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.


What do you want to see or read about on BC Gold Rush Press? I’d like to hear from you. If you’re a student or educator, what would be helpful to you?

I would really appreciate if you could leave a comment below or on the About page.