Gold Rush

In the spring of 1858, news of the discovery of gold along the Thompson and Fraser Rivers of New Caledonia reached the outside world and prompted an excitement not seen since the heady days of the 1849 California gold rush. Thousands of miners immediately abandoned the goldfields of California for the fresh prospects in the British Territory. That year an estimated 30,000 men arrived on the Lower Fraser River.

A painting of a man prospecting for alluvial gold. Click to enlarge,
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Painting "Prospecting for Alluvial Gold in British Columbia" PDP02612 Courtesy of Royal British Columbia Museum

Most travellers to the goldfields came to the new Colony of British Columbia by steamboat from San Francisco or Portland. As long as the search for gold concentrated on the Lower Fraser River, cattle could be ferried across the mouth of the Columbia River to Monticello and driven overland to Olympia. From there they were transported by steamer to Whatcome and driven to the Fraser River goldfields. However, the cost of transporting goods and cattle by steamer was prohibitive. As summer progressed and miners travelled further and further north up the Fraser River in search of gold, the transportation difficulties increased. Travel through the treacherous Fraser Canyon was almost impossible except on foot. The miners had to find an alternate route to the goldfields.

Fortunately, there was another way. The fur traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who had travelled through British Columbia for the previous four decades, knew an alternate route to the heart of the goldfields that circumvented the Fraser Canyon. The alternative trail led through the interior of Washington Territory and joined the former Hudson’s Bay Company fur brigade trail at the mouth of the Okanogan River on the Columbia. From there it followed the brigade trail through the Okanagan Valley to the Thompson River at Fort Kamloops and then westward to the Fraser River. It had the advantage of being entirely overland and it reached the Fraser River north of the Fraser Canyon.