History of Williams Lake

A Chronology of Williams Lake

This history is in constant update and revision. Please forward any comments/corrections or additions to Wanda Story. The goal is to make this account as accurate as possible.

-The first people in the Williams Lake area were of the Shuswap (Secwepemc) Nation, who were part of the "Interior Salish" peoples. They referred to the area with the Shuswap word "Columneetza", the meeting place.

1821 - The fur trade was active in the Cariboo and Chilcotin area.

1842 - Father Modeste Demers was sent to the Cariboo and he would later set up a Catholic missionary and build a church, the Sacred Heart Parish, in the native village of Columneetza, "Meeting Place of the Princely Ones", near Williams Lake.

1859 - Thomas W. Davidson, from California, received permission from Chief William of the Shuswap to set up a farm and established a roadhouse.  The roadhouse was 3 miles past Williams Lake at the intersection between two main pack-trails, one from Lillooet to Williams Lake and the other from Fort Yale through the Fraser Canyon and would become known as the Mission Ranch.

1860 - Philip Henry Nind took the Gold Commissioner and Justice of the Peace positions for the Cariboo.  On July 23rd he hired William Pinchbeck to be the Chief Constable. Nind and Pinchbeck were sent to the Cariboo to keep law and order as the impending Gold Rush gathered momentum. They left Fort Hope, and traveled the Boston Bar Trail to Lytton, then on to the Cariboo. They arrived nearly a month later at Davidson's farm, just past the end of Williams Lake on August 25th. In December the New Westminster Times reported that the fine produce from Davidson's farm, 80,000 pounds of potatoes was sold for 13 cents per pound. Davidson brought in liquor by pack train, offered gambling in the form of poker, monte, and billiards. John Telfer and Moses Dancerault are said to have each taken pre-emptions in the area in April.  Philip Nind began recording pre-emptions in October.  Thomas Davidson filed a pre-emption for the 160 acres covering his farm on December 5th.  On December 9th, Philip Nind applied for a leave of absence from his work and went to England to seek treatment for the paralysis of the right side of his face.

1861 - Nind had a government house built for himself to conduct business from, and requested a jail as well. Williams Lake was designated as a Colonial Post office.   This established Williams Lake, as it became necessary for miners and merchants who wished to transact business with the government to come to Nind. Nind would be so busy over the summer that he would suffer from insomnia and an uncontrollable twitch in his face. In October Nind requested a leave of absence and received it in December and he went to England. William Pinchbeck and Thomas Hankin remained to carry on the governments business. William Pinchbeck and his partner Thomas Meldrum took up land half a mile south of the Davidson farm. They built a roadhouse and operated a store. Later William Lyne arrived and the three partners formed an alliance known as Pinchbeck & Co. William Pinchbeck set up a racetrack and drew a large group of spectators numbering in the hundreds. It was said there was as much as $100,000 at stake on the race. The race was between Doc English's horse and Phil Grinder's horse and would be over a 600 yard course. Doc English's horse won and the racetrack saw many more races. Thomas Davidson decided to move 10 miles away to a larger ranch he would call the Lake Valley farm and sold the   Mission Ranch and roadhouse on September 23rd to Thomas J. Manifee and Dudley C. Moreland for $15,000. They also catered to travelling miners and charge $1.25 for supper, 25 cents for drinks, $4.00 for a bottle of whiskey, $3.00 for champagne and 25 cents for cigars. They sold beef for 30 cents a pound and sacks of flour for $14.00. With the co-operation of two mining associates, John Telfer and Moses Dancerault, Davidson now had 720 acres of land in his name.

- Williams Lake became a mail distribution centre and the Gold commissioner headquarters were set up. A jail and courthouse were built where Judge Begbie was stationed. Barns, and stables were also built. Constable Pinchbeck built himself a stopping house with a bar and store.

1862 - In the spring, Marion Woodward, who was managing the Mission Ranch roadhouse bought out Dudley Moreland's share of the ranch for $8,000. Mr. Gilchrist shot and killed an innocent bystander during a quarrel over a poker game at the Mission Creek Roadhouse.

- It was recommended by Lieutenant H. S. Palmer of the Royal Engineers that the new Cariboo Wagon Road should pass through Williams Lake. This was later changed and a route 8 miles shorter was approved that by passed Williams Lake.

1863 - The Cariboo Wagon Road was pushed north and to the dismay of Williams Lake residents the contractor, Gustavus Blin Wright routed it to the Lake Valley Ranch (150 Mile House) then over the mountain to Deep Creek and Soda Creek, bypassing the town. William Pinchbeck stayed on in the Williams Lake Valley and together with his partner William Lyne they began to acquire land and bought up other pre-emptions.   During John Cameron's trip to Victoria druing the winter of 1863 he noted 125 snow graves (temporary resting places until the frost came out of the ground) containing the bodies of native peoples who had died of smallpox in Williams Lake.

