The spread of gold fever from Fort Colvile

In 1855, gold was discovered near the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Colvile (HBC’s spelling) close to present day Kettle Falls, Washington. This was of some concern to James Douglas who had been keeping track of the Crimea War and its impact on the fur trade in addition to the gold rushes as they came closer to New Caledonia.

HBC Fort Colvile, Washington Territory 1860

HBC Fort Colvile, Washington Territory 1860

On September 10, 1855 Douglas wrote in a letter to HBC Chief factor Donald Manson based at Fort St. James, “I hope and trust that the gold fever so prevalent [in Colvile] will not come as far as New Caledonia, at least until next year, when you may expect trouble in abundance.”

On October 29, 1855 a letter was received by Douglas which read:
“Gold is abundant at Colville, and I suspect that many, if not all, of our men will be off in that direction before long. Mr. McDonald gives favourable accounts as to the richness of the mines, and says that people from all quarters and of all sorts were gathering to the diggings…”

In case the Hudson’s Bay Company’s employees should be tempted to abandon their posts for the more exciting and generally more lucrative occupation of gold mining, and to prevent the untimely breaking up of the little settlement he was planting near Fort Victoria, Governor James Douglas issued a proclamation declaring that all the gold in situ belonged to the Crown and forbid all persons to “dig or disturb the soil in search of gold until authorized in that behalf by Her Majesty’s colonial government.”

That authorization was granted on payment of ten shillings a month, and even then the right to exercise that privilege was subject to such impossible conditions that Douglas’s act was ultimately declared to be beyond his powers.

As a result, these stipulations served to restrict gold digging to the Native population who were given spoons at Fort Kamloops. Soon, the HBC clerks had to make a request for more spoons in their next shipment of supplies.

After accumulating a large amount of gold, the HBC were obliged to take it to the mint in San Francisco. The first lot of gold from what is now British Columbia was taken aboard the HBC steamer Otter in February 1858.