First published in 1960, Wagon Road North has been re-issued six times, including in 2021. (Heritage House)

First published in 1960, Wagon Road North has been re-issued six times, including in 2021. (Heritage House)

New edition of Wagon Road North to feature additional chapters

Ken Mather updated Art Downs classic recounting of tales from the Cariboo Wagon Road

Ken Mather was the perfect choice of author to re-edit Wagon Road North. The book, written by Art Downs was first published in 1960, and Mather used it as a reference when working at Barkerville Historic Town and Park starting in 1979.

“I like to tell people I was just a boy then, but that’s a barefaced lie,” Mather said, laughing. “It was really the first time Barkerville had what they called a curatorial department… We didn’t have anything to go on. There wasn’t a lot of history stuff written, and Art Downs’ book, Wagon Road North, was just the ticket.”

Mather’s update will be the sixth publishing of the book, adding chapters telling the stories of Indigenous, Chinese, and Women of Barkerville.

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“There’s voices we didn’t hear from… that are now here at the table,” Mather said. “Their story becomes important to us. The original version of Wagon Road North, no matter how good it was, was really about old white guys. As an old white guy, I’ve grown over the years to recognize the people who are sort of marginalized.”

Mather praised Downs’ work researching the original books, noting he’s been in the B.C. archives annually since 1980 and found many original sources and the stories in Wagon Road were accurate.

“The audience is changing,” Mather said. “Now there’s this plethora of books on B.C. history, everything from fiction to non-fiction. (Wagon Road North) first tested the market and proved there was a market.”

A revised edition of the book was the first thing published by Heritage House, the publishing company Downs started with his wife Doris. Downs died in 1996.

For Mather, correcting a misconception around Barkerville’s namesake was the most gratifying part of the re-write.

A previous account of Billy Barker’s life had his wife leaving him. Marther was able to discover while Barker was single when he lived in the town that now bears his name, it was only because his wife had died.

“This poor woman has had a bad rap for about fifty years before I finally got that right,” he said.

The sixth editon also features a new photo of Barker from his younger days mining in California.

Editing the book not only let Mather re-live the Cariboo gold rush, but also his time working at Barkerville.

“I got married the first summer I lived in Barkerville, our first son was born in Doc Bakers’ Hospital in Quesnel,” Marther said. “It was a really special time in my life and it was where I cut my teeth doing historic research. I really recaptured that.”

The sixth edition of Wagon Road North is available now on Heritage House’s website,

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