regular visitors to the CPR mainline. These bears visited the tracks in excess of 20% of the days on which their movements were monitored.

Scat samples from these four bears all occasionally contained grain. In fact, 43% of all grizzly scat samples found within 150 m of the tracks contained some grain. Beyond 150 m, the incidence of grain dropped to a mere 7%.

It appears grain is a more important food in the fall, as 85% of the scat samples found near the tracks contained grain at this time as compared to only 14% in the summer and 17% in the spring.

This makes sense when we look at the seasonally available food sources and behaviour of bears during the summer. Earlier in the season, there is a wider variety of available foods. In late summer, the buffaloberry crop disappears with the first frosts and then food becomes more scarce for the remainder of the season.

An easy feed of grain would be a strong attractor for bears, just like unharvested crabapple and cherry trees in communities can serve to attract bears.

Grain wasn’t the only thing bringing these 4 bears to the rail lines, scat found close to the tracks was also more likely to contain the hair of elk, deer, and moose.

According to the study’s results, three of the four bears visiting the tracks were quite young. researcher Cassady St. Clair was quoted in a CBC news story:

“We learned that eating grain is something only a few bears specialized in doing.” Cassady St. Clair says, “Three could be put into one category, they were teenagers and skinny and probably having a tough time making a living.”

The fourth bear, the Boss was being attracted, not by grain, but by the carcasses of elk, deer, and moose that had been killed by the trains.

This report shows that it’s especially important to reduce or remove grain spills later in the season, as well as removing the carcasses of other rail killed animals.

Since 1982, 1,256 large animals have been killed by trains in Banff and Yoho National Parks including five different types of hoofed animals and four different carnivore species.

Since 1998, train collisions have become the number one cause of death for grizzlies within these parks. This most recent study has provided some great additional information as to what is attracting the bears, and just how important those foods are on a season by season basis.

Researchers are now getting a much better understanding about the role train tracks play in attracting animals and at the same time, some of the challenges that animals face when suddenly encountering a rapidly moving train.

Some animals freeze when they see the train, others futilely try to outrun the train. Better sightlines can help, but what if there was another way – a wildlife alarm that sounded early enough to startle the animals off of the tracks before the train becomes a danger?

Johnathan Backs is a Ph.D. student and he is working on just such a system. He has developed an innovative way to create a loud shrill beeping sound for a full 30 seconds before a train approaches.

The battery operated device senses the vibrations of an oncoming train and then emits its warning sound. While this may not frighten a bear, the hope is that the bears will learn from experience that the sound indicates that a train is approaching and that they should move away from the tracks.

The fact that small numbers of bears are regular visitors may also help to increase the device’s effectiveness. Since bears learn through experience, a repetitive warning may help to give them plenty of time to move to safety.

It’s so important that research like these studies continue to be supported within the mountain west. The more we understand the behaviour of our local animals, the better we will be able to coexist with them.

Perhaps one of the most useful things that would help reduce animal mortality would be to slow trains down as they move throughout the parks, just like we do with cars. However, that’s a decision that would come with a great deal of resistance by CP who’s tracks are ever-busier.

The Cariboo Part 2

Last week I introduced you to the first discoveries of gold in British Columbia, and described how it led to the creation of th Crown Colony of British Columbia, while also necessitating the development of the first wagon roads into the interior of the future province.

By the summer of 1860, there were more and more seasoned miners arriving on the scene. These were miners that had been part of earlier rushes and learned the tricks of the trade, including how to read the signs and had a great sense for where to look for gold.

George W. Weaver, William Ross Keithley and John A Rose arrived on the Fraser this same year and convinced Ranald MacDonald to guide them into the area where gold had been discovered.

As they explored the area north of Cariboo Lake, they found gold along a small creek that they dubbed Keithley. While Rose and MacDonald decided to move on, Keithley and Weaver remained to work the creek.

In the end, they decided that the creek just wasn’t yielding enough and left the area to follow their comrades. While they were on the creek though, less experienced miners began to crowd the creek with claims and before long, a small hamlet called Keithley sprang up.

Today, it’s yet another ghost town left behind when the last miners moved on to other sites. For Keithley and Weaver, they followed the creek for a while and then crossed a small divide to another creek where they caught up with MacDonald and Rose. The creek became known as Antler Creek.

