One of Canada's earliest roads: the Cariboo
It's the world's longest national highway. At 7,821 kilometres, it stretches from Victoria, B.C., to St. John's, Nfld., and through every province in between. Constructed over some of the world's most treacherous terrain, it took 20 years and $1 billion to complete. The Trans-Canada Highway fulfilled a dream — to open up new regions of the country, usher in new economic prosperity and make fellow Canadians…just a car ride away.
Gold was the impetus for building the Cariboo Wagon Road. Gold rush fever hit the Fraser River area in 1858. Upwards of 20,000 prospectors, mostly Americans, poured north from the exhausted gold fields of California in search of richer bonanzas. But the route inland involved 10-mile long portages and narrow cliff's-edge trails, making it almost impossible for supplies to reach the miners. Many a horse, mule and person fell to their deaths en route.
Finally, in 1862, James Douglas, governor of the new Crown Colony of British Columbia, agreed to have a road built. A detachment of Royal Engineers was brought in to blast out a supply route and keep the area under British rule. The Cariboo Wagon Road was born, opening up the interior of British Columbia for development. One hundred years later, this same route would be incorporated into the Trans-Canada Highway.
• For a map of the Cariboo Road route, visit: http://collections.ic.gc.ca/cariboo/map.htm
• Before there was a Cariboo Road, merchants and miners travelled up and down the Fraser River canyon on old Native American trails hung on the canyon walls, and by long portages around sections like Hell's Gate.
• Hell's Gate can now be crossed by aerial tram.
• The Royal Engineers laid British Columbia's foundations. Between 1858 and 1863, they planned towns, surveyed land, settled disputes, diverted rivers, created maps, built roads and established the boundary between the United States and the British colony.
• Worried that American miners were going to annex the Fraser River Valley area for the United States, the British government created the Crown Colony of British Columbia in 1858. • Joseph Trutch was contracted to build part of the Cariboo road between Spuzzum and Lytton. His Alexandria Bridge was the first suspension bridge in British Columbia. It measured 90 metres.
• The second Alexandria bridge is now a historic site.
• Thomas Spence, who was also contracted to build part of the Cariboo Road, worked on the Dawson Trail in 1868. This trail went from Fort Garry in what is now Manitoba to Lake of the Woods. But Spence aspired to more than road-building. On May 31, 1868, in Portage la Prairie, Spence declared himself the president of the Republic of Manitoba. Neither his rule nor his republic lasted long — Manitoba became a Canadian province in 1870.
• In 1862, 21 camels were brought to the Cariboo area to work as pack animals. Within four months, the government banned the beasts from the trail. According to reports from the time, the camels bit, kicked, and smelled so foul that horses and mules would bolt and fall to their deaths.
• The camels were brought to the Cariboo in the belief that they could go six to ten days without water, travel 50 to 70 kilometres a day, and carry a 500-kilogram load. None of these expectations were met.
Program: Focus Canada
Broadcast Date: July 31, 1980
Guest(s): Leah Shaw
Narrator: Imbert Orchard
Photo: Frederick Dally / National Archives of Canada / C-037864
Last updated: February 10, 2012
Page consulted on March 5, 2014
All Clips from this Topic
CBC Radio news heralds the first signs of a federal/provincial agreeme...
For 23 days, three CBC Radio staffers drive across Canada on the unfin...
Corner Brook to Charlottetown.
Charlottetown to Fredericton.
Rivière-du-Loup to Montreal.
The CBC crew makes its way through some of Ontario's toughest terrain,...
Fort William (Thunder Bay) to Kenora.
Winnipeg to Regina.
Regina to Medicine Hat.
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker opens the Trans-Canada Highway at Roge...
Edmonton politician William Hawrelak explains why the new TCH should p...
The highway extends east in 1966.
Before the building of the Trans-Canada, drivers took their lives in t...
Two men celebrate the 85th anniversary of a landmark journey by doing ...
Tragic highway accidents haunt the Saskatchewan community of Gull Lake...
First Nova Scotia and now New Brunswick. Maritime provinces are puttin...
New Brunswick's "Suicide Alley" has been the site of 80 deaths in seve...
It's the world's longest national highway. At 7,821 kilometres, it str...