#1084. Backyard Gems #4 – Of Bruckner, Bralorne and Bradian

By John Wilson | Travel Photography

Jan 25

Who’s Bruckner? What’s Bralorne? And where’s Bradian?

Let’s begin at the beginning.  

I grew up in a house full of music, including the classical composers and performers of the day and four piano players (one of them considered concert grade). There was a time when I was perfectly content with all the usual suspects  … Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel, Rachmaninoff … the traditional pantheon of the greats. Then I accidentally stumbled across a stunning piece I’d never heard by a composer I’d never heard of. Mozart sneered, Beethoven grumped, Brahms rolled his eyes, Ravel made rude noises in a language I didn’t understand, and Rachmaninoff simply glowered (I hear he did that a lot). But inevitably they made way for the new love of my musical life, Anton Bruckner. If you’ve never sampled his music, be warned, he’s an acquired taste; but he’s a taste well worth acquiring.

So, what’s with Bralorne? Bralorne, permanent population 43, is a somewhat defunked gold mining town tucked away in the South Chilcotin Mountains a couple of hundred miles north east of Vancouver. If you’d asked me a month ago for the name of my favourite “ghost town” I’d have said Barkerville – a very destination un-destination of another defunked gold rush town that’s now a Provincial park, but still a great place to photograph. The difference is that Bralorne is a living, breathing community with real people, rather than a well primped and preserved relic on government life support. And as a bonus there’s  Cadwallader Creek, a noisy, rushing, tumbling, rambunctious little gem of a river that flows right by the town. Move over Barkerville, Bralorne has arrived. The Bruckner experience has repeated itself … and Rachmaninoff still glowers.

Carpenter Lake and the South Chilcotin Mountains

Bradian is just a whistle up the old dirt road from Bralorne. It was the “suburb” (bedroom community) for the mine. Many of the houses are still there accessible from the roadway or buried among the trees of the new growth forest that’s reclaimed the site. A true “undestination”.

So, why Bralorne and Bradian? The “five pack”, my little gang of travelling photo crazies had originally planned our spring excursion for the Northeast coast of Vancouver Island, up to Telegraph Cove and Alert Bay. Needless to say that quickly became a pandemic casualty. But things had eased somewhat and the overwhelming majority of cases here have been in the “Lower Mainland” area around Vancouver with very little impact on the interior of the province. In early June, I stumbled across a You Tube video by a local lad who explores out of the way places and abandoned sites. Abandoned Town Hidden in Woods. pt 1 Adventure #8

I shared it with the group and the response was “When do we leave”. Boot up Google, locate a local caravansary right in Bralorne, book rooms for 3 nights in early July, organize logistics … unfortunately Dave couldn’t make it. He’s recovering from leg surgery and undergoing chemotherapy. He’s doing fine and the prognosis is good.


Take Highway 99 North (the bright blue line) from Horseshoe Bay at the western tip of North Shore, up the Sea to Sky Highway (rated by National Geographic as one the ten best scenic drives in the world) past Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton into the south Chilcotin Mountains. At Mount Currie we took a detour into Lillooet  (“lil-o-wet”) for lunch.

Rainy Light – Lillooet Lake

On the Bridge River road north of Lillooet we crossed the Bridge River that yielded the image below shot from the bridge.

The Bridge River – In Turbulent Times

Follow the road to the Terzaghi Dam, at the east end of Carpenter Lake. The road skirts the north side of the lake into the east end of town at Gold Bridge; watch for the Bralorne Road turnoff (we missed it and got a little lost). Follow the road up the mountain into Bralorne. Bradian is just up the road from Bralorne and the old mine site is about a mile (1.6km) further south of Bralorne.

But here’s the thing; Bralorne and Bradian are not especially photogenic. There’s little to see in Bralorne except the museum, which was closed. The exterior of the houses in Bradian do offer some opportunity; the interiors are a pretty much a loss – dark and empty. The real gem is the scenery along the route and the surrounding area. The old mine site is a tumbledown abandoned wreck with plenty to photograph if you like that sort of imagery. I got distracted by other things and passed it by; Ron got some really interesting images.

The Old Shed; Bralorne
Back In The Bush – Bradian
Keep Out – Bradian
Still Standing – Bradian
Stormy Light; Mount Sloan – Bradian

Go to the top of the hill in Bradian and on the right is a still in tack two story house with access. The bedroom window on the top floor looks back down the hill and across the valley to the jagged peak of Mount Sloan. The drizzly stormy clouds and light made it look like a brooding giant with the rain swirling around his head.

