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Williams Lake History

On March 15th 1929 Williams Lake became incorporated.

Williams Lake is named in honour of Shuswap (Secwepemc) chief William, whose counsel prevented the Shuswap from joining the Chilcotin in their uprising against the settler population.

During the Cariboo Gold Rush in 1860, Gold Commissioner Philip Henry Nind and Chief Constable William Pinchbeck were sent from Victoria to organize a local government and maintain law and order. At the time, two pack trails led to the goldfields, one from the Douglas Road and another trail through the Fraser Canyon. Both met at Williams Lake, which made it a good choice for settlers and merchants. By 1861, Commissioner Nind had built a government house and had requested the funds to build a jail. With the center of local government being at Williams Lake, the miners and businessmen all had to travel there to conduct their business and soon the town had a post office, a courthouse, a roadhouse and the jail that Nind had requested. William Pinchbeck had been busy with building his own roadhouse, saloon and store. Eventually he owned most of the valley.

In 1863, the town received news of the construction of the Cariboo Road which made them excited believing it would pass through their already established and important trading center. However, the road builder Gustavus Blin Wright rerouted the original trail so that it bypassed Williams Lake and went through 150 Mile House instead.

The Williams Lake by-pass doomed the city and accusations flew that Gustavus Blin Wright had changed the route for his own personal benefit as he owned a roadhouse at Deep Creek along the new route. Regardless of Wright's motives, Williams Lake was forgotten and wouldn't be reborn until nearly half a century later with the construction of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, later BC Rail and now CN Rail.

A Day to Call our Own, How `Wrestling Day` became to be.
This Day was derived from the creative minds of 2 early merchants named Alistair MacKenzie & Sid Western. On a cold January 2nd, both men sat against their frosty shop windows & watched the snowflakes whiten the countryside without a single soul in sight. They both agreed that this day must be made a unique one whereby no man & women should work, but should be in the warm embrace of their loved ones. The community made a `gentlemen`s agreement` to which everyone honoured the notion that Wrestling Day was a holiday to be spent in leisure. As Boxing Day follows Christmas Day, the day to follow New Year`s Day seemed fit to be named `Wrestling Day` This day actually became enshrined in a by-law in 1959. One Mayor in the 1970`s attempted to end this holiday, but the community prevented him. The hard-working men & women who worked their hands to the bone to reach even a minimal prosperity deserved another day of relaxation. 

The First People in the Williams Lake area were of the Shuswap (Secwepemc) Nation, who were part of the "Interior Salish" peoples. They referred to the area with the Shuswap word "Columneetza", the meeting place

There are 3 Native Nations Shuswap, Carrier & Tsilhqotėn:

  • The Shuswap live along the east side of the Fraser River & have 5 bands within which include Soda Creek, Canoe Creek, Williams Lake Band – Sugar Cane, Canim Lake & Alkali Lake
  • The Carrier live north & west of Williams lake & around Anahim Lake. There are 4 bands within which include Ulkatcho, Kluskus, Nazko, & Red Bluff.
  • The Tsilhqotėn live along the west side of the Fraser River. There are 6 bands within which include Anaham, Stone, Alexis Creek, Nemiah, Alexandria, & Toosey.
The Williams Lake Stampede which originated in 1919
In 1939 World War II began and the Williams Lake Stampede was suspended for 8 years
1947 - The Williams Lake Stampede was revived

Quesnelle Forks, Likely BC
Quesnelle Forks was the first permanent mining camp in the Cariboo. In 1941, the Bullion Mines were the largest hydraulic operations in the world. In addition, the miners had dug the largest man-made hole. The Cariboo-Chilcotin was excelling in not only ranching but mining too.

For more information about The Gold Rush History check out the book selection at the Williams Lake Visitor Centre.


Tourism Williams Lake
Williams Lake Visitor Centre
1660 South Broadway
Williams Lake, BC, V2G 2W4
Tel: 250-392-5025
Toll Free: 1-877-967-5253
Email: visitors@telus.net
© 2017 Williams Lake & District Chamber of Commerce
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