They were beaming from ear to ear about the potential of the creek and showed them some rusty-coloured gold nuggets. For the moment, they had this spot to themselves. It was only a matter of time before others arrived at the site because secrets never stayed secret in the Cariboo.

They were each entitled to one claim, as well as a second 30 x 30 metre claim as the discoverers of the site. They decided to survey the area for the best sites, stake their eight claims, and then work the other areas until they began to run short of supplies.

Keithley and Weaver were selected to head back to Keithley Town to gather winter supplies. They had to be very careful though. If word slipped out about the new discovery, they would be inundated with gold-hungry greenhorns all looking to strike it rich.

The gold from this new creek had a definitely reddish colour, so they would use gold leftover from Keithley Creek to buy the supplies. They didn’t want the gold’s colour to betray their plans.

They put on their best poker faces and headed to Keithley Town. Unfortunately, they were too well known. Heading back to a town named after you it turned out was a poor way to remain unnoticed. A large group of men already kitted out and wearing snowshoes was waiting for them as they tried to sneak out of town.

At the same time, fresh snow had made sure that it would be easy for scads of miners to follow their fresh tracks in the snow and so it was that the Antler Creek discovery became known far and wide. Antler Creek produced fabulous amounts of gold with some claims being as high as $450/day and another bearing $300/day per miner.

By June of 1861, Antlertown had 60 buildings including a sawmill, saloons, stores, homes and many tents.

With gold comes robberies. On August 17, 1861, a story in the British Colonist reported:

“Robberies are not infrequent in Antler. Recently, $130 in gold dust and two pistols were taken from Cameron’s Golden Age Saloon. A slight stabbing affair is also noted. Watson and Taylor’s Minstrels are still performing at Antler.”

Hopeful miners continued to arrive, and as Antler Creek became claimed out, many fanned out to other creeks. New discoveries occurred along Williams, Lightning, Lowhee, and Grouse Creeks.

Antlertown became the service centre for these new sites. During the winter of 1860-61, there was a party of six miners sharing a single camp. They included Murtz j. Collins, Michael Costin Brown, John “Kansas” Metz, Wilhelm Dietz (a Prussian ex-sailor), James Costello, and Michael Burns.

Costello, Burns and Dietz had wandered off to prospect and suddenly returned wide-eyed to report a new discovery in a creek not too far distant. Brown, Dietz and Costello headed back to the creek. Here is Brown’s accounting of the discovery:

“We crossed the divide, eventually making the headwaters of the creek and after some time we travelled to a place near a little gulch or canyon, where we camped for the night, building a little shelter.

On the following morning we separated to prospect the stream, agreeing to meet again at night to report progress. The story of that day’s prospecting, which we recalled over the campfire, has become a  matter of mining history in British Columbia. “Dutch Bill” made the best prospect, striking pay dirt at $125 a pan. Costello and I had done pretty well, finding dirt worth a dollar or so a pan. You can well imagine we were well pleased with the day’s exertions and each man in his heart felt that we had discovered very rich ground. I shall not forget the discussion that took place as to the name to be given to the creek. Dutch Bill was for having it called “Billy Creek” because he had found the best prospects of the three. I was quite agreeable, but I stipulated that Mr. William [sic] Dietz should buy the first basket of champagne that reached the creek. This appealed to Costello and so the creek was then and there named – not Billy Creek, but William’s Creek. “

In a story reminiscent of so many before them, as they tried to secretly record their claims, and purchase supplies, the news leaked out and the tracks in the snow once again led a pilgrimage of panners to their diggings.

As the fickle finger of fate would have it, the original six discoverers didn’t pick the best claims and one by one, they sold out and moved on, six more disappointed souls amidst a bonanza lottery. Thousands came to the Cariboo with the hope of easy wealth, most left broken and broke…and some never left at all, but were buried in lonely graves in places long forgotten.

Around this time, another American party led by Richard Willoughby accompanied by Asa and Thomas Patterson and Hanson Tilton arrived. As they explored upstream of Williams Creek and descended into a valley where they came across a lake that they named Jack of Clubs Lake.

From Jack of Clubs Lake, they found a stream that flowed through a narrow canyon and almost immediately they came across promising gravels. They had it all to themselves – for the moment, and so they didn’t rush the process of staking out their claims. They decided to take as much time as it required to find the very best gravels.