By the road to the old mine site sits the locally famous old car. Our research narrowed it down to a strong possibility of a 1935 Packard sedan. The mine closed in 1971, but it’s clearly been there much longer. It ate up quite a few pixels.

After All These Years – Bradian
Of Time and Nature – Bradian
Testing Her Patience – Bradian
Cadwallader Creek; In Turbulent Times2 – Bradian
Rock Garden; Cadwallader Creek– Bradian

Carpenter Lake is the reservoir for the Terzagi dam 25 miles (40km) further east. It’s fed by the Hurly River flowing into the western end of the lake just east Gold Bridge where it creates a delta of sandbars and meanders. We noticed them on the way in and stopped for a few shots, but the late afternoon light wasn’t the best. On the way out the mid morning light was spectacular with puffy white clouds and the trees of the southern wall reflecting in the glassy water broken up by the sandbars … photographic Nirvana … perfect infrared conditions.

Sandbars and Trees; Carpenter Lake
Sandbars and Trees -2; Carpenter Lake
Cloud; Carpenter Lake
Cloud-2; Carpenter Lake
Cloud-3; Carpenter Lake
Cloud-4; Carpenter Lake
Sandbars and Trees -5; Carpenter Lake
Cloud-6; Carpenter Lake

So, what’s the prognosis for Bralorne and Bradian? Will they slowly vanish into history? There are signs of hope. The area has become a Mecca for off roader and dirt bike adventurers and there is a very a active local group promoting the area as “cottage and outdoor adventure country”. Bradian’s been purchased by a Chinese investor group. They have replaced the roofs on a number of houses as a first step in halting their deterioration, but plans for development are still not clear. The jury’s still out. 

On the way home we took the Eastern route (the light blue line) for the expressed purpose of dropping in on The Vulture Garage in Spence’s Bridge, a favourite stop whenever we’re upcountry. But, thereby hangs the tale of another Backyard Gem … watch this space.

And a parting shot … OK! OK! The devil made me do it.

Returning To Nature – Bradian

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  • Lad Sessions says:

    John, Thank you so much for this lovely record of a sterling way to beat the virus. I enjoyed the travelogue and think all the images are compelling, but I especially liked the infrared ones (and would appreciate a line or two about your gear and methods). The last image is the diametrical opposite of minimalism—a riot of colors, textures and forms—and I love it! All in all, this undestination served its true purpose: it gave great satisfaction to photographers and yielded great photographs. Lad

    • John Wilson says:

      Thank You Lad. The BW images are all infrared. All 4 of us on the trip have infrared cameras, but Nick Snowdon is the resident expert on the subject. Blame it all on him; we made the mistake of inviting him on one of our outings a couple of years ago and all came home with orders for infrared conversions. Maybe I should get him to write an addendum on the subject.

      • Lad Sessions says:

        Yes, addenda on infrared would be welcome. And BTW, your fascinating last image gets a cameo notice in my next DS post, sometime in February. Stay tuned!

        • John Wilson says:

          Lad if you plan on using the image I’ll email you a copy. I’m not sure if it’s my monitor or the way the image gets transferred to Pascal, but the colours are off. We’ve had this problem before.

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    Well, you scarcely need to add you photos, John – I can feel your passion, in your description of it all.

    But of course DS IS a photography group, so photos are not optional – they are essential.

    Somewhat startled at the suggestion the Chinese have decided to invest in it – maybe as a “theme park”, for other chinese to visit, and flood the Instagram platform with selfies? – who knows!

    Am I correct in thinking that a lot of the B&W images are shot as infra red?

    Overall, I think the Canadian Tourist Bureau should award you a trophy, or perhaps put you on a handsome retainer, for promoting an area the rest of the world is unaware of. The scenery is breathtaking, the photography is brilliant. What else is there to say? Nothing – time I went and cooked our dinner!

    • John Wilson says:

      JP – The BW images are all infrared. Coincidentally, a representative from the Chinese buyers was staying at the same motel while we were there. They still have not decided how they want to approach the location. I suggested they retain a “photographic destination” component, but then I’m biased. Any increase in tourism will be a boon to the local economy … but at what price.

      I will definitely send your suggestion to the Tourist Bureau; but as a former Civil Servant I already know which “black hole” is is destined to reside in.

  • Georg says:

    Hi John. A wonderful collection. I note that this place is only 200 kilometers from Vancouver “as the crow flies”, so Highway 99 must have many twists and turns. Love the B&W, especially the delicate Infrared shots. Let’s hope the new owners do the right things to preserve this aging beauty.

