Arts and Culture runs through the veins of the communities dotting the Gold Rush Trail
Arts and Culture are essential to the lifestyle and expression of individuals from rich and diverse cultural backgrounds. While the Gold Rush Trail is best known for its history, impressive scenery and raw nature, many of the communities along the trail also have a vibrant arts and culture scene with many thriving arts, artisans, actors and performers calling these communities home. Culture is celebrated all year long through the many festivals, theatre, pow wows, tourism experiences, art exhibits, live music and theatre performances.
Indigenous compositions have been performed around campfires for thousands of years, intricate beadwork and other arts and cultural practices reflect this region’s powerful sense of place and cultural diversity. The topography of this vast corridor is often reflected in the culture and works of the talented artists who visit and live here. In 1904, Emily Carr roamed the cariboo by “cowpony” and was inspired to paint landscapes in this place she loved. Touring the region in 1914, the Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson was equally enthralled. He returned to the Cariboo in the 1940s to produce works that are now displayed in galleries around the world.
It is a land of striking contrasts…a land that drew me like a magnet into its soul.Richmond P. Hobson in the first installment of his classic 1978 trilogy, Grass Beyond the Mountains.
Modern day art and nature lovers will want to experience the Gold Rush Trail’s many galleries. In the lower mainland be sure to check out the New Media Gallery and the Gallery at Queen’s Park in New West, the Fort Gallery in Fort Langley and the Hope Arts Gallery. Stop in for a coffee and browse the locally made handicrafts at Klowa or follow the Thompson River to Spences Bridge and attend the annual Desert Daze Festival in August. Glass Mosaics have become a major draw for many visitors to Ashcroft, which are displayed throughout the community in various locations, in plain view for anyone to stop and enjoy.
100 Mile House is a culture-seekers delight with many galleries to explore, including the Parkside Art Gallery; its exterior a work of art itself. Check out the murals depicting historical figures and pioneer life displayed on the buildings throughout the town. Nearby, at 108 Mile House, drop into the Chris Harris Studio Gallery, a straw-bale structure featuring photography of the region by the award-winning photographer (open by chance, or call ahead). Horsefly is another vibrant art community with many artists and musicians calling it home. The most famous of the residents are Juno Award-winning musicians Pharis and Jason Romero. Horsefly plays year-round host to many lively community arts and culture events, including spring’s The Horsefly Follies and July’s Arts on the Fly Music Festival.
Sometimes galleries are also works of art in their own right, such as the Central Cariboo Arts Centre, which houses a number of artisan groups in a decommissioned fire hall, and the Williams Lake Station House Gallery, a lovingly restored 1920s railway station showcasing pottery, weaving and other visual arts. Similarly noteworthy is the Williams Lake Tourism Discovery Centre, a lodge-style construction features a massive floor-to-ceiling western red cedar harvested in Bella Coola as its centre post, the tree’s flared root still intact. The centre also showcases local art such as the towering folk-art-style sculpture ‘So Much to Do’ and three 5.18m murals, just a few of many displayed throughout Williams Lake, which is coined the “Mural Capital of the Cariboo Chilcotin”. Each year hundreds of people stroll the streets of Downtown Williams Lake from August to September to participate in Art walk where the downtown businesses turn into self-guided mini art galleries for three weeks and community members come together for a grand opening with food, live music and art. The Studio Theatre Society in Williams Lake, meanwhile, has staged diverse seasonal theatre productions for the past 60 years. Horsefly’s Arts on the Fly festival presents music, dance, food and fun in equal measure. The Cariboo is also home to local artists “Camel” Dave Howell, who performs at festivals throughout the West, as does Frank Gleeson, the “Fastest Cowboy Poet in the West” and official cowboy poet of Williams Lake. Just an hour north of Williams Lake, the Quesnel Art Gallery is one of central BC’s hidden gems, and the city’s ARTrium, features award-winning artists.
Another arts and culture highlight is the town of Wells; a renowned artist retreat, Island Mountain Arts, with studios and galleries housed in colourfully painted heritage buildings and a celebrated art school where vacationers can enroll in folk-art, and music workshops. The town’s restored Sunset Theatre also hosts professional music, film and theatre retreats and festivals, and the restoration of this theatre built in 1934 is a remarkable story. On the first weekend in August Wells hosts its very popular and vibrant four-day ArtsWells Festival of all Things Art. Just down the road from Wells, in Barkerville Historic Town & Park, live theatre spills onto a unique streetscape of more than 125 heritage buildings, period displays, satellite museums, restaurants and shops. The costumed interpreters here are so convincing, they create the illusion of travelling back to the 1860s. In Barkerville there are plenty of arts and cultural special events, programming and festivals throughout the year. You can also experience Barkerville in-depth and behind the scenes through their hands-on Heritage Workshops.