Ahbau: A Short History

By Alyssa Tobin-Leier
April 11, 2019 - 8:31am

Working at The Exploration Place in the Curatorial Department is always an educational experience. We love diving into our region’s history and learning more about the beautiful place that we call home.

We are often asked questions about the history and significance of individuals whom streets and neighbourhoods are named after. One particular street that comes up quite often is Ahbau Street.

Many of you have probably driven down Ahbau Street in Prince George and wondered for who or what it was named after. In fact, there are numerous Ahbau place names in the region; Ahbau Lake, Ahbau Creek, Ahbau Creek Bridge, and Ahbau Lake Recreation Site.

It was at Ahbau Creek in 1952, that the last spike of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway connecting the rails between Quesnel and Prince George was finally driven in at a large public ceremony. Some onlookers even suggested that old Ah Bau may have been watching from above.

So, who was this eponymous man?

Ah Bau was a prosperous Chinese-Canadian miner and entrepreneur who worked in the Cariboo and Prince George regions of the province from the 1860’s until the 1930’s.

Although always known and identified as Ah Bau, Ah is not actually a Chinese name, but traditionally a prefix added to the personal name as a familiar or informal manner of address. This was misinterpreted though, and Mr. Bau became known as Ah Bau.

Early mining reports from the time account Ah Bau as being the first to discover placer deposits in the area by systematically handling and washing vast amounts of creek gravel in search of gold.

An article written about Ah Bau in The Cariboo Observer in 1934 commends his entrepreneurial spirit, affirming at one time Ah Bau had as many as 700 Chinese Canadian miners working under his employment. Well-respected for his hard work and dedication, it’s been said he recovered great quantities of gold using the simplest methods on these claims.

Ah Bau had a cabin situated just north of what is now named Ahbau Lake. Known as Ahbau House, it was accessed about 45km along a pack-trail that left the Quesnel-Barkerville Road, just east of the Cottonwood River Bridge.

Various accounts report that several times a year he would come out to Quesnel and mingle with the other miners and freighters at the Occidental and Cariboo Hotel. A well-respected man, all that knew him found him to be cheerful and hard-working. Often playing poker until dawn, he was frequently buying drinks for other players.

When Ah Bau did not appear as usual early one spring, people began to worry. When local police made their way to his cabin, they found him in his armchair where he had been sitting for most of the winter.

On the table near him was a teapot and two drinking bowls neatly arranges as though he was waiting for a visitor. He was buried in his little vegetable garden with his gold pan bottom side up to signify the end of a hard day’s labour.

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