The Oregon Treaty and the British Corn Crisis of 1845-1846

What did the British Corn Crisis have to do with the Oregon Treaty?

In the autumn of 1845 the potato and wheat crops in Britain failed. Famine threatened. Grain from other countries such as the United States were too expensive because of an old tax known as the “Corn Laws” which applied to all cereal crop imports.

At the same time, James Polk was elected president of the United States.  In his campaign, President James Polk promised to expand American territory and push back the borders all the way to the 54th parallel in the north. His slogan “54°40‘ or fight” summed up his intentions.

Why 54°40′?

map before Oregon Treaty signed

disputed area highlighted in yellow before Oregon Treaty was signed

For many years, the northern coast was controlled by two fur trading monopolies—the Russian-American Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

After years of clashes between the two  rival companies and conflicts with the Natives, Governor Wrangel decided to hand over the Alaskan panhandle to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

On June 1, 1840, chief factor James Douglas formally took possession of the territory from Governor Wrangel and the Russian-American Company Fort Redoubt St. Dionysius was renamed Fort Stikine. The city of Wrangell, Alaska sits on that same site.

Oregon Territory – land of plenty

The Hudson’s Bay Company had forts and trading posts throughout the Oregon territory which covered a vast area from the 42° parallel (the border with Mexican province of Alta California) to the border with Russia at 54°40′. Competition from American trading vessels was virtually non-existent. The Hudson’s Bay Company had trading posts in Mexico. One of the HBC’s most southerly trading posts was Yerba Buena (the present site of San Francisco).

The Willamette Valley in Oregon (known as the Columbia District) turned out to be a boon for the HBC. They established farms and raised cattle and grew wheat and vegetables which they exported to their own forts as well as Mexican communities in California. They even exported their flour to the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Manifest Destiny

President Polk was determined annex the entire territory of Oregon for the United States. He didn’t necessarily want to start a war with Britain but what better way to take over an enemy’s land than by simply moving in?

Wagon trains of American settlers arrived hungry and destitute at Fort Vancouver. The chief factor John McLoughlin took pity on these new arrivals and provided them with beef and cattle to raise for themselves. Eventually it became obvious that the sheer numbers of new settlers were going to overwhelm the Hudson’s Bay Company’s resources. It wasn’t long before the settlers demanded a democratic government to represent their interests.

The HBC tried to sound the alarm that it was about to lose control of the entire Oregon territory. The American military began surveying the coastal waters and the Columbia River. It didn’t help that the newly elected British government was critical of the Company.

Irish Famine

For the vast majority of Irish farmers, their main crop was one variety of potato. When a fungus  arrived in 1845 it quickly spread across Ireland. By harvest time there was nothing. Famine was imminent. During the winter of 1845-1846 the British government spent £100,000 on American maize which was sold to the poor. For those who could afford it, the maize was hard to grind down and make a meal out of.

Seeing as how they would be dependent on the United States for food, Britain wanted to keep good relations with the United States. The new foreign secretary, Lord Aberdeen, decided to give away the Columbia territory without a fight. On June 15, 1846, The U.S. and Britain signed the Treaty of Oregon which established the boundary between their territories at the 49th parallel.

The HBC received some compensation for the loss of their southern forts, but it was a blow to their operations.

Goldseekers came north for the Fraser River gold rush just twelve years after the Oregon Treaty was signed. Many American miners still believed in ‘Manifest Destiny’ and that the land up to 54°40′ was rightfully theirs.

What is the significance of 54°40′ today? This is the latitude of the border between British Columbia and Alaska.

Barrels of Beans and Square Meals in the BC Gold Rush

What is a square meal? A square meal in the gold rush was one that kept gold seekers full all day and gave them enough energy so they could hike the long trails to the gold diggings. The term ‘square meal’ was a common term with Americans as the term square meant ‘right’ or ‘proper’.

The ad below from Hardie’s Hotel in New Westminster advertised ‘square meals’ for 50 cents.

square meal

square meal

Beans and bacon were considered food staples back then. A 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.”

From pipes to puncheons – barrels of food and liquor

barrel

barrel

Most of the food that made up a ‘square meal’ was brought by ship in wooden casks and barrels. These barrels ranged in size depending on what they were containing.

Salted beef and pork came in wooden casks called ‘tierces’ which contained 42 gallons.

Liquor was imported in different types of wooden barrels.

A ‘hogshead’  typically contained 63 old wine gallons or 54 old beer gallons. A ‘pipe’ contained twice as much.

