Historical Sketches of Wells

When the rest of the world suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s, called "the most disasterous decade of the twentieth century", the community of Wells, British Columbia was a boomtown of jobs, opportunities, and money to be made. Men and women of different cultural backgrounds were drawn to the Cariboo district at the beginning of another world-famous gold rush, in the hopes avoiding the devastating effects of unemployment.

The forties however came with World War II designating Wells and it's one resource, mining, a non-war industry creating an economic slump for the town. The effects and aftermath of these world events helped shape Wells past and present. Here are a few stories and sketches of the town.

(Note: If you see any errors or typos, please let us know at thewellsmuseum@gmail.com)


Post-1930’s Wells: The Little Town That Did

With the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Company ceasing operation in 1967, much of the employment needed to sustain a town the size of Wells disappeared. Although employment had been slowly dwindling since the early 1960’s, with the Cariboo Gold Quartz ceasing it meant that a large source of income for the population of Wells ended. […]

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World War II

The outbreak of World War II finally pulled much of Canada out of the Great Depression with the increased demand for supplies for the war effort and then, in 1942, with the active involvement of the Canadian military. The country and, indeed, the world, was focused on the war, which meant little or no support […]

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Strikes at the Mines

Labour organisation existed in three different forms between the thirties and sixties. It began with a union as part of the Congress of Industrial Labor Organization (CIO), was then an employees co-operative before returning to the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW or simply ‘Mine Mill’). The two major union organising periods […]

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Two Companies

Cariboo Gold Quartz & Island Mountain Mines The Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine (CGQ) and Island Mountain Mine were the first two lode (hard rock) mines operating in Wells. Both mines had ore-bearing quartz veins containing gold and both had veins that ran almost side by side along each other. The average gold content of the […]

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Lode vs. Place Mining

There are two primary methods of mining for gold: placer mining or lode mining (also known as “hard rock mining”). Gold exists in lodes or veins that are filled with mineral under the earth’s surface. These lodes can be eroded like other minerals, which can break the lode apart, carrying pieces of gold through waterways […]

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Fred Wells: Prospector & Adventurer

Prospector, miner, and adventurer Fred Marshall Wells was born in Whitefield, New Hampshire on August 4, 1861. There are conflicting reports as to how Fred ended up in British Columbia in 1882. One story tells of Fred crossing over the Rocky Mountains from Calgary on a pony “just to see what lay on the other […]

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Oscar Henry Solibakke

Described as courageous and determined, Oscar Henry (O.H.) Solibakke (pictured on the far right) spent years placer mining in Alaska before he became involved in the development of the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Company. A Seattle promoter and financial agent, O.H. Solibakke raised money and disposed of the stocks for the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining […]

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A Different Company Town

Early gold rush towns sprung up without any structure; shacks were put up without any planning or services, as was the case with nearby Barkerville. Most placer miners only wanted to rush in, make their money, and leave as quickly as possible. They would exhaust the creek beds of gold and depart to other prospects, […]

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Dr. William Burnett

As one of the three founding director’s of the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Company, Dr. William Burnett had an unrelenting faith in the dreams of his long-time friend Fred Wells. Dr. Burnett was a physician from Vancouver. He also shared the title of ‘The Three Musketeers’ with Fred Wells and O.H. Solibakke. Dr. Burnett formed […]

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Women of Wells

The women of Wells had full and busy lives. They cared for their families and homes and, in some cases, operated or helped to run local businesses. They were also involved with local service clubs and school and town events, volunteering their time where necessary. Activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, softball, and curling were popular, […]

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Pre-1930’s Wells: The Little Town That Could

Before the town of Wells was established in the early 1930s, there were a small number of people living in the area. After the first Cariboo Gold Rush had waned, there were still some miners and people living in Barkerville and, on the future site of Wells, there was a tiny camp that housed a few […]

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The Hongs (Merchants of Wells)

Won Mon ‘Bill’ Hong was born on August 28,1901 in Stanley, B.C. He went to school in Barkerville and Victoria. He held a variety of jobs around the Cariboo, in Prince George, Barkerville, Stanley, and Wells. Bill Hong was described as a man of boundless energy with a tremendous love for the Cariboo. Hong was […]

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Features of a Company Town

Company towns often have unique features that set them apart from other town developments. For example, architecture is uniform and similar from building to building; the home of the company manager is usually more imposing and prominently located. There is often a focal point around which the town is centred – typically a community hall […]

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Ed Richardson

Newly graduated from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Ed Richardson was a young civil engineer, hired along with Ted Baynes, by the Wells Townsite Company to lay out the town of Wells. This was Richardson’s first engineering job. Fred Wells was well known to hate engineers; the story goes that Richardson was on the […]

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C.D. Hoy

Chow Dong Hoy was born July 2, 1883, and landed in Vancouver in the fall of 1902. He went to Barkerville to mine in 1909. A disciplined man, Hoy had a clear dislike for smoking, gambling, and drinking. He repaired watches and cut hair to make money to send back home. Hoy was the only […]

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Community Life: Entertainment & Events

Imagine that instead of living as you do now, you live in Wells during the 1930s. Your father works for one of the two main mines – the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine or the Island Mountain Mine – or perhaps he runs a thriving business in Wells. Your home is heated by a wood stove, […]

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The Miners

In 1930, people flocked once again to the Cariboo in a second gold rush. At a time when many across the country were standing in food lines, men were happy to take on the difficult work of hard rock mining. Most of the miners spent their working hours underground, but the pay was good, and […]

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Wells Sports & Leisure

While the main draw to Wells in the 1930s was employment, the Wells Townsite Company understood that the availability of sports and recreation served to increase the attractiveness of the mining town to new employees. At its height Wells boasted tennis courts, a golf course, two racetracks, baseball diamonds, a curling rink, a hockey rink, […]

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Hard Rock Mining: The process

Gold mining is the science, technology, and business of discovering gold, removing it and selling it on the market. Gold can be found in many places. It can even be found in very small quantities in sea water. More often, though, it is found in greater quantities in veins associated with igneous rocks like quartzite, […]

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The Depression

Canada was hit hard by the Great Depression. The value of exports from Canada went from a high of $1.3 billion in 1928 to a low of $0.5 billion in 1932. By 1931, unemployment reached 28 percent in British Columbia, the highest in Canada. 1 in 5 Canadians became dependent upon government relief to survive. […]

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