The Gold Rush Trail

In 1858, 151 years ago, British Columbia became a British Colony. One of the first tasks of the new colonial government was to commission the building of a road to the Cariboo goldfields. The Gold Rush Trail follows this historic Cariboo Waggon Road (note the unique spelling of both Cariboo and Waggon). For detailed information about this route click on The Cariboo Waggon Road, Sled Dogs and the Mail. Very briefly, the mail is transported for three days in the basket of a dogsled through the sites of six former or existing post offices, including Barkerville, the fifth oldest operating post office in the province of British Columbia.

Mail By Dogteam

Transporting Mail by dog team is a northern tradition. However it was in Canada, more than any other country in the world where the transport of mail using sled dogs was an integral part of life in the winter. It is not just a historical fact, it has become part of our culture, part of just who Canadians are as a people.

At one point in the history of northern Canada, sled dog transport represented the only available method of winter transportation short of walking and it was certainly the fastest method. And the term northern referred to the northern parts of virtually every province, not just what we refer to as the far north, when talking about the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. And this method of transportation, which was slowly replaced by air mail beginning in the 1920’s stretches back to the earliest days of the explorers, settlement and missionaries and it persisted until the late 1960’s in a very few remote areas in Canada’s north. Now there is only one place left where it is possible to address an envelope to anywhere in the world, post this envelope in a post box in the regular mail system, have it hand-cancelled in various communities along its route, have it transported by sled dog team partway along the route and finally to have it delivered to its final destination.

The Mail Run EnvelopesEnvelopgraphic2019

Each year for the past 26 years, artists have been commissioned to develop sled-dog related artwork for use on the Mail Run envelopes. The end result is an impressive collection of original envelopes, all of them are collectors’ items and many are no longer available except from collectors. To see the full set of these Past Envelopes please click here. The following is the wording of the insert that will be placed inside every envelope:

The Northern BC Winter Games were held in Quesnel British Columbia in 1993, and the first Mail Run was organized that year to add something just a little different to the Games and to highlight the unique gold mining history of the Quesnel, Wells, Barkerville corridor. Trail clearing, through waist-deep snow came right down to the wire, but the dog teams made it through during that first event.

Over the years, hundreds of sled dog teams have journeyed over what is now widely known as the Gold Rush Trail. The Mail Run represents the only place left in Canada and possibly in the world, where it is possible for regular mail to be cancelled and packaged by the post office, carried over at least part of its journey in a sled pulled by a dog team and then put into the regular mail system to be delivered to its destination anywhere in the world.

The event has evolved over the years, with the one constant being that the dog teams have always carried the mail. In the early years, the Mail Run was also a race, a qualifier for the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. There was a continuous trail running for just under 250 miles, starting north of Quesnel and running east to Kruger Lake in the heart of the Cariboo Mountains, then back to the starting line at Umiti Pit

These early races were adventures, with trail spotters setting up camps along the route and spending nights camped in the snow. There were years when the temperature dipped below 40 degrees celcius and years when it rained. The route runs from west to east, with a continuous rise in elevation, and this has always guaranteed great snow conditions beyond Cottonwood, but usually for the whole route. The fact that this event has been run year after year is a great testament to the incredible volunteers who have worked selflessly over the years to see this event happen, because they believe in it and want to celebrate “all that the Cariboo has to offer in the winter”.

Eventually the decision was made to shift the focus of the Mail Run from a competitive to a participation event. Money prizes for winning were replaced with participation awards for taking part. Volunteers and dog mushers are all participants, each taking part in their own way. In addition to dog teams, participants have skied, skijored and snowshoed all or part of the route. Kick sleds have covered part of the route, runners have taken part and one participant even started off on his bicycle. Volunteer snowmobilers ensure that there is a broken, packed and marked trail as well as offering a measure of safety in the event of an emergency.

Some special traditions have developed over the years. Coveted awards in the form of perpetual trophies are given out each year, the banquet and auction, the Barkerville Dash and the Mushers’ Sports competition are an integral part of the three day Mail Run celebration. Today, participants and volunteers may choose to camp or sleep on the floor of the Troll Ski Resort.

The trail goes through the heart of Cariboo gold country taking participants through or past the sites of legendary Gold Rush communities like Stanley, Van Winkle, Richfield, Cottonwood and of course Barkerville.

The Mail Run envelopes each feature unique artwork and have become cherished collectors items. The design of this year's, and the 2018 envelope, is the work of a Quesnel resident Christine Yaffe. A full set of envelopes can be viewed here, Carrying the mail is an honour and the mushers take the task seriously. The envelopes routinely end up in over 20 different counties and the stories received from grateful recipients are heart warming.

And then there are the dogs, these incredible animals that are loved and respected by all of us. Sled dogs have made life possible throughout Canada’s north for hundreds and even thousands of years. Today’s sled dogs are carrying on this deeply engrained desire to pull. Their amazing capacity for work combined with their loyalty and their wonderful individual personalities make them very, very special.

We hope you enjoy receiving this envelope… is very special for a number of reasons!

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