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Home / Northern British Columbia / Yellowhead Highway 16 / Burns Lake

Burns Lake

A Step Back in Time

The body of water from which the community derives its name was officially "discovered" by the Borland Expedition, whose members passed through the area while surveying a route for the Overland Telegraph. Legend has it that shortly before the Borland Expedition arrived, a tremendous forest fire swept through the area, blackening trees and generally turning the countryside into a sooty mess. The charred landscape prompted members of the expedition to dub the long, narrow body of water lying at the bottom of this unknown valley as "Burnt Lake" - a name that over the years became "Burns Lake".

Perhaps reports of the forest fire deterred settlers from coming to Burns Lake, because it wasn't settled until 1911, when construction crews arrived to begin work on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad. Many of these men, upon seeing the area's potential, elected to remain behind when railroad construction moved westward; others, lured by the promise of inexpensive land, arrived by train to begin a new life.

Judging from early accounts, life in the Lakes District during those early years was (to say the least) a challenge. There were few permanent residents of the area, and even fewer homes. The train arrived three times a week, stopping only long enough to unload mail and what meager supplies the settlers could afford. The area's train station was merely a wide spot on the rail grade, with no permanent structure.

Into this scene swaggered red-haired Trygarn Pelham Lyster Mulvany. Commonly known as "Barney", he arrived in the area with the contents of a construction camp he'd won in a poker game. He pitched two tents in a conspicuous location along the rail line not far from the lake; one became a cook tent, the other a 12-bed hotel. Twenty-four transients arrived for dinner the day he opened for business.

Canvas-walled tents gave way to sturdy log cabins as more settlers arrived in the area. In 1923, Barney's old "tent town" was incorporated as the Village of Burns Lake, a small, but vibrant community of 150 people- most of them men.

Burns Lake has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Although the community has retained its pioneer spirit and small town charm, today it is a modern community and the largest village in British Columbia. Forestry, farming, and tourism fuel the area's economy, giving it the kind of stability other communities can only dream about, while its strategic location in the middle of BC makes it an ideal service centre.

Burns Lake, heart of the scenic Lakes District, is a community with big dreams. Residents are confident the region's wealth of natural resources - particularly its 3,000 miles of fishing - hold the promise of future prosperity. After one visit to the area, you're sure to agree.


Burns Lake is located within a 90 km (56 mi) radius of the geographic centre of British Columbia. It is approximately 500 km (310 mi) from the BC-Alberta border, 500 km (310 mi) from Prince Rupert, 1,000 km (620 mi) from the BC-Yukon border, and 1,000 km (620 mi) from the BC-Washington State border. Burns Lake and the Lakes District cover an area of approximately 1,564,191 hectares in total, with 9% of this figure comprised of lakes and 2% consisting of the northern portion of Tweedsmuir Park.

Things to See and Do
  • Lakes District Museum

Located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Burns Lake, the Lakes District Museum is one of Britsh Columbia's premier small-town museums. This two-storey structure once housed the area's forest ranger, and now displays community treasured artifacts dating back to the turn of the century. 

  • The Old Hospital

Built in 1933 by the Women's Missionary Society of the United Church of Canada and was operated by Canada's former Governor General, Lord Tweedsmuir. At one time was the largest and finest public buliding between Prince George and Prince Rupert. Declared a Heritage building in 1982 and has since been redeveloped into an office building by its tenant and owner, the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation.

  • The Old Police Building

Constructed in 1922, it was the district's police residence, courthouse, and jail until the 1950s. It has been renovated and is now Burns Lake's newspaper office.

  • The Bucket of Blood

"The Bucket of Blood" is a hand-hewn log cabin built for the town founder, Barney Mulvany, and served as a gambling den during the 1920s and 1930s. A shooting over a poker game led to the building's macabre name. Of all the buildings that have been relocated to museum property, this one is the oldest.

  • St. John's Anglican Church

Located on First Avenue, the church was constructed in 1927 by a resident priest. With a prominent hillside location overlooking downtown, St. John's and its companion, the Old Rectory, are among the most photographed buildings on Hwy 16. 

  • Fishing

With almost twenty lakes in the immediate vicinBurns Lake - Gateway to Tweedsmuir Park - Bradley J.D. Bellity, this  freshwater fishing paradise is the place for sport fishing for cutthroat and rainbow trout, char, kokanee, lingcod, and salmon. Locals will give you the latest fishing tips and directions to take into the wilderness.

  • Walk and Hunt for Opals

Hunt for agates and opal, and walk the 4 km (2.5 mi) trail, at one of British Columbia's few known opal deposits; the Eagle Creek Opal/Agate site.

Nearby Communities
Contact Information

Burns Lake Chamber of Commerce



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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia

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