Cottonwood House was an old roadhouse for weary travellers on their way to Barkerville to strike it rich. It’s a 20-minute drive east from Quesnel, on Highway 26.
Roadhouses were possibly the forerunner to the modern day motel and operated in the 1800s. They were an integral part of the Gold Rush Trail, which carried miners from Vancouver to Barkerville. Roadhouses offered food and shelter to travelers every 12 to 15 miles along the entire length of the Cariboo Road. After a long day’s journey, either on foot, horse, or in a bumpy stagecoach, the roadhouse provided a hot meal, a place to rest and a good night’s sleep.
Successful roadhouses were not just reliant on the traveller. They were also operating farms that supplied the surrounding area with produce, meat and hay.
Cottonwood House is of further interest because John Boyd, from the time he became associated with the House in 1864 until he died in 1909, kept an account book and a journal in which he recorded the events of each day, from the weather to visitors. This manuscript filled 34 volumes and weighed 140 pounds. Boyd employed two to three full time workers year round for haying, building or mining, and as many as six or seven men extra were hired and often included several women and children in the garden. With 10 children he had another small work force but unusually for the times he always paid his children for the work they did. Almost from the beginning he employed a tutor for the children and many of the children were sent to Vancouver or Victoria to complete their high school education. His wife, Janet, had family on the San Juan Islands in Washington State and usually went to be with them have her children. This is perhaps one reason that none of them died in child birth.
The feature of the historic site is Cottonwood House. The original furnishings, dishes, etc., are all laid out, as if it’s still a working roadhouse. There are interpreters leading tours to help you get a feel for what it was like to stay at Cottonwood House.
There are also a number of historic buildings including a double barn, general store, interpretive building, and horse barn. There is a restaurant on site, serving food prepared from the Cottonwood House cookbook, which is a sampling of delicious dishes commonly prepared in the roadhouse era. When it is in season, you can pick up some fresh produce from the gardens that is sold on site.
I have visited Cottonwood House several times, while staying with my sister who lives in Quesnel. It’s always been fun to take a tour through the roadhouse and learn about life in the late 1800s.
On our last visit in summer 2008, we pre-purchased tickets to the Cottonwood Summer Theatre production of “Tale of the Desperate Roadhouse Brides”. The tickets were only $5 each, and the musical show was entertaining for the whole family. The actors were very interactive with the audience and extremely funny.
The show was on at 8:00 p.m., so we pre-booked a cabin for $35 a night, which is a great deal. It had several bunk beds, electricity and heat. Use of a heated activity building with a small kitchen, tables and chairs is included in the price. There is also a modern washroom/shower building next to the cabins. We brought food to have our own barbeque at the end of the day, prior to walking over to the theatre building for the show.
There are several modern cabins available for rental. We stayed next to several families that were from different parts of British Columbia, having a family reunion camping trip.
This is an inexpensive and interesting place to visit if you want to try and experience some of what it was like to live in the BC a hundred years ago.