Rum and whiskey came in ‘puncheons’ and each puncheon typically held about 84 gallons.

Here is a list of some other types of food that were imported:

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
Edinburgh Ale in stone jugs or bulk
bottled porter
India Pale Ale in pints and quarts
dried apples
hot whiskey punches
barley
bran

Looking for a ‘square meal’

A ‘square meal’ was nearly impossible to find in the Cariboo as Viscount Milton and Dr. Cheadle discovered when they stayed at J.D. Cusheon’s hotel in 1863:

“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 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.”

Edward Mallandaine’s night school for miners

Heading back to school? If you were in Victoria in 1859, chances are you would have seen a ‘notice’ (advertisements were called notices back then) for a day school run by J. Silversmith:Select Day School 1859

Select Day School. J. Silversmith, Principal. Corner of Broadway and Yates streets, Victoria. Parents and Guardians are advised that in this Institute, children of both sexes, from the age of five years and upwards are successfully instructed in the elementary branches of an English education – and free from Sectarianism. Private Tuition in the French, German, Spanish and English Languages. Music: Piano, Violin, Guitar and Singing.

School for Young LadiesAs soon as the Fraser River gold rush began, Bishop Demers, who was already running several schools for boys, sent word out to the Sisters of St. Ann to come and teach girls. In June 1858, four sisters arrived from eastern Canada after a lengthy journey by ship via Panama and San Francisco. In December 1859, the Sisters of St. Ann opened a school for ‘young ladies’.

What about the miners? It wasn’t just young people who needed an education. If you were going to strike it rich, you needed to know basic math.

The winter months were a time when a lot of miners returned to Victoria from ‘the diggings’ with gold dust and time on their hands.

Edward Mallandaine

Edward Mallandaine – architect, teacher, school principal

Edward Mallandaine saw an opportunity. He was trained as an architect but had caught the gold fever himself and wound up in Victoria like so many others. In December 1859 he started teaching miners at night at J. Silversmith’s select school.Evening Tuition - Select School

To All Persons Wishing to Profit by the Winter Season, the undersigned, E. Mallandaine, at the above central establishment, offers evening instruction at moderate charges, in Reading, Writing and Ciphering. To more advanced learners, thorough tuition in the English and French Languages, Grammar and Composition, Arithmetic, Geometry, Elementary Algebra, Drawing, and Line Drawing, the principles of Architecture and Design. Apply at the “Select School,” Broad Street to E. Mallandaine.

At first he saw this as a way to make extra money while he furthered his career as an architect but he wound up buying the school from J. Silversmith and it operated for many years.


Notes:

The school where the Sisters of St. Anne taught was constructed in 1848 by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s expert post-and-sill builder Jacques Laquechier. It was sold and moved several times before Bishop Demers bought it and moved it yet again. This school was later bought by the provincial museum and moved to its present location on the museum grounds.

Ciphering was an old method for solving proportions. It predated algebra. Here is an example via mathforum.org.

To cipher to the rule of three for 3, 9, and 2 
is to complete the phrase "3 is to 9 as 2 is to ___," with the answer 
being the quantity 6.

The Importance of the Columbia River

The Columbia River was the breadbasket of the Northwest. For thousands of years, the Columbia River was an important fishing and trade route for Native Americans. They traded with other tribes who lived along the Columbia River and along its tributaries all the way up the Okanagan River. Before the international boundary was drawn up at the 49th parallel, the Okanagan people (north and south) were considered as one.  Thousands more came from the Plateau region to trade their horses for salmon pemmican, root vegetables, berries and other necessary articles such as hemp.

When Alexander Mackenzie published his account of travelling to the Pacific Ocean in 1801, fur trading companies took note. After reading Mackenzie’s book, John Jacob Astor decided to set up the Pacific Fur Company and ‘cherry-picked’ seasoned voyageurs and traders from the North West Company to start its business.

The newly formed group had just started building ‘Fort Astoria’ when David Thompson came down the Columbia River. Not long later, John Stuart, who had paddled down that first trip with Simon Fraser, started the very first brigade trip from New Caledonia all the way to Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. Unlike Fraser’s trip, Stuart’s group made part of the journey with horses.

The voyageurs coming from New Caledonia would set out from from an ice-covered Stuart’s Lake in April and by the end of June would reach the mouth of the Columbia River in time to meet the yearly ship coming from London with their supplies. At Fort Astoria, bundles of furs that had been carefully wrapped in buffalo hides were readied to be shipped to China. (The North West Company had a license from the East India Company which allowed them to send their furs there).

