Early Log Buildings of the BC gold rush

log cabin

a gold miner’s log cabin

From the 1820s to 1860s, the most common form of log construction in British Columbia was the “pièce sur pièce” style which the Hudson’s Bay Company used. All the HBC forts were constructed in this way. Considering the vast area controlled by the HBC, it helps to explain how the pièce sur pièce method was largely spread throughout the west.

Prior to the Fraser River gold rush, the first St. Ann’s schoolhouse, built in the mid-1840s, and the John S. Helmcken House, built in 1852, were both constructed in this style and covered with shingle siding to add a veneer of “refinement.”

The pièce sur pièce style also influenced the construction of roadhouses in the Cariboo during the gold rush. First nation pit houses with their sod roof design was another influence. Sod roofs were characteristic of Cariboo log buildings and served to keep out heat in the summer and prevent heat loss in the winter. The roofs were gently pitched to avoid erosion. Examples of sod-roofed buildings can be found at Hat Creek Ranch Historic Site, including a root cellar and two poultry houses, built during the 1860s.

The log buildings constructed by early settlers can be further divided into “permanent” and “temporary” structures. Permanent log buildings often have squared logs with tight-fitting dovetailed or lap-jointed corners, while temporary log structures often have round logs with simple saddle-notched corners.

Donovan Clemson’s book Living with Logs: British Columbia’s Log Buildings and Rail Fences (1974) remains the only published source entirely devoted to the subject.

Homes built by Chinese gold miners used a combination of construction styles. The Chee Kung Tong building in Barkerville, consists of a central frame building with two later log additions. Both log additions have round logs with squared dovetailed corners, a feature shared by a number of other log buildings in Barkerville.