1864 - The Colonial Post office set up at Williams Lake was closed.   It would not reopen until 1907.

- William Pinchbeck set up his home with Chulminick, an Indian maiden believed to be the daughter of Chief William of the Sugar Cane Tribe for whom the lake is named. They would have two sons, Williams Jr. and ??.

- William Pinchbeck became the policeman, and jailer.

- The Pinchbeck Roadhouse was busy even though the Cariboo Wagon Road did not pass by it. In the winter miners boarded for $8.00 per week. Meals were 50 cents and drinks were 35 cents.

1867 - The St. Joseph's Mission was established.

1869 - Philip Nind left the Cariboo and went to Australia.  Peter O'Reilly took over his position.

1871 - BC entered into the Confederation of Canada.

1873 - After the death of Thomas J. Manefee on July 7th in Barkerville, the Mission Ranch was put up for auction.  Frank G. Higman was appointed Justice of the Peace for Williams Lake on  22 Oct 1873 and served until at least 1889.  The Collector of Voters was G. Cook.  The Collector of Road Tax was C. E. Pope.

1874 - The first Williams Lake birth registered with  BC Vital Statistics is for Edmund Sampson Green, who was born on March 21 (Reg. No. 1874-09-258905)

1875 - The BC Voters list lists the following people in Williams Lake:   Joseph Hetherington, William Lyne, Thomas Moore, William Pinchbeck, and Jospeh Quigley. William Patterson is listed as near Williams Lake.

Early 1880s - William Pinchbeck returned to England.

1884 - William Pinchbeck married Alice Kilham, 17 years his junior, at Hull, England.  A Jesuit priest, Father John Nobili came to the Cariboo-Chilcoten on a 4 year mission.

1886 - William Pinchbeck returned to Williams Lake with his new bride, his sister Annie and her husband William J. Anders, and a niece Emma Pinchbeck. He built a fine new home for his new bride and a two storey roadhouse. Pinchbeck's moved his common-law wife Chulminich into her own home on the North Lakeside and it said that the two families got along fine.  William Jr. (Billy) Lyne married Angelique Dussault on February 1st. This would be the first officially registered marriage with BC Vital Statistics for Williams Lake.

1887 - William Lyne spent several months in Victoria and married Mary Collingsworth of Wisconsin.  Williams Lake 1887 directory.

1888 - William Lyne sold to his interest in the ranch to his partner William Pinchbeck and moved to Ashcroft. William Pinchbeck now owned the entire 2,000 acre William's Lake Valley. He had a huge farm and many employees that produced whiskey, flour, vegetables, and cattle. By this time the Gold Rush was also waning and there was less demand for his products and the Pinchbeck ranch began to sink into debt. Photo of the Pinchbeck Ranch and house taken in 1888.

1892 - William Pinchbeck was in ill health and had an operation in Victoria.

1893 - William Pinchbeck died on July 30th and was buried in a small grave overlooking Williams Lake. His wife Alice and their three sons were away in England at his death. At the time of his death William Pinchbeck was in debt for $23, 040.30 cents to the operators of the Gang Ranch. The Pinchbeck Farm was put up for sale by the Gang Ranch. Arthur Haddock drove stagecoaches from Ashcroft to Williams Lake.  In the 1893 Directory of Williams Lake has 23 listings.

1894 - Joseph Philip Patenaude leased the Pinchbeck Farm and operated the Roadhouse while it was for sale.  The Comer brothers leased part of the Borland ranch.

1895 - The Church of the Immaculate Conception was built.  Williams Lake 1895 Directory.

1899 - Bob Borland bought the Pinchbeck's ranch and the house for $17,000. He ran the Borland Post Office and had a general store. Bob Borland operated the lower Ranch and leased the upper house to Mike Minton.

1901 - The Canadian government commissioned a country wide census.   The Williams Lake area census (including 100 Mile House) lists 415 individuals.

1907 - Williams Lake was again established as a Colonial Post Office. On October 1st H. Boening was appointed the postmaster of Williams Lake.

1912 - Bob Borland sold his ranch to the government which was planning for the new townsite of Williams Lake and the future railway.  For a brief time the new town was going to be named Borland.

1914 - On July 21st, H. Boening resigned as Williams Lake postmaster after nearly 7 years.  On November 1st, Rev. Ed Maillard was appointed the new postmaster. WW I began and men from Williams Lake and area enlisted.

1916 - Robert Henderson was appointed the postmaster of Borland on January 1st.

