Fraser River Gold Rush Begins Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Fraser River gold rush attracted an influx of prospectors and settlers into western Canada that stimulated later development of the interior of British Columbia.

Summary of Event

In 1857, much of North America was disrupted by a great economic depression known as the Panic of 1857 Panic of 1857;and Fraser River gold rush[Fraser River gold rush] . Many banks, the railroads, and a wide array of businesses went bankrupt. As a result of the economic uncertainties created by the depression, coupled with the depletion of gold in California, many westerners turned to Canada to seek their fortunes. Earlier reports of gold being found in the Thompson River—a tributary of the Fraser River to the north—prompted interest in the Fraser River canyon. On March 23, 1858, a small group of prospectors from California California;and Fraser River gold rush[Fraser River gold rush] discovered gold at Hill’s Bar on the Fraser River, ten miles north of Fort Hope, British Columbia. Their discovery started a gold rush that rivaled that of California a decade earlier. Gold rushes;Fraser River Fraser River gold rush British Columbia;Fraser River gold rush Mining;in British Columbia[British Columbia] [kw]Fraser River Gold Rush Begins (Mar. 23, 1858) [kw]River Gold Rush Begins, Fraser (Mar. 23, 1858) [kw]Gold Rush Begins, Fraser River (Mar. 23, 1858) [kw]Begins, Fraser River Gold Rush (Mar. 23, 1858) Gold rushes;Fraser River Fraser River gold rush British Columbia;Fraser River gold rush Mining;in British Columbia[British Columbia] [g]Canada;Mar. 23, 1858: Fraser River Gold Rush Begins[3230] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Mar. 23, 1858: Fraser River Gold Rush Begins[3230] [c]Economics;Mar. 23, 1858: Fraser River Gold Rush Begins[3230] Douglas, Sir James Laumeister, Frank

By July of 1858, several thousand miners had moved into the Fraser River area. By the end of the 1858 season, nearly two million dollars worth of gold had been taken from Hill’s Bar. Subsequent discoveries of gold farther north on the Fraser River at Boston’s Bar and China Bar caused new excitement among local prospectors. However, news of these discoveries did not become widespread beyond the interior of British Columbia and Victoria until February of the following year.

Meanwhile, during the summer of 1858, fortune seekers from Vancouver and Victoria began sailing up the Fraser River to Fort Hope and farther upstream to Yale. In July of 1858 a sternwheeler called the Umatilla arrived in Yale carrying several thousand miners. Most of these miners had for some time been working their way north from California. Yale eventually became the major distribution center for prospectors and entrepreneurs who were moving goods in and out of the canyon.

Toward the end of 1858 many of the miners who had already collected significant amounts of gold traveled downstream to Yale to send their earnings to Victoria for safekeeping. In Victoria, the governor of British Columbia, James Douglas Douglas, Sir James , sent a sample of about eight hundred ounces of the gold to San Francisco San Francisco;and Fraser River gold rush[Fraser River gold rush] for minting. Some historians have suggested that in February of 1859 a local San Franciscan merchant, aware of the existence of the Canadian gold at the local mint, leaked information on its source to the public at a meeting of the San Francisco Volunteer Firemen’s Association. Although conclusive documentation for this particular story has not surfaced, it is clear that by the spring of 1859 the rush was on.

Throughout the early part of 1859 prospectors from California, Oregon, and Washington headed for British Columbia. Many traveled by sea, while others made their way overland using existing trails and, in some cases, carving out new ones. By July of 1859 it has been estimated that Yale’s population had risen to more than thirty thousand people. Victoria, British Columbia’s capital, had already been supporting a growing population of adventurers, but with news of gold having been found farther inland, Victoria’s own, mostly transient, population exploded.

By 1866, however, most of the surface deposits in the goldfields had become depleted. As had been the case in California, only those miners who had sufficient capital to organize large-scale operations remained in the gold-mining business. Many prospectors remained in Canada and explored tributaries of the northern reaches of the Fraser River system. Although some discoveries of small deposits of gold were recorded, none approached the value of the initial Fraser River strike.

With the Fraser River gold rush came numerous economic, social, and political changes. For example, at the height of the gold rush Frank Laumeister, Laumeister, Frank an entrepreneur who had not done well at prospecting, brought twenty-one camels Camels;in British Columbia[British Columbia] from Arizona to the Fraser River country with the goal of charging miners excessive packing fees. One camel, Laumeister often boasted, could pack more than a thousand pounds of goods, nearly three times as much as a mule. This venture came to be known by the miners as the Dromedary Express, despite the fact that Bactrian, not dromedary, camels were used.

