I stepped outside of the long-abandoned house and into the gravel street. Behind me a breeze picked up and some clouds of dust billowed around me. Before I joined my companions at the next building I took a moment to really bask in the isolation I was feeling, and tried to imagine what it would have been like to live in this town all those years ago. I turned towards the next building to continue the exploration of Bradian, BC.
Bradian is a ghost town in the mountains of British Columbia. While most other ghost town’s have long-since crumbled into near oblivion, Bradian is unique in that many of the buildings are not only standing but fully explorable to anyone willing to brave the sketchy mountain roads which are they only way in or out. The town itself is technically a suberb of the village of Bralorne – a mining town first constructed in the 1930’s and a village that is still occupied to this day.
The story of Bradian, or Townsite 3 as it was originally known, begins in much the same way as other ghost towns in the province – a mine opens in the area, the mining company builds a town to support operations and, eventually when the gold runs out the mine is shuttered and people begin to leave the community. The Bralorne mine was closed in 1971 when the price of gold was deemed too low to make the mine profitable. On paper, the community of Bradian has been abandoned since the early 70’s, though as I would later discover that was not actually the case.
Most ghost town stories would end here, with the town being left to slowly decompose and be reclaimed by nature, but the story of Bradian would diverge. In 1997, some 25 years after the town was officially abandoned, Kathleen and Tom Gutenburg visited the town in search of BC’s mining history and fell in love with the place. 9 months after they first set eyes on it the couple owned it – the whole thing; streets, houses, water hydrants and they set about restoring it. Over the next decade the couple would restore much of the original buildings; putting metal roofs on many of the remaining structures, applying paint to the outside of the buildings and sealing shattered doors and windows. By 2014 though, the couple would run out of steam, realizing that to really take the town to the next level of restoration would require deep pockets. In 2014 the town was placed on the market and sold to Zhong Ya, a Chinese investment firm, for $1 million – a 10 fold increase over what the Gutenburg’s had paid for it.
Since the sale to Zhong Ya, the town has once again been left mostly abandoned – the firm’s original plan of turning the town into a resort fell through when the BC government suspended it’s Provincial Nominee program. 6 months later the town was back on the market, and to date has had no buyer.
In 2019, I was just becoming interested in the hobby of Urban exploration and I stumbled open a thread about the town on the uer.ca forum. I began to read up on the town and decided that visiting it was a bucket list kind of activity. Once 2020 hit and the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, making international travel difficult if not impossible the stage was set for a staycation – a camping trip within my home province and the opportunity to cross an item off the bucket list.
My journey to Bradian
So it was, that on August 17 I found myself packed into a car with my buddy Mikhail, his brother Josh and their dad, Brad setting off on a great adventure.
To get to Bradian, we needed to travel from Vancouver Island to the lower mainland by ferry, then drive for 4 hours to the town of Lillooet where we would camp. From there to Bradian it would be another 2 hours of driving that we would do the next day.
Our journey began with a flurry of activity as we rushed to cram some last minute items into the vehicle ahead of our 10AM ferry reservation. Fortunately, we had allowed plenty of extra time – so our 3 false starts and subsequent trips back home to pick up forgotten items didn’t cause any upset to our journey.
We arrived at the ferry terminal just before 9, checked in and settled down to wait for the arrival of the ‘Queen of Westminster” – our ride to the mainland.
The ferry trip itself was uneventful, punctuated by beautiful scenery and the infamous slow wifi. During the COVID pandemic people are being actively encouraged to stay in their vehicles, leaving lots of room to wander around on the outer decks and take in the breathtaking landscapes. The opportunity to walk around was not lost on my friend Mikhail, who seemed to have the disposition of a changed animal; doing constant laps around the upper deck. For myself, I appreciated the 90 minute pause in activity so I could relax, listen to a podcast and begin writing this blog post.
Our drive from the Lower Mainland to Lillooet following winding mountain roads and was punctuated by beautiful, rugged scenery. Driving through BC’s mountain roads is a wonderful experience, and something I would recommend everyone experience at least once. On the day of our trip it was HOT. Being born and raised on Vancouver Island, where there is almost always an ocean breeze to break up any summer afternoon, I have rarely experienced truly hot temperatures. The air on this trip was hot and still, and in a car without air conditioning it was a truly eye-opening experience. Needless to say, I was pleased when we pulled into the campsite just after 4 in the afternoon and were able to settle down for the evening.
After a night of decent sleep, I felt re-invigorated and ready to tackle the 2-3 hour drive to the town of Bradian. We got up early, packed the vehicle with essentials for the day, and left camp around 8AM, eager to do some exploring.
What followed, was two and a half hours of the most hair-raising, white knuckle driving I have ever experienced. The road, if that’s what you want to call it, from Lillooet to Gold Bridge (the last town before Bradian) is essentially a logging route cutting though the rugged mountain countryside. The road is winding, at times hugging the side of a mountain with a 1000m drop immediately to the side. More then once we needed to abruptly pull over and let loaded logging tucks pass, with mere inches to spare.