When the Hudson’s Bay Company merged with the North West Company in 1821, they took over their forts. The HBC built Fort Vancouver and that became the main fort.  Fort Nez Percés was renamed Fort Walla Walla although most people still called it by its old name. The HBC decided not to use the Fraser-Columbia route to supply its forts in New Caledonia, but the alternative route via the Peace River was used. This northerly route required a dangerous and lengthy (12 mile) portage. After losing canoes full of men and valuable furs, Governor Simpson decided that the Fraser-Columbia route was the better option after all.

From 1826 to 1847 the Fraser River – Columbia River route was used by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The overland brigade trail through the Okanagan served as a vital link in that route. The signing of the Oregon Treaty in 1846 which established the international boundary at the 49th parallel put a stop to that. The Hudson’s Bay Company left its forts below the line to the Americans.

The Fraser River – Columbia River route was used again by gold seekers during the Fraser River gold rush.

Note: Fort Astoria was captured by the British during the war of 1812 and renamed Fort George. Its ownership was in question for many years. In later years, the American government began to establish several military forts (in gold) including Fort Walla Walla (near the site of the old fur trading fort Nez Perces).

Here is a map from the 1970s showing the hydro-electric dams on the Columbia River:

 

Flour Sacks in the Gold Rush

Flour sacks were very useful  long after they had been emptied of flour.  They were made from tough woven fabric and could be sewn together for a sheet or a quilt to keep out the chill in a drafty log cabin.

In the early days of British Columbia’s settler history, it was a challenge to find a flour sack. Thousands of sacks of ‘Golden Gate Flour’ and ‘Self Rising Flour’ were imported, but they disappeared just as quickly as they arrived.

Flour was traditionally shipped in barrels, but because of the need to transport to the gold fields, it was much easier if the flour was put into sacks. The size of the sack was made in comparison to the same amount of flour that would fit into a barrel. One barrel held 196 pounds of flour, a half barrel was 49 pounds. For example, ‘Olympia’ flour was shipped in quarter sacks.

Gold seekers lost their lives in their efforts to save their precious sacks of flour. Consider this brief entry in the Daily Colonist on May 7, 1859:

A canoe was picked up floating down the [Fraser] river. In it was found a sack of flour. [The canoe] is supposed to have been capsized and those drowned who were working it up the river.

Cayoosh, BC November 4, 1859

We require a storekeeper with plenty of goods and capital; we have the greatest difficulty to keep a sack of flour in town; everything leaves for Fort Alexander, where there are some very rich mines…The great drawback all the way up and down the river is the scarcity of provisions. Hundreds of men have left this neighborhood for fear of starvation…Anyone opening a store here can make money rapidly next spring…

The invention of the sewing machine in the mid 1800s and improvements in spinning and weaving cotton made the use of flour sacks more cost effective than wooden barrels by the late 1800s.


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Faro: The gambling card game of the BC gold rush

Among the first to arrive at a mining camp on the heels of the gold seekers were saloon keepers and faro bankers. In the mid 1800s, the gambling card game of Faro was very popular because it was simple, fast-paced, and the odds were good that a player would win if the game was played honestly.

James Anderson, known as the bard of Barkerville, didn’t have many kind words to say about gamblers and their game of faro. He wrote a song called “Come Back Faro” in which he describes the faro dealer:

I’ll sing you now a mournful song,
All of a fine old man,
Who liv’d some years in Cariboo,
All by his sleight of han’

I’ve often watched his little game,
And even been case-keeper;
And tho’ his eyes were pretty sharp,
I’ve sometimes nailed a sleeper.

Some say old Faro was a rogue,
Tho’ tis not my belief;
But if he were—then I’m sure
Young Lansquenet’s a thief.

The roots of faro can be traced back to the game of ‘Landsquenet’ played by Teutonic foot soldiers in the 1400s. The game was eventually called ‘Pharaoh’, because some of the playing cards used had an Egyptian king’s face on the backs of the cards. This was then simplified to ‘Faro’.

The game was also referred to as ‘Bucking the Tiger’ because in earlier times, many faro boards folded up into a wooden box which featured a Bengal tiger on the back.

How To Play Faro

Professional gamblers would set up their faro boards and case keepers at a saloon and wait for miners to bet their hard-earned gold dust. Faro was a fast game so it was necessary for a faro banker to have two assistants; one to watch the crowd for cheaters and one to keep track of the cards that had been dealt by moving the discs in the case-keeper.

faro board

faro board

A faro board was simply a board covered with a cloth and on it were pasted (or painted) 13 cards of one suit, usually spades. Across the top, nearest the dealer, was printed the words, ‘High Card’.

