Barkerville’s Painless Jones Schwarzbier Celebrates Black History Month

Quesnel’s Barkerville Brewing has brewed a special beer in honour of BC’s first licenced dentist, William Allen “Painless” Jones.

Barkerville Brewing is celebrating Black History Month with the launch of a new beer called Painless Jones Schwarzbier. The Quesnel-based brewery, which is named after the nearby historic town of Barkerville, has a strong connection to BC history, with much of its branding and beer names associated with stories from our province’s past.

Painless Jones Schwarzbier is a dark German-style lager with rich, bread-like malts and a roasted, velvety character. A touch of traditional European noble hops is balanced by a slight sweetness and followed by the clean, dry finish typical of lagers.

Dr. William Jones (Photo courtesy of Barkerville archives)

Who Was “Painless” Jones?

William Allen Jones was born in North Carolina in 1831. His father Allen Jones reportedly bought his family’s freedom from slavery for $5,000 and moved them to Ohio. There, William and two of his brothers, John and Elias, all attended Oberlin College, one of the only U.S. colleges that were available to Black men and women at the time.

The three Jones brothers were part of a group of about 800 Black Americans who came north over a period of several months in 1858, responding to an invitation from the Colony of Vancouver Island.

In his book, Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia, Crawford Kilian writes that the invitation was delivered on April 14, 1858, at a meeting at Zion Church in San Francisco, then the largest city on the west coast of North America, by Jeremiah Nagle, a landowner in the Vancouver Island colony and the Captain of the steamship Commodore, which made regular voyages between San Francisco and Victoria:

“Standing by the pulpit with maps of Vancouver Island, Nagle answered a rapid stream of questions about the colony. He also had with him a letter from ‘a gentleman in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company of undoubted veracity,’ giving details about the colony and welcoming the Black Californians. This gentleman must have been the governor himself, James Douglas, but his letter does not appear to have survived.”

The three Jones brothers initially settled on Salt Spring Island, “but then with the lure of the Gold Rush, William and his youngest brother Elias headed to Barkerville to seek their fortunes as many people did at the time,” explained Fran Morrison, a director of the BC Black History Awareness Society. “We don’t know how successful they were, but we do know that sometime around 1864 or 1865 they both returned to the States.” Elias stayed there, but William undertook his Dental Studies and then returned to Barkerville and became its resident dentist.

When dentistry became recognized as a medical profession, William Jones was the first person to become certified as a dentist in British Columbia in 1886. He died of pneumonia in 1897. He was buried in the Williams Creek Cemetery. 

Replica Sign for Dr. Jones’ dentist office at Barkerville (photo: Peter Schildwaechter)

The Historic Town of Barkerville  

Barkerville was the central hub of the Cariboo Gold Rush, a true “boomtown” named after William Barker who was one of the first miners to strike gold there in 1862. The town was all but destroyed by fire in 1868 but was rebuilt and continued to thrive for a time. By the turn of the 20th century, however, it was in decline. Barkerville was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1924 and a Provincial Heritage Property in 1958, which is when major restoration efforts began. Barkerville is now “the largest living-history museum in western North America.”

The reconstruction of the building that housed Dr. Jones’ dentist office was completed in 1961 with the assistance of the British Columbia Dental Association. The replica office includes a chair and a variety of dental instruments appropriate to the era, though none of them were owned or used specifically by Dr. Jones himself.

Today, Barkerville Historic Town & Park is a popular tourist site that features more than 125 heritage buildings, period displays, satellite museums, restaurants and shops. Throughout the summer season, actors reenact historic characters, bringing the town to life for visitors. There are campgrounds and cottages for overnight accommodations.

Portrait of William Allen Jones by Gene Grooms (1994); BC Black History Awareness Society Collection

Every February is Black History Month

The BC Black History Awareness Society was formed in 1994 to raise awareness about BC Black History. During Black History Month, the Society hosts events that include exhibits, book readings, concerts and tours.

This story originally appeared on the BC Ale Trail.

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