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Death of C.P. Lyons, Restorer of Barkerville

For the week of Monday December 19, 2011

On December 20, 1998, in Hawaii, Chester Peter (C.P.) Lyons passed away due to ruptured gall bladder complications. Also known as “Chess”, Lyons was a dedicated natural historian. He was deeply involved with conservation and preservation efforts throughout his lifetime, among them the restoration of the town of Barkerville, a national historic site of Canada in British Columbia.

The Cornish Waterwheel show in full swing
©Thomas Drasdauskis

Although Lyons was born in 1915 in Regina, Saskatchewan, his family moved to British Columbia early on in his life. His parents took up fruit farming, and he developed an early interest in nature and the outdoors. After high school, he completed his Bachelor of Science at the University of British Columbia, focusing on forest engineering. Later in life, he became a successful author, film maker, and lecturer. His book Trees, Flowers, and Shrubs to Know in British Columbia has been published in several editions since its first printing in 1952, and it remains popular today.

Lyons worked in many different aspects of heritage and natural history. The most well-known site that he worked on was probably Barkerville National Historic Site of Canada. The town of Barkerville, located roughly 100 kilometres southeast of Prince George, was founded in the 1860s due to the significant gold deposits found in the area. Though the town had been designated in the 1920s, its buildings were not in the best condition. In the early 1950s, local residents and historians, particularly the Cariboo Historical Society, used the upcoming centennial of the creation of Barkerville to encourage a new restoration and management project for the site. This project, which lasted from 1958-63, resulted in the restoration of many Barkerville buildings to their original state. As part of this project, Lyons was particularly successful in acquiring many valuable historic artifacts, many of which can be found at the national historic site.

Barkerville's main street in action
©Thomas Drasdauskis

Barkerville National Historic Site was designated in 1924 because of its importance as part of the Cariboo gold fields that led to the development of British Columbia, and its location as the end of the ‘great wagonroad’ from Yale. The Chee Kung Tong Building National Historic Site is also located within the limits of Barkerville.

For more information on Barkerville National Historic Site of Canada, please see its entry on HistoricPlaces.ca, or the Barkerville National Historic Site website. For more This Week in History stories on other Canadian natural historians and plant specialists, please read “Frank Leith Skinner – Quite a Horticulturalist” and “David Douglas – Botanist par excellence.”

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