Prior to the Goldrush, Mortimer Cook, an American, and his partner Charles Kimball, had been freighters for the Hudson's Bay Company. The Thompson and Nicola River peoples had previously lived in the region for thousands of years, hunting deer and fishing for salmon. With the sudden influx of prospectors on their way to the goldfields, Cook and Kimball built a rope ferry across the Thompson River, and the area became known as Cook's Ferry. By 1864, the ferry had been replaced with a bridge that was built by road contractor Thomas Spence during the construction of the Cariboo Road from Yale to Barkerville. In 1892, the population of Spences Bridge included 32 people of European ancestry and 130 First Nations people. There were 5 general stores, 3 hotels, one Church of England, and one school.
In 1905, a terrible tragedy occurred just below Spence's Bridge. A large slide came down, burying a First Nations village, damming the river for four hours, and washing the bridge out. Today the area is mostly a wasteland of sagebrush with some cultivated fields where irrigation allows.
Today the population of Spences Bridge is about 138. Both the Trans-Canada Highway and the CPR railway pass through the community, and Highway 8 from Merritt and the rest of the Nicola Country meet the Trans-Canada in town. Today, this is still the main rancherie of the Cook's Ferry First Nation, a Nlaka'pamux band of the Nicola Tribal Alliance. Agriculture is a major industry and produce of soft fruits and vegetables are sold in stalls beside the highway in town, at wayside stops, and at nearby roadside communities such as Bighorn and Shaw Springs.
Spences Bridge is located on Trans-Canada Highway 1 on the western shore of the Thompson River, 60 kilometres (38 miles) south of Cache Creek and approximately 50 kilometres (39 miles) north of Lytton.
Goldpan was constructed in 1956 on the banks of the Thompson River. It is a convenient overnight camping spot for travelers on Highway #1 and is a destination site for fishermen during peak fishing times. This is also a popular base camp for visitors enjoying guided river rafting, and exploring the Thompson/Pavilion area. It's an area rich in geological and human history.
Located at the confluence of the Thompson and Nicola Rivers, travelers to Spences Bridge have two main options: to fish or to river raft. The area around Spences Bridge attracts anglers from around the world during its peak fishing season: September to December. In particular, they come for the excellent steelhead fishing at Goldpan Provincial Park, where they catch and release these prized sport fish.
Spences Bridge is also a paradise for those who love the feel of spectacular power of white water. Located near two world-class whitewater rivers, the Thompson and the Fraser River, there is ample opportunity to power-raft or paddle down the exhilarating waterways. There are 18 major rapids with rankings from 1 to 5 on the stretch of river between Spences Bridge and Lytton.
Large herds of bighorn sheep are visible in and around the community throughout the year. A patient wildlife observer in the area surrounding Spences Bridge may see elk, bighorn sheep, deer, coyote, black bears, cougar, bobcat, lynx, bald eagles, ospreys, and many other wildlife species.
Pan for Gold in the Thompson River and the nearby Fraser River, following in the footsteps of the Cariboo Gold Rush prospectors.
The Ashcroft and District Stampede has often been billed as the "Biggest Little Rodeo in the West". People come from far and wide to enjoy the weekend of western action. Stampede weekend is usually held the third weekend in June. 2002 marked the 40th Anniversary of this annual event.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia