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BC Gold Rush Press Posts

Gold fever comes to Victoria a.k.a. Tent Town

Outside the walls of the HBC Fort Victoria, a tent town sprang up. John Keast Lord of the Royal Engineers observed bartenders and monte-dealers plying their trade in large canvas shelters, “ablaze of light, redolent of cigars, smashes, cobblers, and cocktails.”

Tent town Victoria
Tent town Victoria

The Hudson’s Bay Company first took some gold dust and nuggets to be assayed at the San Francisco Mint in February 1858. By the end of April, ships were heading north to Victoria.

Steamers (sternwheelers or sidewheelers) began making round trips between San Francisco and Victoria in ten days, taking 500 passengers and full freights north each time.

From the Knickerbocker Magazine in New York:

Many of the steamers and vessels went up with men huddled like sheep — so full that all could not sit or lie down together…

The goldseekers arrived to find out there wasn’t any accommodation for them. So they pegged up wedge-shaped canvas tents, lean-tos and other make-shift shelters.

Lekwungen Territory

Across the way was a Songhees village. This was part of the larger Lekwungen Territory. The Songhees were comprised of several local groups who collectively referred to themselves as Lekwungen. They lived in houses with single-pitch shed roofs over horizontal plank walls parallel to the waterfront.

Monte: a card game that became popular during the California gold rush. It was originally played in Mexico and brought north after the Mexican War in 1847. Players bet on the turn of the card by the dealer.

Smash: gets its name from mint leaves which were ‘smashed up’ in the shaking of ice, whiskey and sugar. Goldseekers preferred to drink their smashes quickly; not sipped.

Cobbler: a cocktail made with either brandy or whiskey and slices of fruit, sugar, and ice. Cobblers were often served with a straw so one didn’t swallow any pits.

Here is my page from my graphic novel I’m working on, “Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush.”

Can you spot the figure standing next to the San Francisco Mint?

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Fort St. James – the hub of New Caledonia

Before the Fraser River Gold Rush, the Hudson’s Bay Company ruled New Caledonia (British Columbia) like a company town.

Fort St. James on Stuart Lake was considered to be the hub of fur trading activity and the fort’s chief factor was responsible for the entire New Caledonia. Chief K’wah of the Dakelh was considered by the HBC to be a key ally.

By the time James Douglas started working at Fort St. James, there had been several attacks and reprisals between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the neighbouring Dakelh. Douglas’ first assignment was to make sure that Fort St. James had enough fish. Salmon was the staple diet, not just for the Dakelh but also for the HBC workers and their families.

Although it seemed on the surface that the HBC had a good relationship with the First Nations, on further reading it becomes apparent that in fact the HBC allowed their chief factors to mete out punishment as they saw fit. Sometimes they were equally harsh with their own voyageurs and clerks who were basically stuck in the middle of nowhere and had to wait for the next brigade trip to get away.

An illustration of this prevailing attitude occurred in 1828, when James Douglas took it upon himself to deal with the alleged murderer of an HBC employee, when the Chief Factor, William Connelly (Douglas’ father-in-law), was away.

In his book, “The History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia (formerly New Caledonia)” Father Morice (1859-1938) wrote:

For some reason, the nature of which cannot now be ascertained, two young men had killed two of the Company’s servants… One of them had already paid the penalty of his crime by being secretly slain by the Company’s people, who had burned his remains in such a way as to suggest an accident as the cause of his death. Several years elapsed when, in the summer of 1828, his survivor, Tzœlhnolle [or Zuthnolly], hazarded a visit to the Stuart Lake Indians. These, however, he found to be absent to a man, and of the women-folk left in the camp only one is mentioned, who had but lately been delivered of a child. Mr. Connolly was likewise away, having gone down to [Fort] Alexandria to take up the outfit for the following year, so that Mr. Douglas was left temporarily in charge of the place.

On being told of the presence of Tzœlhnolle, that gentleman [James Douglas] immediately took with him a few of the fort men, armed with hoes and other garden implements, and made for the untenanted lodges of the Indians.

Douglas fired at him with his blunderbuss (a type of short musket) as Zuthnolly tried to get away.

…the [musket] ball went wide of the mark, whereupon, with hoes and the remnants of a camp-fire near by, his assistants stunned the Indian and reduced his lifeless body to the condition of a shapeless jelly. Then, by order of Douglas, they passed a stout rope around his neck and proceeded to drag him in the direction of the fort.

“The man he killed was eaten by the dogs; by the dogs he must be eaten,” declared the inexorable clerk.

James Douglas and murder at Fort St. James
James Douglas and conflict at Fort St. James
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Conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC

There was increasing conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC (Hudson’s Bay Company) in the years before the two fur trade companies merged.

Fur traders working for the HBC criticized the company for being slow to respond to situations while the NorthWest Company ran roughshod over them.

1816 was a bad year. In Athabasca (north Saskatchewan), the HBC was short of provisions but they faced open hostilities from the NWC. As a result, 16 HBC employees died of starvation. At Red River, 22 settlers including Governor Robert Semple were killed in what became known as the Seven Oaks Massacre.