Players or ‘punters’ as they were referred to, would purchase chips called ‘counters’ from the ‘banker’ who ran the game.

Players would choose which of the 13 cards they wanted to bet on and lay their chips on them, or if they wanted to place their bet on two or more they would place their chips in between or at the corner. Players who placed wagers on the high-card bar were betting that the winning card (the second card drawn) would be higher than the losing card (the first card drawn). High cards were ranked from Ace (the lowest) to highest.

faro case-keeper

faro case-keeper

Playing cards in the mid 1800s didn’t have any numbers or letters on them.

When all the bets were placed, the banker would shuffle and cut the pack of playing cards, then place them face up in a dealing box. The first card was set aside.

The faro banker took out the next two cards from the deck.

Bets matching the first card lost. Bets matching the second card face up on the deck, won. Whether the card was in the same suite (diamonds, spades, hearts, clubs) didn’t matter.

Each pair of cards was called a ‘turn’. There were 25 ‘turns’ to a game. The first and last cards in the deck weren’t played.

If a player put a ‘copper’ (a token) on top of his or her bet, that was betting a card would lose instead of win.

Whenever there were two of kind in a turn, (two kings, two kings etc) then the dealer took half the chips staked on them. In an honest game, this could occur about three times in two deals, however, some dealers were often accused of stacking the deck in their favour.

Cheating at Faro

A dealer could tamper with the cards beforehand. Often times the dealer could tell what cards would be next because the dealing boxes were rigged with special levers or plates that would allow two cards to be taken out at the same time. With a sleight of hand, the dealer could change the sequence of a deck. Because of the game of Faro was so fast some of these tricky moves would have been hard to catch.

Players could cheat as well and some of them had creative ways of moving their chips around before anyone could notice.

Bucking The Tiger

The British Colonist published a letter to the editor on February 4, 1862 about a ‘Faro Bank’ in Victoria:

…six more non-professional gamblers…have been among the constant feeders of this Royal Bengal Tiger and…several more of the regular hangers-on or “ropes”.

I heard a great many strange statements from one and another of the “sports” – but the strangest of all was that “‘the Police were all right'”. In other words, that the force had been bribed not to interfere with the game…several of the victims have declared their intention to feed the tiger no more. They have suffered greatly, and assert openly that they have been “hogged.”

I hear that the next steamer will bring us some more sporting gents, fully prepared to open business at an hour’s notice.

The term ‘sporting gentlemen’ was often used when referring to professional gamblers.

How E. B. Lytton changed the course of BC history

In 1858, gold miners swarmed to the Fraser River. It was also the year that the longstanding Palmerston government was defeated and E. B. Lytton became the Colonial Secretary, responsible for overseeing the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In the past, there had been a push to settle Vancouver Island and the British Parliament had gone so far as to make it a colony, but the mainland was strictly under HBC’s monopoly. There were no settlers there and they liked it that way. As one member of parliament put it, “The Hudson’s Bay Company is by its very existence and its character the enemy of colonization” whose main purpose was to extract the resources of the land and not cater to the whims and needs of the populace.

Until 1858, the Hudson’s Bay Company had an ally in Parliament — the Colonial Secretary Henry Labouchere. That was about to change under Edward Bulwer Lytton.

E. B. Lytton - Colonial Secretary

E. B. Lytton – Colonial Secretary

The new Parliament made its mandate clear that it wanted to colonize the lands that the Hudson’s Bay Company possessed. The first step was to not renew their license which was slated for renewal May 30, 1859. In addition, the government aimed to bring into question the legality of the original Hudson’s Bay Company charter of 1670, this having been assigned to lands which were then under France’s control.

There was no instant communications in those days. It took many months for a ship to arrive with the mail and when it did reach the office of the Colonial Secretary, it took weeks on end for clerks to hand write copies for officials to read and comment on.

While he was waiting to receive an answer, Douglas made decisions as he saw fit. As the head of the HBC’s Columbia Department which oversaw New Caledonia, Douglas took it upon himself to establish mining fees and pricing controls. He also sought to uphold the Company’s monopoly and did his best to keep out the competition. To this end, he used the survey ships that were based in Esquimalt but most of the miners and merchants slipped in without notice.

