The impassable Nicaragua Bluff on the Cariboo Wagon Road

Cariboo Wagon Road at Nicaragua Bluff in the Fraser Canyon

Cariboo Wagon Road at Nicaragua Bluff in the Fraser Canyon

The section of Cariboo Wagon Road between Yale and Boston Bar was very challenging to build, especially around the area known as “Nicaragua Bluff.”

William Butler Cheadle kept a journal of his travels through British Columbia in 1863:

“From Boston Bar to Yale 24 miles; a beautiful ride past Jackass Mountain & Zigzag Nicaragua Slide over the [Alexandra] suspension bridge which is just completed. The road was unfinished around Nicaragua Slide, which is a great bluff of granite overhanging the river; the road is blasted thro’ this & passes along the edge at the height of 700 or 800 feet above the Fraser; sheer descent. Sent our horses along the trail which went up the mountain by a zigzag, up to the very top, a very roundabout & dangerous trail, & the death of many a pack animal; whilst we walked along the unfinished waggon road passing round the face of the bluff…”

In July, 1862, Lieutenant Palmer of the Royal Engineers explored a route from Bentinck Arm to Fort Alexandria to Williams Creek. He prepared a report (published for the public the following year) which showed that the Fraser Canyon was the better route in comparison. In 1863, Royal Engineers surveyed the route from Yale to Boston Bar. The route they settled on had a continuous average grade of 182 feet per mile for fifteen miles, a great part of which was on loose rock and precipitous mountain slopes.

After it was completed, this stretch of the Cariboo Wagon Road was busy with gold miners, stagecoaches and freight wagons bringing supplies and provisions north to gold rush towns such as Barkerville and Quesnel Forks.

As the years passed, there was talk of a railway being built through the Fraser Canyon and as a result, the government chose not to maintain this section of the road. The Alexandra Suspension Bridge, considered at one time to be an engineering marvel, was left to disrepair.

By 1875, there were newspaper reports of serious problems with the Cariboo Road while the government denied there was anything wrong:

Yale, July 22nd, 1875

The road at Nicaragua Bluff, for a distance of 75 feet, is gone. It is a most dangerous place— something like a perpendicular fall of 100 feet into the [Fraser] River.There are several [freight] teams that will not be able to get beyond that place for some days. It is a serious matter where feed is scarce for horses and mules, and there is no grass for oxen near the break. This is the very time—dry weather—when the road should be good. The teamsters have sent another long dispatch to  Beaven [Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works]. It may be treated like their dispatch of the 9th instant (“My information is different from yours!”)…There is intense feeling here on account of the cavalier treatment of the dispatch of the merchants and teamsters of Yale.

 We the undersigned teamsters are now in Yale with big teams loaded and loading for the upper country. We cannot proceed on our way till the road is repaired. We beg to state that the road is, and has been all spring, in very bad order and dangerous to travel on. There is now a break in the road that will take a week to repair…

Signed: Richard Phare, J.H. Gay, R. Curnow, Joseph Deroche, R. McLaren, W. Walker, I . Walker, Arthur McLinden, John Shatwa

The merchants of Yale also wrote a letter to Lieutenant Governor Trutch who had built the Alexandra Suspension Bridge:

Please inform [Robert] Beaven that the wagon road from Yale to Boston Bar is impassible. There is a big break near Nicaragua Bluff that will take one week to fix with the present force. Miles of road are unsafe. Your knowledge of the road induces us to ask you to advise Beaven of the Lands and Works what steps he ought to take.

Signed, William Harvey, Kimball & Gladwin, F.J. Barnard & Co., W.C. Mayes, Kwong Lee & Co, E. Tie, Lawrence & Bailey, Uriah Nelson