Perhaps the most significant by-product of the gold rush was the development of British Columbia’s infrastructure. In 1861, a small crew of Royal Engineers from England began surveying the Fraser River canyon to lay the foundations for building a road that eventually ran from Yale to Lytton. This road came to be known as the Caribou Wagon Road Caribou Wagon Road British Columbia;Caribou Wagon Road and even now is considered a marvel of engineering: To carry out the construction, the engineers had to navigate the steep slopes of the Fraser River canyon, building tunnels at several places where the canyon is particularly steep, including a two-thousand-foot tunnel cut out of solid stone near China Bar. By 1863, most of the eighteen-foot-wide road had been completed in the general vicinity of the southern portion of the Fraser canyon drainage. By 1865 the road was complete, extending more than four hundred miles north, where it linked the Fraser River country with other parts of British Columbia.

Significance

Although the gold rush opened the interior of British Columbia for economic growth and prosperity, the entire process did not unfold without problems. From 1858 through to the early 1860’s, the Fraser Canyon region lacked a stable system of law enforcement. Governor Douglas Douglas, Sir James in Victoria had foreseen problems but had not predicted the sheer numbers of people who would be drawn to British Columbia by the gold rush. Douglas therefore was not adequately prepared to manage such a large influx of people. Conflicts among miners created a general environment of chaos. When disputes arose, informal leaders usually settled them. However, some of these “foreign judges,” as they were known, had criminal pasts of their own that could, in many cases, be traced to the goldfields of California. California;and Fraser River gold rush[Fraser River gold rush] Thus, many of their judicial decisions, often sanctioned by showing off their guns, were self-serving and seldom consistent with either British or Canadian law. In fact, Governor Douglas called the California miners specimens of “the worst of the population of San Francisco: the very dregs, in fact, of society.”

On several occasions Fraser River miners came into direct conflict with local Native Americans over land rights. Some of these conflicts escalated into armed altercations. During the summer of 1858, for example, several miners began cutting into an embankment at a place called Spuzzum, several miles north of Yale. In the process, the miners inadvertently uncovered an Indian burial ground. With callous indifference, they tossed aside bones and burial goods they found. Several days after the incident, infuriated local Indians began sniping at the miners. The miners responded by forming a vigilante committee of about forty men and set out to punish the Indians. They eventually killed seven Indians and burned the Indians’ village to the ground.

News of these conflicts finally reached Governor Douglas in Victoria. Fearing that the outbreaks of violence might develop into an American attempt to annex British Columbia for the United States, Douglas arranged to send several British warships carrying marines to Fort Hope. His suspicions were not entirely unwarranted. Reports had reached Victoria concerning the activities of a former California judge named Ned McGowan. McGowan, who also had a criminal record, had been openly encouraging an insurrection against the British crown. Upon the arrival of the warships most of the fighting subsided. McGowan, along with his followers, curtailed their activities. The presence of the British military, coupled with a growing influx of people not directly interested in mining, produced a long period of stability for the Fraser River region.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elliot, Gordon R. Barker Quesnel and the Cariboo Gold Rush. Vancouver, B.C.: Douglas & McIntyre, 1978. A general history of the Fraser River gold rush including its historical impact on British Columbia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gough, Barry M. Gunboat Frontier: British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846-1890. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984. Briefly discusses the initial discovery of gold at Hill’s Bar, as well as conflicts between miners and native peoples.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leduc, Joanne, ed. Overland from Canada to British Columbia: By Mr. Thomas McMicking of Queenston, Canada West. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1981. Anecdotal history that includes several brief accounts of personal experiences of various characters associated with the Fraser River gold rush.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Molyneux, Geoffrey. British Columbia: An Illustrated History. 2d ed. Vancouver, B.C.: Raincoast Books, 2002. Attractively illustrated history of British Columbia that includes some material on the Fraser River gold rush.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Myers, Jay. The Fitzhenry and Whiteside Book of Canadian Facts and Dates. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1986. A chronological listing of events and dates for the general history of Canada.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Swindle, Lewis J. The Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858: As Reported by the California Newspapers of 1858—Was It a “Humbug?” Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, 2001. Comprehensive history of the Fraser River gold rush by an amateur geologist who has written on several gold rushes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Waldman, Carl, ed. Atlas of the North American Indian. New York: Facts On File, 1985. Detailed reference source on Native American history and culture. Includes brief discussion of impact of gold rushes in western North America on indigenous populations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Watkins, Mel, ed. Handbook to the Modern World: Canada. New York: Facts On File, 1993. Details Fraser River gold rush and the eventual economic impact of gold mining on the development of British Columbia.

United States Acquires Oregon Territory

California Gold Rush Begins

Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales

Dominion Lands Act Fosters Canadian Settlement

Canada Forms the North-West Mounted Police

Canada’s Indian Act

Gold Is Discovered in the Transvaal

Klondike Gold Rush Begins

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