Trading Rights

E. B. Lytton soon made it clear that the Company’s monopoly only went so far as exclusive trading rights with the Indigenous people and that it could not be the sole provider of provisions, even though Douglas had pointed out all the efforts they had made to accommodate the gold seekers.

Lytton also organized a contingent of Royal Engineers to come to New Caledonia to help build roads and plan towns, to be paid from the colony’s revenue. The other bit of bad news for Douglas came when he received word that Lytton wished to have future administrative appointments come from ‘home’ rather than someone from the Company.

He chose Chartres Brew to be the head of the colony’s civilian police force and Matthew Begbie, a lawyer, was selected to be the judge.

On the day that Begbie was to sail from England, E.B. Lytton boarded the ship to personally hand over the documents to establish the new colony of British Columbia and the appointments of James Douglas as Governor, and Begbie as its Judge. Each document had been signed by Queen Victoria.

British Columbia

Begbie arrived at Esquimalt November 16, 1858. Three days later, on November 19, 1858 the swearing in ceremony and declaration of British Columbia took place at Fort Langley. This marked the end of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s control of New Caledonia.

The following year, Lord Palmerston’s government returned and Lytton was replaced by the Duke of Newcastle as Colonial Secretary.

Although the legality of HBC’s charter wasn’t settled for another 10 years, E. B. Lytton did succeed in terminating their monopoly of New Caledonia and establishing British Columbia.

Had Labouchere still been the Colonial Secretary when the gold rush broke out, things could have turned out much differently.

Drink-miners not worth a shirt

A “drink-miner” was a gold rush term for a miner who was indebted to a grog shop or saloon-keeper.

Advice to would-be miners was given in a booklet titled “Cariboo, the Newly Discovered Gold Fields of British Columbia, Fully Described by a Returned Digger Who Has Made His Own Fortune There and Advises Others To Go and Do Likewise” published in London, England in 1862.

Like many promotional pieces of the day it portrayed the gold diggings in British Columbia in glowing terms. Interestingly, the ‘returned digger’ said that the most important qualification to be a miner was temperance.

“Don’t suppose I am a teetotal [non-drinker] digger. I am nothing of the kind, but I tell you plainly there is nothing so pulls a man back at gold digging as spirits. They take all the strength out of him; they unman him for a time, and the expense is so great, spirits (especially the good) costing an enormous figure at all gold settlements, that I really think that the man who picks up half an ounce a day, and doesn’t spend a grain of it in drink, makes, in reality , more by the end of the month that the miner who picks up four ounces a day, and drinks when it pleases him. As a proof of the truth of what I am saying, I may declare that the owners of spirit stores are always safe to make fortunes.

This warning is worth something, for candidly I tell you that the temptation to drink is very great. Whether it is the excitement natural to a gold digger’s life, or whether it is the desire to be luxurious and dashing, I know not, but this is certain, that an enormous percentage of gold diggers…drink extravagantly of spirits.

These diggers who “drink their gold,” as they say in Australia, never are worth anything, and they generally die in ditches, unless men more temperate than they have been give them hut or tent-room.

…those who take much spirits are unable to bear the roughing of a miner’s life, and the consequence is that they are ready at any moment to take any disease which many be common, and not unfrequently, in fever times, they fall down in scores, and never get up again.

…the excitement of a miner’s life is so great that not one in six who takes a “little drop” will stick there, and if he goes beyond he becomes just what I warn you against- a fellow who digs for the spirit-store keeper, and who is never worth more than the shirt about him. Nay, I have seen a “drink-miner” as I have heard them called, not even worth a shirt.

…For my part I drank nothing but water and tea all the while I was at the diggings, and I was there long enough to feather my nest warm.”

The Old Red Shirt

In between washing clothes and repairing them, Rebecca Gibbs wrote poetry which was sometimes published in the local Barkerville newspaper. Her poem “The Old Red Shirt” tells of a thin miner who showed up at her cabin door in old dirty clothes, asking her if she could repair a threadbare red shirt.

…His cheeks were thin, and furrow’d his brow,
His eyes they were sunk in his head;
He said that he had got work to do,
To be able to earn his bread.

He said that the “old red shirt” was torn
And asked me to give it a stitch;
But it was threadbare, and sorely worn,
Which show’d he was far from rich.

O! miners with good paying claims,
O! traders who wish to do good,
Have pity on men who earn your wealth,
Grudge not the poor miner his food….

Captain John and the Alexandra Bridge

If it weren’t for Captain John Swalis, the Alexandra Bridge would have never been built.