This was a canny plan for, as had happened so often in the past, when they did finally head back to civilization for supplies, the multitudes followed them back to the Lowhee.

Lowhee was not only incredibly gold rich, but it was an easy creek to work. It represented the start of hard rock mining as the gravels, rather than being panned, were removed to expose the bedrock little more than a metre below. In the bedrock were embedded huge nuggets of gold.

Willoughby’s group mined for just five weeks and left the area with four thousand ounces worth of nuggets. George Weaver and William Keithley also joined the miners at this site and had to build a 6 km long flume in order to carry water to their site, but the gold was far richer than any expense.

Ranald MacDonald also walked away with a fortune before selling his claim to John Rose for a 320-ounce poke of gold. As the stories began to spread, miners that had been working played out creeks further downstream on the Fraser and Thompson Rivers abandoned them and headed to the Cariboo.

Of all the creeks thought, Williams Creek was the richest. Towns began to spring up along its length with names like Richfield, Barkerville and, dear to my heart, Camerontown.

As the miners began to look deeper into the gravels of Williams Creek, they began to find the real paydirt. Above the Williams Creek Canyon, the gravels were shallow, usually less than 2-3 metres before the miners would reach a layer of hard blue clay. This was where the gold nuggets lay.

On one claim, owned by two men named Abbot and Jourdan, Abbot managed to find 48 ounces in just 36 hours.

Further downstream, deep shafts of up to 24 metres along with dense cribwork were required. Isaiah Diller, an American found vast wealth in his claim after reaching bedrock. His crew sook somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11.3 and 45.3 kg of gold in the first few days.

Diller claimed that he wouldn’t leave the mine until he had mined his weight of 109 kg as well as the weight of his rather weighty dog at 45.3 kg. Unlike most of the miners, Diller didn’t squander his riches and some of his original gold is still in the Diller family.

Perhaps the most well-known name in the Cariboo is that of William or Billy Barker. Hailing from Norfolk, England, Barker had abandoned his wife and daughter in order to follow the siren song of easy riches in the California gold fields.

While he was in the States, his wife passed away and so he followed the news of new discoveries in the Cariboo. His first claim provided enough gold to allow him to buy several others by selling shares in his mine.

As winter arrived, he left the frigid shores of Williams Creek for the more gentle climates of Victoria B.C.

In the spring of 1862, the Puget Sound Herald reported:

“The excitement respecting the Cariboo mines is fast reaching fever heat in this vicinity. People will not think of or talk about anything else, even the battles of the Rebellion are forgotten or cease to interest them, so engrossing is the subject of the new mines. Everybody talks of going to the Cariboo diggings in the spring. We may, therefore, confidently look for a rush to these mines next season, equaled only by the Fraser River excitement of ’58. So far as we can learn every miner from this new gold field has brought with him from $5,000 to $20,000, all of which has been obtained in the short space of two or three months.”

By the end of May, some 6,000 miners had arrived at the Cariboo, many hoping to be able to claim workings abandoned by miners that had hadn’t returned to their claims.

Barker partnered with 6 other miners and headed back to the Cariboo to found the Barker Company. They staked 7 claims further downriver, despite ridicule from other miners who thought their decision folly, thinking he would have to go impossibly deep before finding paydirt.

Barker did have to go deep – almost 16 metres before hitting bedrock. He was getting $5 for each pan of dirt. Working close to Barker was John “Cariboo” Cameron, but he moved even further down the creek where he found rich diggings.

By the end of the season, Barker had found clays that gave them an ounce for every three pans. As they went even deeper, they found a small crevice that gave them 60 oz of gold. By the end of the season, his 7-claims had produced $600,000 of gold. He headed back to Victoria and married Elizabeth Collyer. She would be his undoing.

Over the course of 1862, the colonies produced $2,656,903 worth of gold, but that was just a prelude to 1863 which really showed the riches of the Cariboo.

The wealth of the area led to a townsite rising from the muds that was known as Barkerville. Before long, it claimed to be the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. Elizabeth was in her element and enjoyed the attentions of all the men much younger than Billy.