About 70% of the route is paved, the rest is gravel or dirt and a place where a horse and buggy would feel appropriate. Midway though the drive we began winding our way literally down the face of a cliff – I found myself laughing manically as we traversed switchbacks that spun us 180 degrees over just a couple of meters. I cannot overstate enough how lucky I felt to have arrived in one piece at the other end of the road. The highway has been called “the worst maintained road in British Columbia” by other bloggers and that description is 100% accurate.
While the drive was terrifying, it also featured some absolutely stunningly picturesque views that I’m sure I won’t be able to experience anywhere else. While the 1000m dropoff was terrifying, it also enabled you to see some of the awesome ruggedness of the Fraser River – the 3rd largest river in Canada. We also wrapped our way around Carpenter Lake – a pristine oasis in the midst of the rugged mountains. The drive was terrifying and also incredibly worth while and I’m glad I did it and was able to experience some of the best of BC’s scenery.
After what seemed like an eternity of driving we saw sings for the town for Gold Bridge – a tiny community featuring little more then a hotel and an automated gas pump, something which we would use later and took a while to figure out.
After passing through the community of Gold Bridge we twisted and turned our way up another gravel road and into the village of Bralorne. Bralorne is another old mining town which is still occupied today. While it’s glory days are likely behind it, the town has seen somewhat of a resurgence of interest in recent years and many of the houses are occupied for at least part of the year. We wound our way through the main street of Bralorne and less then 5 minutes after seeing the last buildings, we found ourselves looking at a well-photographed set of red-roofed buildings nestled along a gravel road which wound it’s way further up into the mountains. We had arrived – and the main street of Bradian lay before us.
The first thing that struck me was how well maintained the road was. I was expecting the town to be at the end of a disused dirt road, but this was a two lane gravel road, a though-fare of sorts to work sites or other properties. It became clear that although the town of Bradian was unoccupied, the area was far from deserted.
I pulled over to the side of the road and parked on the shoulder; leaving enough room for others to pass us if needed. The group of us geared up and marched purposefully towards the first of the buildings.
The First House
The first property we entered was an absolute gem. Based on what we found inside it appears to have been occupied up until at least the early 2000’s and had a working power meter on the outside. I wondered if anyone was still paying the power bill and if the light switches would still work.
The front of the house was all boarded up and I began to wonder how explorable it would be; but a trip around the back revealed that the basement door had been forced open and was sitting ajar. Entry was easy – we simply marched in without a care in the world.
The feeling inside was ghostly. From the photographs of the old homes abandoned in the 1970’s I had expected them to be mostly empty, but this was certainly not the case for this property. It’s as though the previous occupants had one day just decided “enough was enough” and left, leaving all their stuff behind. The basement was full of what you would expect to see – a barbecue, gardening supplies and tools. In the corner I spied a modern breaker panel, with modern wiring. The steps out of the basement were covered in mouse droppings, and unexpectedly, Monopoly money – A game I hadn’t played in many years.
After passing though the basement, we found ourselves in what would have been the living room of the house. Like in the basement, everything seemed to have been left behind; books, magazines, board games (the source of the afore mentioned Monopoly money) furniture, even kitchen appliances! I needed to stop for a moment and take it all in, aside from the mouse droppings and the mess, it looked like a snapshot of the early 2000s’ and a family could return at any time.
In a city, most abandonments are covered with graffiti or have been occupied by teenagers or the homeless, so I was overjoyed to see that this place had been reasonably untouched. Along one wall, I saw that somebody had tagged their names, along with a date – 2020, meaning other explorers had been here recently. Elsewhere I noticed someone scrawled a swastika on the wall, but otherwise the house seemed to be untouched. After trying to take it all in, I proceeded up the stairs into the bedrooms.
Just like the living room, the upstairs bedrooms had been left with most things in place. Beds, dressers, and stuff was everywhere. And aside from the general clutter and mess, it looked like it could almost be occupied. Sadly, because there was so much else to explore, I didn’t get a chance to really dive into the place as much as I would have liked.
After about 20 minutes we crept out of the basement and walked up to the main street. Off to our right, I spied a “no trespassing” sign which looked like it had seen better days. I suspected it had been put up by the Gutenburg’s back when they were working on restoring the town and had been long since forgotten.
The next houses
Once on the main street we decided to work our way up to the top of the street, methodically, going house by house exploring what there was to explore. While the fronts of most of the buildings looked to be boarded up, for the most part there was at least one door or window that had been forced open by people before us.
The next batch of houses were more in line with what I was expected. For the most part they were gutted, save for a few remnants of life in the 70’s. In one house we spied an old-school stove, in another we spotted an ancient furnace from the turn of the century. The influence of the Gutenburg family on some of the properties was clear – in one of them we spotted a cache of what were likely, at the time, brand new doors, as well as a stack of the iconic red, metal shingles. The Gutenburg’s choice of martials was good – the houses which had been restored had held up well over the years, mouse droppings and bug infestations aside.
In a several of the houses we found chaotic crayon scribbles all over the walls. I find it odd that someone would have written all over the walls while the houses were lived in, yet, with the paint peeling below, it was clear it had been there for a long time. In one of the houses we spotted a “color chart” on the wall, likely from the original occupants.
