In 1839, he married Jane Lavender and had one daughter named Emma Eliza. Jane died in 1850, and in 1863, Barker married his second wife Elizabeth Collyer. She was extremely extravagant and unfaithful and left him in 1865 after he became broke.
Because railways had begun to replace canal transport, Barker was unsure of what to do with his life. During the 1840s, he decided to go to California, where he would try his luck in the gold rush. He made very little, but when the gold rush ended, he moved up to British Columbia with fellow miners. His party discovered gold in the Williams Creek area, and his fellow crew member Wilhelm Dietz – “Dutch Bill” – was the first to find a good amount of gold in the creek valley area.
Barker decided to search for his gold down river close to Stouts Gulch. Many people said he was crazy for doing this, but, after a short period of time, they pulled out about 60 ounces of gold at about 52 feet below ground. Barker’s claim turned out to be the richest in the area and the settlement of Barkerville was set up around his claim. Throughout the rest of his mining career, he pulled out roughly 37,500 ounces of gold.
Billy Barker smoked as much as 30 cigarettes a day, finding it hard to deal with the stress of having that much gold and the progressive symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
He died penniless in a Victoria nursing home on July 11, 1894 with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and/or possible cancer in his jaw. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Ross Bay Cemetery, though there has been contemplation on moving his grave to Barkerville, the town he founded and preserved as a historic town.
Since 1973, Billy Barker Days has been a staple in Quesnel and an event everyone looks forward to. With events that include rodeo, mud bogs, concessions, midway, and stage entertainment, there is sure to be something for everyone. In its 40th year, this event is British Columbia’s largest free family festival. It is true community collaboration.
A Snapshot of the Festival – Thursday, July 18, 2013 – Sunday, July 21, 2013
Friday – Kids’ Day – Children’s Headliners Sharon & Bram – Friday at 3 pm and Saturday at 2 pm.
Saturday – Parade 10 am – There’s a new parade route this year and will not be on the highway.
Sunday – Fireworks – Another great display by Fireworks Spectaculars who have produced excellent shows for the wrap up over the past 5 years. An extra special show is planned to close out the 40th anniversary of Billy Barker Days.
Dance – The Billy Barker Days Society will be sponsoring a dance this year on Saturday, July 20 at the Seniors Centre. Music by Secret Happiness. Ticket price is $25 and are currently on sale.
Costumes – The Costume Rental Shop will be located at the Child Development Centre building, formerly Bloomko Flowers. The shop is open for business.
Souvenirs – The Billy Barker Days booth will be open on Reid Street on Tuesday, July 2, 11 am to 4:30 pm weekdays and 10 am – 2 pm Saturdays up to and including July 16th.