    • John Wilson says:

      Thank You Georg. The mountains start on the North Shore of the harbour and go all the way to the Arctic Ocean. It’s all up-down-and around, across mountains, through valleys, by rivers and lakes. 200km can quickly become 500km in that kind of country. But that’s the beauty of it.

      • Dennis says:

        Well, pack my bag too, if you all ever let Yankees back across the border. I have a nephew with floor space in Yale Town and I love BC. Two years ago I got as far as Green Lake above Whistler for a day outing. Those are Boxster roads! I haven’t been a fan of IR but you have inspired me to dust off my Canon EOS 5M I as a possible candidate. Appropriate and beautiful work, especially the cabin(s) in the woods. The final color comp is otherworldly great too. Thanks for adding to my bucket list, keep it up!

        • John Wilson says:

          Thanks Dennis. Wayward Yankees are always welcome. Ron hails from Las Vegas … a long time ago. The 5M would make a great starter IR camera, but there are caveats to beware of with IR. Have a look at the IR conversion sites and bone up on the different conversions. I went with a standard BW 850nm conversion, but there are other choices including full colour. The other problem is lenses. Your Canon L series lenses won’t work … they will likely have hotspots (the optics are too good). The M series kit lenses are probably a better choice or you may have to buy some older EF APS lenses and adapt them. Kolari Vision has an IR lens database https://kolarivision.com/articles/lens-hotspot-list/. The third caveat is IR can quickly become addictive … it moves your photography to a whole new space you may not want to leave.

  • Frank Field says:

    Well done! These images are refreshingly different from the usual “decaying ghost town” images we’ve all seen many times. Monochrome images serve the subject well and these have been nicely captured and processed. The mix of color images add to the folio with the sense of life still going on in these towns. Thanks for sharing.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderfully detailed travelogue to the wilds of British Columbia, John. The farthest that I’ve been on the dark blue route in Whistler, so I’ll add the trip to my wish list for “when the border opens again”. Your images are so atmospheric and emotive, just perfect to demonstrate the photographic riches to be found on the trip. The IR choice really paid off – bravo! Can’t wait for your next Backyard Gem post. The final photo is wonderful!

    • John Wilson says:

      Thank You Nancee. Until the trip, the farthest I’d ever been up that route was Pemberton and that was in 1970, so it was both an adventure and a pleasure. There really are some beautiful locations on that route; it’s all back country unless you live there.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    John, what better way to give the Rona the bird I cannot think of. The images of the old structures are standout. If you had to post only one image though the devil made you do it says it all. You have raised the bar again for all of us – thank you for the fascinating story.

    • John Wilson says:

      Ian – as usual you flatter me. The last image was a “what if” spur of the moment piece of madness that turned out well. I’m not sure how it looks on your monitor, but the transmitted image looks dark and a bit grungy on mine. The colours have more sparkle in the original.

  • philberphoto says:

    How do I define a really outstanding DS post? If it makes me ask myself what I am doing taking pictures and making images, when others are so, so much better at it. Not just quantitatively, or qualitatively, but in a whole other realm. There are some, here that have that effect on me. And your post did just that to me, John. All the more remarkable as I don’t really dig IR photography…. As to my faves, hard to say, because in my humble opinion just about every IR image belongs not only in a gallery, but on my wall. I need a drink. Oh; h**l, it is only 8 a.m….

    • John Wilson says:

      Than You Phil. That is indeed high praise. The problem with IR photography is that it’s over used and when it is used it’s overdone. What I really like is its ability to impart subtle tonalities that can be hard to get in normal BW. And if you want to go really crazy, there’s IR colour; but that’s a whole different universe.

  • Lani says:

    Splendiferous post and images, John!

    Those intimate landscape shots are delightful and transports me to a magical place…which of course this clearly is.
    Can’t wait for The Rona to skedaddle – I would love to explore this area!

    • John Wilson says:

      Thank You Lani. It is magical in many ways. You go for the “ghost town” but wind up with a magical landscape with visual treats around every corner.

  • Claude Hurlbert says:

    John, when responding to a post here, I sometimes stop to mention a particular image for some quality that moves me. In the case of your post, I found myself admiring each one often for a different reason, whether it be your intense monochromes or beautiful colors. In all, I believe you have captured the spirit of Bralorne and Bradian and the geography in which their remnants remain. In that, there is a spiritual quality in your images that I greatly admire.

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