Elizabeth was allowed to spend freely and became a regular at the saloons. His gold production couldn’t keep pace with her spending habits and bit by bit, he sold off shares of his company. It wasn’t long before the mine was played out and the party was over for Billy and Elizabeth.

He left the Cariboo as he had arrived – pennyless.

Cariboo Cameron was staked by Bob Stevenson, after meeting him in the Royal Hotel in Victoria. Stevenson was taken by Cameron and they headed to the gold fields along Williams Creek. Along the way, Stevenson bought supplies and hired packers to ferry them to the gold fields where they could be sold for a tidy profit.

Stevenson, along with Cameron and 6 other partners claimed an area below Billy Barkers claim. Next to this claim, Henry Beatty and John Wilson staked a claim that brought them a fortune. Beatty invested in shipbuilding. Wilson became known as the ‘Cattle King’ of Kamloops.

Cameron’s party had a difficult time at the beginning, but after sinking a new shaft. Stevenson later related:

“On 22 December we struck it very rich at 22 feet. It was 30 feet below and Dick Rivers called up from the shaft: ‘the place is yellow with gold. Look here boys,’ at the same time holding up a flat rock the size of a dinner plate. I laid down on the platform and peered into the shaft. I could see the gold standing out on the rock as he held it. He sent a piece up and I got one ounce of gold.

Then Cameron started down the shaft, and while he was down, I took my pick and went through some of the frozen stuff that had been sent up that morning and got another ounce before he came up again. Out of three 12-gallon kegs of gravel I got $155 worth of gold.

Sinking, we found bedrock at 38 feet. It was good all the way down to here, but the richest was at 22 feet strange to say”.

By this time, winter was upon them and further mining was going to have to wait for warmer temperatures. They returned in April of 1863 and between July and August, they employed 75 miners as yet another townsite arose from the mud to be christened Camerontown.

On October 22, 1863, Doc. Walter Cheadle and Viscount William Milton passed through the area. Dr. Cheadle wrote:

“We met a small bullwork wagon escorted by about 20 men on foot. This proved to contain 630 pounds of gold, the profits of Mr. Cameron, and the principal shareholder of the noted Cameron claim. The gold, worth about 30,000 pounds, had been amassed in the short space of three months and represents less than one-half of the actual production of the mine during that time. ”

The mine made a fortune and Cameron left at the end of the season. During the summer of 1863, the mine produced between 40 to 112 ounces each of three daily shifts. Cameron personally left with $150,000 for his three months at the mine.

Unfortunately, his later investments outside of the gold fields never panned out and by 1886 he was broke. He was buried in Barkerville in 1888.

1863 was the biggest year for gold production in the Cariboo. This summer the mines produced far more gold than California’s gold fields at their peak. In total, 1863 officially yielded up $3,913,563 worth of gold although some estimates were  as high as 6 million dollars.

1863 also brought continuing improvements to the road access into the interior. As the government began to widen the main Cariboo Wagon Road. The government planned a much wider, 5.5 m wide road that would allow wagons to easily pass.

The project ended up being much more difficult than originally planned and the contractors, men like Walter Moberly, Thomas Spence and Gustafus Wright took the narrow mule trails and created a permanent link into the wild interior of the future province of British Columbia.

The gold rush, along with Governor James Douglas really helped to create the conditions that would bring a new province into the fledgling country of Canada. In less than a decade, on July 20, 1871 it joined Canada as a full province. The promise of a railroad would link this new nation from coast to coast and become the tie that binds Canada together.

James Douglas really does deserve the moniker of the “Father of British Columbia” due to his tireless efforts to manage the gold fields, the filing of claims and the reporting of each mines takings. The roads he spearheaded changed the nature of the province forever.

Today, you can still visit many the old sites that were important during the heyday of the Cariboo including Barkerville, Williams Lake, Horsefly, and Quesnel. You can view a good driving tour brochure to help guide your explorations here: For more detailed travel and exploration information, visit


And with that, it’s time to wrap this episode up. If you’re looking for a guide to help you experience the stories behind the mountain scenery, our expert guides are ready to help you explore. To book your tour, guided hike, wildlife biology safari or speaker, drop me a line

using the contact link on this site. You can visit us at or hit me up on Twitter @wardcameron. And with that said, the sun’s out and it’s time to go hiking. I’ll talk to you next week.


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