‘Captain John’ as he was known, was an enterprising Stó:lō from the Fraser Valley. Having spent his summers on the gravel bars and islands in the Fraser River, Captain John was familiar with the area. So, he set up his own ferry service helping gold seekers cross the Fraser River at Yale.

At first he didn’t accept money as payment and instead asked for a hat or a shirt. Captain John began to see that money could allow him to purchase the things he needed, so he adapted to this new economy and started accepting coins and gold as payment.

The missing link on the Cariboo Wagon Road

By the end of 1862, the Cariboo Wagon Road through the Fraser Canyon was almost complete, running from Yale to Spuzzum on the west bank of the canyon, and from a point almost opposite on the east bank, up the river as far as Lytton. There remained now the important task of linking the two sections with a bridge two miles above Spuzzum.

On February 2, 1863, Joseph Trutch agreed to take on the bridge project and in return he would collect tolls on the bridge for the next five years. Considering the volume of people going back and forth, it was a lucrative deal.

Alexandra Bridge

Alexandra Bridge

Halliday & Company of San Francisco was given the job of building the suspension bridge with a span of a little over three hundred feet using two suspending cables. Spools of cable were carried by mules up the road but how to get the spools of cable across to the other side of the Fraser River?

Captain John told Trutch that he could get the cables across the Fraser River, and Trutch awarded him a subcontract. Captain John assembled a group of his relatives and they unwound cable from each spool and carried it on their shoulders as they made their way along the precipitous cliffs and slippery rocks. Each cable was four inches wide.

There isn’t a description of the event, but to bring back the words of Simon Fraser:

“In these places we were under the necessity of trusting all our things to the Indians, even our guns…Yet they thought nothing of these difficulties, but went up and down these wild places with the same agility as sailors do on a ship.”

What’s the hold up?

The Alexandra Bridge was completed by September 1, 1863. Trutch invited prominent dignitaries for the official opening planned for the following week. In the meantime, Admiral Kingcome of the Royal Navy made a special trip by steamer to Yale just to ride up the Cariboo Road and see the new bridge. Governor Douglas was not eager to see Alexandra Bridge, however, and the official opening was delayed several weeks until finally near the end of September, Douglas made the trip to Yale with Colonel Moody. On Friday, September 25, 1863, Alexandra Bridge was officially proclaimed open by Colonel Moody—Douglas stayed behind in Yale.

Captain John rose to prominence among his people and gained the name ‘Swalis’ which meant “getting rich”. At one point he was earning more than double the annual salary of Governor James Douglas. When Trutch became  Commissioner of Lands and Works, Captain John was elected as the Chief of Soowahlie.

In later years Captain John ran a ferry across the Vedder River (Th’ewálmel) to Cultus Lake and across to Vedder Crossing. In 1891, he helped with the construction of the Vedder Bridge.

Billiard Saloons: a barometer of the gold rush

When he was in Victoria awaiting a steamer to take him south — after a fruitless trip to the Fraser River gold diggings — Herman Reinhart noticed that there was no shortage of billiard saloons including one with six tables kept by a California gambler named Boston. “Here I saw the first 15-ball pool.” Fifteen-Ball Pool was the predecessor of modern pocket billiards.

On September 15, 1858 the Daily Alta California printed an article called “Stagnation in Victoria” which was submitted by their correspondent:

Everything has flattened out – subsided – wilted. We have a town of stores filled with goods, and few to buy…Houses and tents could be bought at almost any price. A large pavilion tent which had been used as a billiard saloon, having room for two billiard tables and seats for spectators, sold for $13…

Billiard Saloons and Fifteen-Ball Pool

In October 1859 it was reported that Fort Hope was flourishing. One of the indicators was that

Billiard Factory

Billiard Factory

billiard saloons “appear well supported.”

Playing billiards was a popular pastime in the 1850s, especially American Four-Ball Billiards, usually played on a large (11 or 12-foot), four-pocket table with four balls – two white and two red. Billiard balls were made from ivory tusks. Even cabinet makers made billiard tables.

Not quite as common as billiards was the game of bagatelle which was played by European miners. Considering there was a large number of French diaspora living in San Francisco, a good many of them probably succeeded in bringing the game up north to British Columbia.

 

In his book, Cariboo Yarns, F.W. Lindsay wrote that the well-known Cariboo packer known as Cataline, ran mule trains to Barkerville, taking a month to get there. Among the items they carried north were billiard tables. How did one pack a billiard table?