Lord Selkirk, whose idea it was to establish settlers in the area, against the wishes of the HBC, travelled to the North Westers’ headquarters at Fort William. In retaliation of the massacre, Selkirk and his private army seized the fort and arrested several of the partners.

The NorthWest Company had a strong position in the Athabasca area but there were mounting problems within the company ranks.

At Ile á la Crosse in northwestern Saskatchewan, both the companies had forts there. The NorthWest Company had Fort Black and the HBC named theirs Fort Superior. Here both sides engaged in guerilla warfare.

Peter Skene Ogden was one of the young Northwesters accused of leading the bitter rivalry at Ile á la Crosse, where the HBC’s post and goods were captured under warrant in 1817. James Douglas was named by the HBC for harassing those at Fort Superior.

Both of these men later went on to become Chief Traders with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Eventually, James Douglas became the colonial Governor of Vancouver Island and British Columbia and a key political figure in the Fraser River Gold Rush.

In my graphic book, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush, I have included a biography of James Douglas, including his time in the fur trade.

Conflicts between NWC and HBC
Conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC

 

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Simon Fraser reaches Musqueam territory

After weeks of paddling and rock climbing down the Fraser River, Simon Fraser reached Musqueam territory. Musqueam means People of the River Grass. The grass (pronounced m-uh-th-kwi) was found at the mouth of the Fraser River. At the bottom panel (A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush) you can see some of this river grass. Simon Fraser passed by the impressive longhouses painted with designs in black, red ochre, and white.

Most likely, Simon Fraser passed by c̓əsnaʔəm (ts-suss-naam) the largest Musqueam village that dates back about 5,000 years.

One can almost imagine the shouts of relief and joy (and the occasional musket blast) as the crew finally reached what they had hoped would be the mouth of the Columbia River. But, their joy was short-lived when Simon Fraser realized, according to his compass, that they were much further north. In fact, they had reached the Strait of Georgia. Simon Fraser didn’t realize that they weren’t far from the open ocean.

Simon Fraser reaches Musqueam territory
Simon Fraser reaches Musqueam territory (A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush)
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Food of the Fraser Canyon: Salmon Oil and Saskatoon Berries

During their epic journey in 1808, Simon Fraser and his Northwest Company crew were treated to the food of the Fraser Canyon,  including salmon oil and salmon eggs.

Salmon was a major source of fats and oils. How did they extract the salmon oil? This was done by pounding out a rock to form a large hollow. Next, the hollow was heated with hot rocks from a fire. When the hollow was hot enough to boil water, the rocks were removed and replaced with salmon heads. The salmon heads boiled there for a day and then it was allowed to cool down. A yellowish layer formed on top, similar to cream on a milk pan. This was skimmed off. Below that was the salmon oil which was then scooped into salmon skin bottles. All the bones that were left were soft enough to chew. The oil was stored for winter use.

Children would snack on the soft salmon bones from the hole after they had been cooked down.

Simon Fraser also enjoyed salmon eggs, which was considered a delicacy. People buried salmon eggs in the ground in birch bark baskets. They were kept in the ground until early Spring after the ground had thawed. These were often served with dried Saskatoon berries, noted for their sweet flavour.

Dried salmon was sometimes stored in underground cache pits. These cache pits were dug within their winter homes (dome shaped structures with roof entrances) and lined with grass and pine needles. In other places, dried salmon was kept in wooden boxes on raised platforms or in a tree. The boxes had spaces to allow for the wind to circulate around the fish.

Here is a page from my graphic novel in progress: A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush:

Food of the Fraser Canyon
Food of the Fraser Canyon – Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush – graphic novel
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Coast Salish Villages on the Fraser River

On his trip down the Fraser River, Northwest Company explorer Simon Fraser encountered many Coast Salish villages with longhouses. There was a longhouse in the central Fraser Valley which was over 200 metres long. Simon Fraser also noted another longhouse at Musqueam behind a palisade that was over half a kilometre long.

Coast Salish villages often consisted of a series of interconnected longhouses, forming what appeared as a single structure sometimes for hundreds of metres long. Within these longhouses, place and space were divided according to a family’s status. The most prestigious occupied the largest and most defensible quarters.

House posts were carved with the family’s spirit helpers or the heroic deeds of prominent ancestors. A change in the family’s status meant usually meant that the house post would move too. Moving a house post was not an easy thing to do, but not uncommon when families split up and moved on.

The Sto:lo population consisted of about 3,500 people in the early 1800s. The natives lived in a clearly regulated environment, with the river dictating their life cycle. The river people consisted of numerous tribes, including the Katzie, Coquitlam, Whonnock, Nicomen, Pilalt, and Tait; the largest tribes, however, were the Musqueam, Kwantlen, and Chilliwack.

This is a page from my upcoming graphic novel I’m working on, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush.

Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush
Simon Fraser’s trip – Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush – graphic novel
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1808: Mutiny on Simon Fraser’s expedition

Simon Fraser’s expedition nearly dissolved into mutiny. It wasn’t long before the voyageurs came to the conclusion that this route wasn’t the best one after all. The river was so treacherous that their birchbark canoes were falling apart.

