Gold Rush

GOLD: NOT YET A RUSH

British Columbia was a sparsely populated region dominated by First Nations tribes and fur traders until 1850. Gold was discovered in one of the northern island chains, the Queen Charlottes, and the beginning of a new era was begun. This first race for riches seemingly yielded less gold than worth the trouble, but British interests were rekindled enough to lay further claim to the region. Americans could not be allowed to dominate the entire West Coast of North America if there was gold to be had!

Trace amounts of gold started popping up in fur trader journals since the 1830s. Companies who employed these men did not want news of these findings to spread. It could have ruined the fur trade. One of the First Nations tribes, the Secwepemc, brought a substantial amount to the attention of Victoria and Vancouver Island Governor James Douglas in 1856. He knew a land dispute with the USA was imminent and forced Britain's hand in the matter by sending the gold to San Francisco. The public had been alerted, "There's gold in them thar hills!"

THE RACE FOR RICHES

Immigration and mining economies exploded along rivers in British Columbia. The port city of Victoria, previously home to hundreds of people, grew to over 30,000 residents almost overnight. Most people were arriving by boat, making it a natural place for businesses to set up. Mainland, then called New Caledonia, is where the majority of the gold was found, but almost everyone stopped in Victoria on their way.

Fort Yale was a major hub in the early gold rush activities. Native populations, as well as varied European and American groups, worked alongside one another in peace and war. Deaths coinciding with the rush, due to smallpox and murder, numbered into the thousands. No formal numbers can be tallied, but the Fraser Canyon War was the bloodiest of the battles. It was started over the rape of the French woman. McGowan's War, on the other hand, ended without a shot being fired. It was politically charged and dealt with the protection given by Fort Yale to a black citizen of the USA. Both wars proved the need for further governance. British Columbia officially became a Canadian province in 1871.

More people in British Columbia meant more areas were explored in depth, leading to further gold discoveries. The Fraser Gold Rush shifted into the Cariboo Gold Rush. The timing of this gold rush coincided with the American Civil War. British interests were aided by USA miners moving closer to home. Skirmishes and deaths were frequent between the remaining minors and native populations. British movements refused to stop, though. First Nations tribes were mandated under the Indian Act near the end of these rushes.

Many settlements that became established during these gold rushes still exist today. Mining moved in different directions because the amounts of gold were not worth the efforts exerted on such a large scale. Still, the population boost brought into British Columbia during the Gold Rush Period forever impacted the region.