The Fraser Canyon Gold Rush
Gold fever forever transforms mainland B.C. as Americans and other foreigners pour in
In the early 1850s, the Nlaka’pamux people found gold along the Fraser River. Word spread to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and then, for several years, stopped there. Thanks to a tight-lipped policy, the company was able to mine the river in secret.
That all changed in 1857 when HBC sent 800 ounces of gold to San Francisco to be refined. The secret was out.
The next year, thousands of miners and would-be gold seekers from San Francisco began descending on Fort Victoria, then a small HBC outpost. Ships arriving with hundreds of passengers became a daily occurrence. Most were American, but many hailed from as far away as China, all on their way to the Fraser Canyon. Within the year, some 30,000 individuals made the trip with their sights on mining gold.
“Fraser River Fever” was so fervent among Americans that U.S. President James Buchanan took the unprecedented step of appointing an emissary to the region to represent and protect American interests. Vancouver Island Governor James Douglas saw a profitable opportunity in this, as well as a means to assert order in the now-bustling Fraser Canyon. He stationed a British navy ship at the mouth of the Fraser River and began charging incoming miners a 10-shilling mining license. Douglas also single-handedly declared the mainland a British colony, thereby affirming British claim to the resource-rich land.
Ultimately, the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush heralded a new era for British Columbia: one less tied to the fur trade, with an influx of settlers.
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2. Mackie, Richard. The Colonization of Vancouver Island, 1849-1858. BC Studies: The British Columbia Quarterly, Winter 1992/93, ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/bcstudies/article/download/1441/1485/.
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