BCHF News Quesnel restores iconic Cornish water wheel

Quesnel restores iconic Cornish water wheel

Quesnel’s iconic Cornish water wheel has been fully restored, thanks to a legacy project overseen by the Quesnel and District Museum and Archives.

Quesnel water wheel - restored
Restored water wheel, October 2016. (Photo: Bob Lebeck.)

The restored water wheel was officially unveiled on November 8, 2016, at Heritage Corner, a park located along Highway 97 and the Fraser River. The original wheel — a memorial to the pioneer miners of BC’s Cariboo region — had stood at that location since 1930, when it was donated by Harry Boyd of Cottonwood House. The wheel had been repaired several times in the intervening years.

The restoration project also included the installation of two new interpretive signs at Heritage Corner — one providing a history of the water wheel, and the other describing the history of the SS Enterprise, a Fraser River sternwheeler whose salvaged remains are also located in the park.

Restoring the Wheel 

Quesnel water wheel - original
Water wheel prior to restoration, June 2016. (Photo: Elizabeth Hunter, Quesnel and District Museum and Archives.)

The restoration project was initiated in 2014 by the Friends of the Quesnel Museum, and was originally conceived as a legacy project to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Cariboo Wagon Road in 2015. Work began in the spring of 2016 after funding grants were secured.

The construction contract was awarded to C2000, a Quesnel-based company with previous experience constructing the water wheel in Barkerville and restoring the 1928 Fraser River Bridge in Quesnel.

Quesnel water wheel - restoration in progress
Construction: reassembly on site, August 2016. (Photo: Elizabeth Hunter, Quesnel and District Museum and Archives.)

During the project, the construction crew rebuilt the water wheel using air-dried Douglas fir. The original axle and crankshaft were reused. The crew poured new foundations, which allowed them to alter the bracing and restore the drive wheel as documented in archival photographs. The rocker beam and segment of overhead flume were also reconstructed; both were made more substantial to reflect the original configuration, and the overhead flume was lined with tin to provide protection for the wheel. On their own time, the crew built a winch, which they intend to install in spring 2017. The rebuild incorporates conservation measures to extend the life of the new wood timbers.

The restoration project has earned compliments from within the community, specifically with regard to the quality of the restoration workmanship and the informative nature of the new interpretive signs.

Project Partners

The restoration project was made possible through funding and support from:

  • Canadian Heritage, through the Building Communities through Arts and Heritage Program
  • Heritage BC, through the Heritage Legacy Fund of British Columbia
  • City of Quesnel
  • Quesnel Community Foundation
  • Integris Community Foundation
  • Friends of the Quesnel and District Museum and Archives

Congratulations, Quesnel, on this outstanding achievement!

Quesnel water wheel - P1997.38.5
Historic image of the original Cornish water wheel, with Fraser River Bridge in the background. (Photo courtesy Quesnel and District Museum and Archives, P1997.38.5.)