Gold Rushes in British Columbia

Between the years of 1858-1863, in the interior regions of British Columbia, there were two major gold rushes which played significant roles in the shaping of the province.  These rushes occurred one right after the other in areas which had previously been known as prominent fur trading territories and had immediate impact in that they brought thousands of prospectors and adventurers to an area which had, up until that point, been sparsely populated at best.

Rush #1: The Fraser River Gold Rush

  • began in 1858
  • brought over 30,000 people – mostly Americans who arrived looking for opportunities after the California Gold Rush had run its course
  • occurred on the shores of the Fraser River between what is now Hope and Lillooet
  • had the major result of having the mainland of British Columbia declared a British colony in order to prevent a loss of British control in the region
A View of the Fraser Canyon.

A View of the Fraser Canyon.

An illustrated look at the B.C. goldfields.

An illustrated look at the B.C. goldfields.

Gold Rush #2: The Cariboo Gold Rush

  • from 1860-1863
  • this rush had more Canadian and British prospectors than its predecessor
  • the commercial center was Barkerville
  • the major result of this second rush was the construction of a 650 km road from Yale into the Cariboo Mountains which would become a major transportation route during the later development of the mainland
The town of Barkerville, taken in 1865.

The town of Barkerville, taken in 1865.

The Cariboo Road, going through the Fraser Canyon. Photo taken in 1867.

The Cariboo Road, going through the Fraser Canyon. Photo taken in 1867.

One of the major downsides of these rushes was that they were directly responsible for an increase in tensions and conflicts with the native peoples of the region.  While contact with Europeans had been made years prior, this interaction had been in the industry of the fur trade.  In this capacity, the new comers had arrived in very small numbers, had a far more temporary set up in the way of isolated forts, and had worked with the aboriginal peoples using their knowledge and skills in order to increase their trade.  This was still an introduction that altered the way of life for those native peoples in the area but it was an arrangement that worked more along the line of a partnership where things may not have been entirely fair and equal but there were benefits to be had by both groups through the cooperation.  In contrast to this, the gold rush arrivals were operating on a far more personal agenda and these newcomers simply swarmed in and took over the area.

While these alterations absolutely had their negative attributes both for the aboriginal peoples as well as for the fur trade itself, they did prove to be the catalyst that propelled British Columbia forward.  The sudden and massive increase in inhabitants lead to a sudden boom in business for a number of individuals including farmers, merchants, hotel owners, and builders as the province began to take on a more modern appearance almost over night.

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