Spences Bridge: Photo Don Weixl
For the ultimate water-sport experience, head to the small town of Spences Bridge. Located at the confluence of the Thompson and Nicola Rivers in the Thompson Okanagan‘s Gold Country, people come here for two primary reasons: to fish or to river raft. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, an angler or a rafter, the quaint town of Spences Bridge has much to offer. Nearby Goldpan Provincial Park offers a quiet spot to swim, canoe, kayak or do a little fishing. Take a short hike to Murray Falls just west of the town, try your hand at goldpanning, or pick up a handy guide and do some geocaching.
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 140. 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.