Prices In Barkerville - 1884

by

R.W. Nicholson

Barkerville was the hub of the Caribou gold Rush and is arguably the most renowned town site in British Columbia's mining history. Like all mining camps and towns of the time period there was little that could not be purchased if one was able and willing to pay the price. Inflated prices for services and commodities was common place. These grossly inflated prices in the Barkerville area is very evident in Gold Commissioner, John Bowron's report to the B.C. Minister of Mines, dated November 25th 1884. From Richfield, B.C., Mr. Bowron wrote the following:
 
In view of the early completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, many old Caribooites continue to leave the district, with the object of making themselves homes somewhere along the line of railway, while but few newcomers appear to take their place in the mines. This state of affairs may be expected to continue until the completion of the railroad, when a reaction will probably take place. So far, the construction and maintenance of the railroad been most injurious to the interests of this district, as, while the works of construction have attracted away a large number of our most enterprising miners and prospectors, the maintenance of that portion of the line over which the cars now run has actually, owing to the exorbitant tariff, increased the prices of all kinds of supplies in the Caribou. This fact will be better understood when it is known thatbefore any railroad works were commenced a sufficient number of ox-teams and pack-trains were employed on the road between Yale and Caribou to meet all requirements But, anticipating a fall in the rates for freight, many of the carriers disposed of their stock till, at the present time, the carrying trade is in the hands of a few, who naturally make all they can out of the situation; while merchants, anticipating a fall in the freight rates on completion of the railroad to Spence's Bridge, withheld their orders till late. Even with the scarcity of teams on the Caribou road. I am informed that some of those actually go to Yale for their loads, traveling from Spence's Bridge to Yale and back, a distance of 160 miles, loaded one way only, and are able successfully to compete with the railway company's charges.

I have ventured to say this much to show that if the district appears to be on the decline, there are other than local causes affecting its prosperity, as, to my knowledge, quite a number of persons are leaving the district owing to the unusually high prices of provisions. I am informed by merchants here that the lowest freight rate from Victoria to Barkerville this fall has been 12 cents per pound. It may, therefore, be inferred with what anxiety Caribou looks forward to the early completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway; a consummation which, it is hoped, will bring about a different state of affairs.

Crops with the farmers in the lower part of the district have been exceedingly good. The wheat crop especially exceeds in quantity the production of any former year, notwithstanding which flour, at the present Time, is selling in Soda Creek for 6 cents a pound, and at Barkerville for 12 cents. The mildness of the climate thus far this fall is unprecedented. There is not sufficient snow at Barkerville at the present writing to make good sleighing, and below Stanley waggoning is still good.

The following is the retail price, in Barkerville, of some of the principal articles of consumption: Flour, 12c. per lb;

Butter, 62; Beef, 10c. to 15c.; Mutton, 18c.; Hams and Bacon, none in market; Dried Apples, 40c.; Peaches, 50c.; Rice, 20c.; Potatoes, Turnips, Beets, Cabbage, and Carrots, 4 to 5c.; Onions, 18 to 25c.; Tea, $1 to $1.25; Coffee, ground, 75c., green, 55c; Raisins, 40c.; Coal Oil, $19 per case; Candles, 40c. By the box; Eggs, $1.25 per doz.; Gum Boots, $10 per pair; Giant Powder, $1.50 to $1.75 per lb; Wheat, 8c.; Oats, 6c,; Timothy Hay, 3c.; Wild Hay, 2c. per lb.

It is profoundly hoped that these figures will be materially reduced upon the advent of good sleighing.

One can only speculate on what John Bowron was thinking when he wrote his report but it is more than obvious he was not happy with the price of things in Barkerville in 1884.

In 1884, gold was $18.94 an ounce. At the end of October 2009, gold was trading at $1132.98 an ounce, Canadian. Comparing gold prices, the price of eggs at $1.25 per doz. and Gum Boots at $10 per pair in Barkerville would be equivalent to paying $74.78 for a dozen eggs and $598.21 for a pair of Gum Boots today.

Pioneer prospectors endured many hardships as they headed out into the uncharted wilderness and by the sounds of it, skimpy meals and wet feet was more common than not.

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