Dec. 30 2015

Driving Across Canada Day 21: Chinese Lessons and Salmon Dipping in Northern B.C.

Somehow in less than twelve hours we went from a cabin in the woods of Quesnel, to a historic gold mining town stuck in 1925, to a cattle ranch outside Alexis Creek, to the Chilcotin River where we watched people in the Alexis Creek First Nation band dip for salmon and I gutted my first fish.

Let’s start at the beginning.


A Cabin in the Woods

We woke up with my cousin and his wife gone. They were en route with their pups so that one of them could get knee surgery in a neighbouring city.

We had a nice, slow morning of card games, hot breakfasts, hot coffee, playing with the cat and exploring the cabin.


Their cat has an outside escape through the loft window in the cabin – through it she can get to the ground outside using these cat ledges.



After finally packing up and bidding Rob’s dream cabin goodbye, we headed east from Quesnel, through an area known as Devil’s Canyon in order to get to…

Barkerville Gold Rush Town

Barkerville is about an hour east of Quesnel. It’s the historic gold rush town that the brewery we visited yesterday takes their name from.

When we got out of the cary in the parkng lot we could hear dogs barking off in the distance and I found a loonie right outside my car door.

Rob: “Wow. This really is a gold town.”

This place was in its heyday during the 1860s. The whole town burned down once in September of 1868 but was quickly rebuilt.

The most people this town ever held was 5,800. That was in the 1930s and the population declined steadily after World War II. There is still gold mining in the area.

The last person who actually lived in Barkerville died in 1979. Since then, it’s been kept alive by preservation staff and actors.

It’s got saloons, horses, minstrels, and a full schedule. They had some kind of demonstration or re-enactment going on all the time. I’m not a huge fan of re-inactments. I’d rather read about the history. For whatever reasons I’ve got a natural aversion to groups of re-enactment actors. They make me nervous.

I was most excited for their historical Chinatown.


Chinese Lessons in 1925

Immigrant Chinese labourers and marchants are a huge part of Barkerville’s legacy. A third of the town is considered Chinatown.


So we found this little Chinese school house.

Okay, let’s do one re-enactment. We went into the smokey, wood-heated schoolhouse with about ten other people. Everyone from a little boy to one of his grandparents.

Our 1pm lesson lasted 45 minutes. We learned some phrases in mandarin like how to say, ‘Hello’, ‘My name is..’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘Goodbye’.


The teacher also taught us a few kanji, how to count using an abacus and the basic principles of Confucian philosophy. Actually, for a short lesson with a mixed demographic it was quite good.


We learned about the four treasures of study in Chinese philosophy:

  1. Brush
  2. Ink
  3. Paper
  4. Ink Stone

According to Confucius, these treasures lead to a higher spiritual level of being and greater character.  Confucius was the godfather of Chinese education. It was actually his belief that education was a right that everyone deserved.

In the recreation classroom, our teacher tells us, “He had over 3,000 students in his lifetime, and many of them came from poor families.”

Salmon Dipping at Alexis Creek

Our Chinese practiced (Rob: “You’re such a teacher’s pet.”), we headed four hours southwest, to my Aunt and Uncle’s ranch on the outskirts of Alexis Creek.


Another place that was rebuilt after it burned down, my Aunt and Uncle lost their whole house in a fire in ’97.

Like Barkerville, they rebuilt.

We arrvied there around dusk. Wasting no time, they told us we should head down to the Chilcotin River to watch the salmon dipping. We all jumped in their Ford truck and headed down the dirt road.

When we got to the river it was packed with trucks full of families there to fish.

During the salmon run in August the first nations people use big nets to go dipping for sockeye salmon.  They go down with their families and make a day out of it. Only aboriginal people in the area are allowed to do this. But even if you can’t dip, it’s fun to watch. The nets are huge and the fish are heavy.


From the bluffs above the river we watch as the fishermen anchor themselves to rocks on the edge of the river. Being tied in means if they fall in they don’t risk being sucked under with the current. They dip the nets in and weave them around in figure eights until a fish flies into it. You can tell by watching that some fishermen are better at anticipating where the fish will go.

For the past 30 years my aunt has worked as a nurse at the reserve in Anaheim outside of Alexis Creek, so she knew a lot of the people dipping there with their families. One of the women she works with stopped to give us a few salmon as a gift.


How To Gut a Fish

My big challenge of the day. I had never gutted a fish before. This was supper!


It’s best to gut and clean the fish right away. The hardest part? They’re freaking slippery.

My part of the counter looked like a murder scene.


See the roe in the photo above? I had a lady fish.

Uncle Mike showed me how to cut down along the stomach, cut the heads off, pull the guts out and then fillet the meat to go in the parchment paper to stick in the freezer.

We barbecued it with peppers and parsley and it was really, really good. The best way to end a big day. We slept well this night.


Day 21 Costs:

  • Gas, Jack O’ Clubs in Wells: $20.00
  • Barkerville Entrance for 2: $30.45 (can return a second day for free)
  • Groceries, Williams Lake Safeway: $16.81
  • Shell gas in Quesnel: $71.73

Total: $138.99