The voyageurs weren’t pleased at the prospect of carrying everything on their backs and borrowing canoes from the Native tribes they encountered along the way.

As Fraser’s expedition progressed down the river the Carrier and Secwapmec people warned him that the river he was following could not be navigated by canoe. Fraser, however, did not believe them.

If Fraser had listened to them, he would have learned that the best way to the coast was to follow Seton and Anderson Lakes from the junction of the Fraser River and Seton River, to the portage at Pemberton and then to follow the Lillooet and Harrison Rivers south to the coast. This route was the one that the Stat’imc had used to trade with coastal Ucwalmicw for centuries.

But Simon Fraser pressed on to a village called Camchin, at the confluence of two great rivers. This was the site of the future gold rush town of Lytton.

Below is the second page from my graphic novel that I’m working on, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush.

Mutiny on the Fraser River
Mutiny on the Fraser River – Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush – graphic novel
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Simon Fraser discovers the Fraser River

I am working on my graphic novel, A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush. I thought that a good place to start was Simon Fraser and the river he discovered. Fraser’s goal was to find the Columbia River which emptied into the Pacific Ocean (Astoria, Oregon). The mouth of the Columbia River had been located by this time but the rest of the river was unknown to European fur traders who saw this potential route as the key to getting their furs to market.

Fraser River - from my Fishing for Gold graphic novel
Simon Fraser looks for the Columbia: A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush – graphic novel
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The North West Company and the route to gold

The name ‘Fraser’s River’ or ‘Frazer’s River’ would be tied to the gold rush that changed the course of British Columbia history, repeated in bold headlines from California to Australia.

What’s in a name?

Simon Fraser - North West Company explorer
Simon Fraser – North West Company explorer

One day while farming in Upper Canada, Simon Fraser was told that there were thousands of foolhardy goldseekers trying to make their way up the same river he had explored fifty years earlier in 1808.

Back then, Simon Fraser was an explorer with the North West Company; the first fur trade company to establish forts west of the Rockies. Fraser named this vast area New Caledonia. He established Fort George in 1807 (present day Prince George).

Simon Fraser was determined to find a river route to Oregon. The Dakelh told him that the wide river that flowed by the fort, Ltha-Koh-Cho, emptied into the coast. Could this river be the Columbia River?

This river becomes too treacherous to paddle the whole way, the Natives told him. There were easier alternative routes to the coast.

After the ice melted and the ground had thawed in May 1808, Simon Fraser and two Native guides, 19 voyageurs and 2 clerks set out on their journey.

Simon Fraser concluded the Natives had been right after all. This river was not a good way to travel! Fraser returned to Fort George after the nail-biting trip with a diary full of stories of climbing sheer bluffs, hanging onto rock walls with bare hands and abandoning their canoes. At one point the voyageurs, exhausted, injured and disheartened, turned mutinous. Fraser talked them out of it.

Later, his friend David Thompson named the river after Fraser.

Note: My drawing is an interpretation of what Simon Fraser looked like during his journey back to Fort George. According to Kwantlen oral history, the fur traders were a bearded, ‘fierce-looking’ lot.

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Barrels of Beans and Bacon

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the main items to be imported into the colony during the gold rush were barrels of beans and bacon. Beans and bacon were considered food staples back then. As one goldseeker remarked:

“At the inn here we enjoyed what our Yankee companions called a ‘square meal,’ of the generally characteristic fare of the colony, bacon and beans; the latter are abundantly imported in barrels from the States. Here also, after our toilsome march, we indulged in a good wash, the only really cheap comfort obtainable in British Columbia.”

Not only did merchants import kegs of bacon and barrels of beans but also:
crushed sugar
Golden Gate Flour
Hope Butter
Rio Coffee
J & H Lard
Black Tea
Turk’s Island Salt
mats of China Rice
boxes of Macy’s candles
Harvey’s Scotch Whiskey in Puncheons
Holland Gin in Pipes
Champagne Cider in Barrels and Kegs
Edinborough Ale in Stone Jugs or bulk
Bottled Porter
India Pale Ale in pints and quarts
dried apples
hot whiskey punches
barley
bran

Viscount Milton and Dr. Cheadle stayed at J.D. Cusheon’s hotel in the Cariboo district of British Columbia in 1863 at the height of the gold rush:

Our quarters at Cusheon’s Hotel were vile. A blanket spread on the floor of a loft was our bedroom, but the swarms of lice which infested the place and rendered sleep almost impossible, and made us think with regret on the soft turf of the prairie, or a mossy couch in the woods. The fare, limited to beefsteaks, bread and dried apples, was wretchedly cooked and frightfully expensive. Beef was worth fifty cents or two shillings a pound, flour the same, a “drink” of anything except water was half a dollar, nor could the smallest article, even a box of matches, be bought for less than a “quarter” -one shilling. Before we reached Williams Creek we paid a dollar and a quarter, or five shillings, for a single pint bottle of stout.

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