Tag Archives: roadhouse

Barrels of Beans and Square Meals in the BC Gold Rush

What is a square meal? A square meal in the gold rush was one that kept gold seekers full all day and gave them enough energy so they could hike the long trails to the gold diggings. The term ‘square meal’ was a common term with Americans as the term square meant ‘right’ or ‘proper’.

The ad below from Hardie’s Hotel in New Westminster advertised ‘square meals’ for 50 cents.

square meal

square meal

Beans and bacon were considered food staples back then. A goldseeker remarked:

“At the inn here we enjoyed what our Yankee companions called a ‘square meal,’ of the generally characteristic fare of the colony, bacon and beans; the latter are abundantly imported in barrels from the States. Here also, after our toilsome march, we indulged in a good wash, the only really cheap comfort obtainable in British Columbia.”

From pipes to puncheons – barrels of food and liquor

barrel

barrel

Most of the food that made up a ‘square meal’ was brought by ship in wooden casks and barrels. These barrels ranged in size depending on what they were containing.

Salted beef and pork came in wooden casks called ‘tierces’ which contained 42 gallons.

Liquor was imported in different types of wooden barrels.

A ‘hogshead’  typically contained 63 old wine gallons or 54 old beer gallons. A ‘pipe’ contained twice as much.

Rum and whiskey came in ‘puncheons’ and each puncheon typically held about 84 gallons.

Here is a list of some other types of food that were imported:

crushed sugar
Golden Gate Flour
Hope Butter
Rio Coffee
J & H Lard
black Tea
Turk’s Island salt
mats of China Rice
boxes of Macy’s candles
Harvey’s Scotch Whiskey in puncheons
Holland Gin in pipes
Champagne cider in barrels and kegs
Edinburgh Ale in stone jugs or bulk
bottled porter
India Pale Ale in pints and quarts
dried apples
hot whiskey punches
barley
bran

Looking for a ‘square meal’

A ‘square meal’ was nearly impossible to find in the Cariboo as Viscount Milton and Dr. Cheadle discovered when they stayed at J.D. Cusheon’s hotel in 1863:

“Our quarters at Cusheon’s Hotel were vile. A blanket spread on the floor of a loft was our bedroom, but the swarms of lice which infested the place rendered sleep almost impossible, and made us think with regret on the soft turf of the prairie, or a mossy couch in the woods. The fare, limited to beefsteaks, bread and dried apples, was wretchedly cooked and frightfully expensive. Beef was worth fifty cents or two shillings a pound, flour the same, a “drink” of anything except water was half a dollar, nor could the smallest article, even a box of matches, be bought for less than a “quarter” -one shilling. Before we reached Williams Creek we paid a dollar and a quarter, or five shillings, for a single pint bottle of stout.”

A gold seeker’s diary May 1863

A gold seeker’s diary of his journey to William’s Creek in May 1863 was later published in a book by Matthew MacFie, “Vancouver Island and British Columbia: Their History, Resources and Prospects”. Here are a few entries from the time the gold seeker left Victoria and travelled up the Harrison-Lillooet trail from Port Douglas which was commonly known as ‘Douglas’.

May 8th. Left Victoria at 9 a.m. Arrived at New Westminster at 4.30 p.m. Had a pleasant passage, the day being warm and calm. Put up at the ‘Mansion House;’ slept in my own blankets on the floor in company with several others, free of charge.

Douglas, BC

Douglas, BC

Saturday, 9th. Left New Westminster for Douglas at 3.30 p.m. Anchored at dark, 40 miles up the river. Slept soundly on the saloon floor.

Sunday, 10th. Started early; got into Harrison River at 8 a.m. Great contrast between the two rivers – the Fraser very muddy- the Harrison as clear as glass… Arrived at Douglas at 3 p.m. Travelled 12 miles further on; pitched our tents in the bush.

Monday, 11th. Got up at daybreak; cooked breakfast, and started for the head of Lillooet Lake, distant 17 miles. Arrived there at 3.30 p.m. Could not sleep at night for the mosquitoes, the tent being full of them. The road from Douglas to the lake is one continued ‘gulch’ between two ranges of mountains, called the ‘Cascades.’…There are roadhouses every few miles, where meals can be had at a dollar (4s. 2d.) each…

Tuesday, 12th. Started on our journey along the Lillooet Lake at 7:30 am. Had to go in a barge for six miles before we got to the steamboat. Arrived at Pemberton at 2 pm. From the foot of Tenass (little) Lake to the head of Lilloet Lake is 25 1/2 miles…At Pemberton we took the waggon-road, and travelled 8 miles same day. About 20 of us slept on the floor of the 8-mile house in the usual style…

Wednesday, 13th. Started early. Arrived at Anderson Lake, distant 26 miles from Pemberton, in good time in the afternoon. We passed through…rich prairie called ‘the Meadows,’ 7 or 8 miles long, and from half a mile to a mile wide. Beyond the half-way house is a watershed, 1,482 feet above the level of the sea. From the road is seen a roaring cataract dashing from the snowy summits of the mountains…Made a tent of one of my blankets; could not sleep, the other being too short for me…

Thursday, 14th. On board the steamer at 8 am. Lake Anderson, 16 miles long…Arrived at Port Seaton [Seton] at 3pm. Lake Seaton, the last in the chain of lakes, is 14 miles long, lying west and east, and is only 1 1/2 miles from Lake Anderson. Scenery on both lakes is charming; the hills rising abruptly out of the water as clear and tranquil as I have ever seen. Travelled to Lilloet, distant 3 1/2 miles. In approaching it the hills recede. It is a pretty place; a flat surrounded by mountains. There are a few patches of arable land, but sand seems to prevail. All along from Douglas the country looks barren; hardly a blade of grass to be seen, or a spot level enough to pitch a tent on.

Cariboo Roadhouse Poem

advertisement for Cold Spring House in Cariboo Sentinel October 15, 1866

Cash Book

Stiff yellow pages reveal
A sturdy log roadhouse
Fifteen miles from Quesnel
Each entry a window
Through the penmanship of John Boyd
The door swings open
Mah Gee buys a pick axe and
sets off for the gold fields in the Cariboo
Dutch Charlie
Dancing Bill and
Frisky
Play a game of Monte
The seasons pass as the pages turn
Mr. Dragon sits down for a hot meal and a wagon tongue
A train of oxen arrive in the snow
In the middle of the night
Fifteen dollars worth of cabbage is eaten
and charged to the team
Soap is $1.25 a bar
the same price as a bottle of lager beer

Boyd opens a package of seeds and
sets off for Quesnel to buy a plough
Henry McDames pays part of his bill
“for sundry items at sundry times”
Antoine Malbouf “commenced to work at $100 per month and board,
idle time to be deducted.”
Madame Simone buys 1070 pounds of hay at 7 cents a pound
Beet and turnip seeds are planted in the ground

John “Cariboo” Cameron
Frenchman with Sheep and
Ah Doo all pass through on their way to gold
Tolls are paid to G.B. Wright as the Cariboo Road
Is built by three hundred men
The cook Ah Fatt pays for his friends’ stay
Malbouf breaks a tumbler and settles for the damage
Ah Doo comes back from the creek to work at Cottonwood
Eggs are $4 a dozen
Berries are growing ripe in the hills
golden grain in the fields
long rows of vegetables in the garden

______________

During the height of the Cariboo gold rush, there were twelve roadhouses situated along the road from Quesnel to Barkerville. John Boyd later bought the Cottonwood Ranch and roadhouse just west of Cold Spring House in 1874. Cottonwood became a provincial historic site in 1963, a hundred years after it was built. It is one of the last remaining roadhouses in BC.