The floor plans of all these houses was identical, which makes sense for houses that were constructed en mass in a short period of time. On the first floor you had a basement, which in most cases had a dirt floor. Above that was the main floor with a kitchen, mud room, living room and a set of stairs going up. Adjacent to the stars was the bathroom. On the top floor you could find two bedrooms, with a storage area under where the roof sloped down below the floor. Overall, it would have likely been a small, cozy place to live.
In most of the houses the interior walls were ripped open and you could see the way the houses were constructed. I found the old-school construction techniques interesting, and was particularity fascinated by the wiring; which consisted of hot and neutral lines run parallel to each other offset from the wooden beams by insulators. They looked almost like power-lines and something I had never encountered before.
At the top of the hill we discovered more evidence of the Gutenburg family. Entry into this house was a little more difficult, with the only opening being a window on the second floor. Inside we found a number of construction supplies including many cans of paint, and an armchair. I could almost imagine sitting down in that chair for a rest after a long day of hard work. Inside this house I found more doors being stored, this time, though they were likely original doors, as I spied stickers from the ’80’s adorning one of them.
Throughout the several hours we spent cris-crossing main street there was a number of vehicles which passed us. It was weird to be doing such exploring in plain view of traffic, but no one stopped or seemed to care despite the fact that we were obviously trespassing. A number of people even smiled and waved as they passed by to whatever destination they were going.
Despite the fact that the road was reasonably well traveled, and I knew the town of Bralorne was mere minutes away, I still felt an overwhelming sense of isolation being in Bradian. Walking down the main street, with abandoned buildings on either side, a cloud of dust blowing in front of me and huge mountains all around I felt… lonely and and almost melancholy. I tried to imagine what it would have been like for the people living in that first house – possibly the last residents of the town surrounded by emptiness, decay and ghosts of the past.
One Final Explore
By the time we got to the end of main street it had been about two hours, and, with a long drive back to the campsite it was getting close to time to leave. Nevertheless I needed to get my picture taken beside the iconic “Bradian” sign, which was clearly being maintained by someone. Unlike the “no trespassing” sign I spotted at the beginning of our adventure, the sign depicting the name of the town had been recently painted and was very legible.
While we were taking pictures at the sign, I spied another house, clearly abandoned, which looked about as modern as the first one we had explored. I crept up the front steps and was immediately blown away by how well preserved it was.
Like the first house, this one seems to have been occupied up until the early 2000’s; The most recent newspaper I found was from 2002. Like the first house, this one was left with all it’s stuff behind, however, unlike the first house which was messy, this one was in much better shape. Walking into the living room, I noticed two chairs, a couch and even a rug on the floor. Beside one of the chairs was a pile of newspapers and magazines. It looked like the owner could come home at any moment. It was eerie.
Inside one of the bedrooms I found a pull-out couch, waiting for someone to make it up and fall asleep, in another one a bunch of hangers, waiting for someone to hang their clothes up. The bathroom, had a tub which looked pretty modern, and in the kitchen… letters. I didn’t get a chance to read all of them, but I took some detailed photos and plan to review them at a later date.
This last house was almost overwhelming; I found myself trying to imagine the people who were living there in 2002; reading their newspapers, writing their letters, and imaging why they had to leave so suddenly.
It was getting later in the day and we needed to head back, I piled the letters up in the kitchen and hid them under a lid, in the hopes of providing some protection from the elements and potential vandals. We packed up the jeep, and began our drive back to Goldbridge.
Once we arrived back in the town of Gloldbridge, I had a look at the gas gauge and decided we needed to refuel up before heading back. The one thing I regret is not taking a picture of the gas pump, because it was just so unlike anything I had ever experienced. On driving into Goldbridge, you’re greeted by a large metal tank, one which you would expect to be used to store bulk fuel. As it turns out, this is also the town’s only gas station – a pump with a credit-card slot sit’s in front, two nozzles – one for diesel and the other for gasoline are on either side and a satellite dish ensures connectivity to the outside world. At first, I couldn’t actually believe this was a self-serve gas station, but an inquiry at the hotel across the street confirmed it. The three of us put our heads together and managed to figure out how the thing worked, and, $80 later we were back on the road to the campsite.
The drive back was mostly uneventful, knowing what to expect this time meant there was much less maniacal laughter on the twisty bits and we took some time to really enjoy the scenery. BC’s mountains really are beautiful in a rugged way.
Once back at camp we took it easy for the rest of the night, spent the next day doing some hiking and golfing in Lillooet and really just enjoying our final day there. We set out early the next day to beat an impending rainstorm and were back home before we knew it.
The short few hours I spent in Bradian were some of the most unique of my life. I can really understand why the Gutenburg’s fell in love with the place back in the late ’90’s and I hope to return some time in the future. There’s so much history tied up in the town, I felt honored to be even a small part of it, and I look forward to reading or hearing about it’s next chapter. Overall, the trip was a resounding success and will likely go down as one of my most treasured experiences.