Transportation directly to the Cariboo: not as advertised

A series of letters written in the autumn and winter of 1861-2, by London Times correspondent Donald Fraser, created a somewhat rosy picture of travel to the Cariboo gold diggings. He spoke of stagecoaches on the proposed Cariboo Wagon Road, giving readers the impression that travel was easy.

Several thousand people who read Fraser’s accounts were excited to undertake the journey to British Columbia in the spring of 1862. Almost overnight, so-called transportation companies were formed and advertised their services.

Upon their arrival in Victoria, some prospective gold seekers from England  brought with them the notices which pictured the carriages that were to carry them from Yale. They had been lead to believe their tickets for transportation directly to the Cariboo, as advertised. They were in for a rude awakening. In 1862, there were only trails north of Yale; provisions had to be carried on one’s back for the length of the journey.

One of the fraudulent companies to take advantage of the situation was the British Columbia Overland Transportation Company which promised to carry passengers across the continent in ‘comfortable carriages’ for the moderate sum of 40 guineas per person (approximately $500 in today’s money).

A group of 30 Englishmen responded to the advertisement and travelled with an agent for the company, James Hayward, from England to St. Paul, Minnesota. There they were supposed to meet up with the company’s agent from Toronto, H.S. Hime. Not surprisingly, Hime wasn’t able to make the travel arrangements.

After waiting several days in St. Paul, several of the people in the group decided to return to England, Hayward included. Others in the group thought they could proceed to the Red River settlement and stay there until the following spring or go on to British Columbia if it wasn’t too late.

On October 10, 1862, the British Colonist printed a letter from one of the Overlanders dated June 1, 1862 sent from Fort Garry:

“I think we have now got things well arranged, and intend to start tomorrow. We have three [red river] carts and oxen between us. Each man has 150lbs. of flour, and about 70lbs. of pemmican, a great advantage on a long journey.

We expect to travel at the rate of 20 to 25 miles a day, and to be at Jasper’s House in about 40 or 50 days, and then cross the mountains to the Cariboo, about 20 days more; the time allowed, however, is three months…

There are over 100 fellows here waiting to go. About five companies of us have formed into a party numbering about 70. We are determined to go ‘through,’ calculating to go faster than if we all went separately, and by which we shall get besides more game on the way. We have hired for £20 sterling, a competent guide, a native of Edmonton, one of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s posts on our route…

To get along in this part one needs to know a little French. The governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company was at St. Paul’s when we arrived there….It was he who supplied us with the flour and pemmican, and has been doing everything he can to assist us through, giving us letters to the officers at all the Company’s posts on the way.

We have found the settlers all along a pleasant, hospitable set of people. Here they are divided into two settlements, Scotch and French, but the Scotch is by far the larger settlement.”