1919 - The Pacific Great Eastern Railway was built through Williams Lake it finally became an established community. Premeir John Oliver personally came to the area to assist in laying out the new town.  Oliver Street and Railway Avenue (now Mackenzie Avenue) were surveyed.  The layout was designed to focus on the railways.     The first P.G.E. train would arrived in September.   On the 17th of July Rev. Ed Maillard resigned as the Williams Lake postmaster and the post office was closed.  In October Louis P. Dallaire was the first manager of the Bank of Commerce, and J. P. MacIntosh was his clerk. They moved into the tar-paper shack, 12x14x8 on October 27th. Walter M. and Ethel Slater operated the Borland ranch and house as a boarding house. Williams Lake 1919 Directory. A stampede of sorts was held in the area.

1920 - After 4 years, on Sep 4, Robert Henderson resigned from the Borland Post Office and it was officially closed.  Mr. Fraser and Mr. Mackenzie opened a store and J. D. Fraser was appointed the Williams Lake postmaster on October 19th. The local people organized a weekend dance casino in the building. The first Williams Lake Stampede, organized by Herb Spencer was held. The Log Cabin Hotel was established by Bill Smith and Archie Campbell, it contained 13 rooms a lobby and dining room and the first bathtub, (with only cold running water), in Williams Lake. Rooms and meals were each 50 cents. The first death to be registered with Vital Statistics in Williams Lake was that of Eagle Lake Johnny who died on June 11th.  Jack Chow opened the Lakeview Hotel, Fred Bucholtz opened a bakery, Jack Elliott ran a meat market, Herbert Spencer opened a dance hall, and Newton Clare opened billiard hall. A barber, Bank of Montreal, and a blacksmith shop were among other the first businesses to establish in the new town.  On November 30th, J. D. Fraser resigned as the postmaster of Williams Lake.

1921- On March 9, C. H. Dodwell was appointed the new Williams Lake postmaster. On July 10th there was a fire that engulfed the Fraser and Mackenzie Store, the Lakeview Hotel, a meat market and a dance hall. At least two men would die in the fire, George Bernard Weetman and Johnny Salmon.  It would wipe out half the business district.  Angus Black was running a livery and feed barn in Williams Lake. Angus Black shot and killed a man named Atchieson on September 20th.

1922- "Williams Lake, City of Tents" read the banner headlines in the Vancouver papers in May.  There was a second gold rush beginning in Cedar Creek, near Likely and a flood of up to 7000 prospectors made their way to Williams Lake and then the Likely area.  Old John Likely felt that there was still a motherload of gold to be found in the Cedar Creek area and the word had spread.

1923 - Photo of the old Borland Ranch.

1925 - A hospital was erected in Williams Lake.  Bill Smith bought out his partner Archie Campbell in the Log Cabin Hotel. 

1930 - After 10 years, on March 19th, H.C. Dodwell resigned as Williams Lake postmaster.  On August 3rd, Harold Charles Richardson was appointed the new postmaster.  The Tribune newspaper was established in Williams Lake by William Percy Cotton.

1931 - The first service was held at the Catholic Sacred Heart Church in January. Bill Smith sold the Log Cabin Hotel.

1932 - Lloyd Cylcone Smith lost his life at the Williams Lake Stampede and rodeo on June 30th. (BC Death registration 1932-09-475150)  He was the only cowboy ever to die at the Stampede. Photo of the funeral. A small chapel was built to honor him by Princess Beatrice Calonna di Montecchio.

1937 - William Percy Cotton sold The Tribune newspaper to Chilcotin rancher George Renner. 

1938 - On January 2nd, two local merchants, Alistair MacKenzie and Syd Western, decided to close their stores, which were deserted and had seen no customers that day, and went to coffee at the Lakeview Hotel. After consulting with other local merchants who had also seen no business, downtown Williams Lake closed and the merchants jokingly called it Wrestling Day, a new holiday. (If the day after Christmas was Boxing Day then the day after New Years should be called Wrestling Day). For many years it was generally understood that the day after New Years the local businesses would be closed.

1939 - World War II began and the Williams Lake Stampede was suspended.  Men from Williams Lake and area enlisted.

1943 - Williams Lake's peculiar holiday on January 2nd, Wrestling Day, was first recognized by municipal bylaw and it was observed every year until 1986.

1947 - The Williams Lake Stampede was revived.

1950 - Irene and Clive Stangoe bought the Williams Lake Tribune from George Renner.  On July 15th, Harold Charles Richardson retired after nearly 20 years as the Williams Lake postmaster.  On July 16th, Cecil Stuart Rhodes was appointed the new postmaster.

1962 - A new hospital was built in Williams Lake and the old hospital was burned down.  The newer maternity wing was converted to become the Town Hall.

1966 - The Stangoes sold the Williams Lake Tribune to Northwest Publications.

1973 - Three small islands at the western end of Williams Lake were purchased from the Provincial Government by the Nature Trust of BC.  The Williams Lake Tribune was sold to the Black family of Black Press.

1977 - The Williams Lake Field Naturalists volunteered to operate the the Scout Island Nature Centre.

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Comments and corrections always welcome !!

Last updated 12 November 2002