Category Archives: Gold Rush Notes

Brief history facts explained about the BC gold rush

Whaleboats down the Fraser River

How many American gold seekers drowned while trying to cross the Strait of Georgia or in the Fraser River? Getting to the gold diggings on the Fraser River was not easy. It took two days of paddling from Victoria just to reach the Fraser River. Some used canoes, rafts and even whaleboats. Once they made it to the mainland, there were several dangerous rapids to run on Fraser River.

Dangerous rapids

Governor Douglas wrote in a May 19, 1858 despatch to Lord Stanley, the Colonial Secretary in London: “Many accidents have happened in the dangerous rapids of that [Fraser] river, a great number of canoes having been dashed to pieces and their cargoes swept away by the impetuous stream, while of the ill-fared adventurers who accompanied them, many have been swept into eternity.”

What happened to the 8,000 men who didn’t return?

The Alta California newspaper reported that 27,534 people sailed directly to Victoria from San Francisco between April 1, 1858 and March 31, 1860, and 19,051 returned during that same period. What happened to the 8,483 persons who did not sail back? Did they return by another route, did they settle in Washington Territory or did they lose their lives by accident?

The Alta California article, printed on May 26, 1860, went on to say that the free port of Victoria was still importing large amounts of American goods yet  “the white population of Victoria and British Columbia” was no more than 6,000. Clearly they weren’t counting all the blacks who emigrated!

Whaleboats down the Fraser River

L. F. Bodkin was one of the American miners who struck it rich on Island Bar north of Spuzzum in 1858. He stayed and worked through the winter then in March 1859, he prepared to head back east with about $2,000 worth of gold dust.  He canoed down the Fraser River and at Fort Hope he embarked in a whaleboat along with several other miners. They had just rowed past  the mouth of the Harrison River when the whaleboat hit a snag and flipped over. Everyone made it out alive, but Bodkin lost his gold.

whaleboat

Just the previous month, Captain Brock of the ‘Gold Hunter’ found the body of a fifty year old man from San Francisco in the same vicinity and buried him “on the point of the first riffle above the Harrison River”.

Immediately after that disaster, Bodkin returned back to the bar and worked it for another year and a half, this time accumulating about $4,000 in gold dust. This time though, he wasn’t so lucky.

On August 15, 1860 Bodkin attempted to canoe down the Fraser River with his gold dust and a load of fresh beef to Boston Bar. He was just four miles from his destination when he attempted to run a “small but dangerous riffle” and the canoe capsized. Two others, “an Indian and Chinaman” managed to hang onto the overturned canoe until they were rescued by some miners three miles downstream.

Bodkin, his beef, and all his gold were gone.

Fraser Canyon War and the Nlaka’pamux villages

Before the Fraser River gold rush, there were several Nlaka’pamux villages occupying the flat land along the Fraser Canyon. Trails led through the forests from winter village areas to food-gathering and hunting areas; every peak, every lake, every clearing was known to someone.

One of these villages was Tuckkwiowhum (Tuck-we-ohm) meaning ‘great berry picking place’. For thousands of years, people lived at the spot where Anderson River meets the Fraser River. People stopped here on their travels to and from Klickumcheen (Lytton).

The ancient village of Kopchitchin was directly across the Fraser River.

Fraser Canyon War

The summer of 1858 was a brutal one for First Nations who sought to protect their territories. The American army was engaged in a full out war against several First Nations from Fort Simcoe to Fort Okanagan.

Steamboats plowed the waters up to Yale, unloading hundreds of miners at a time. Natives blamed the boats for preventing the salmon from their migration. Foreign goldseekers set up camps on every bar that could be seen, crowding out Natives who were also panning for gold.

Then the freshet came and goldseekers were impatient to head further north into Nlaka’pamux territory.

The walls of the Fraser Canyon echoed with gunshot as goldseekers attempted to gain ground above Hell’s Gate. The Nlaka’pamux responded with poison-tipped arrows.

Hudson’s Bay Company in the middle

Without any legal authority, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s chief factor of Fort Yale was powerless to stop the carnage except to appeal for peace. What could a handful of HBC clerks do against several thousand miners?

Fort Yale Chief factor Ovid Allard wrote to James Douglas:

The Miners have abused the Indians in many instances particularly at what is called New York Bar by insulting their women after they had voluntarily given up their arms. I understand that the same thing has also occurred at “Quayome”. From what I can learn I have reason to believe that some 15 or 20 Indians have lost there lives and three or four whites.

At Yale, goldseekers armed with percussion revolvers and breech loading rifles formed into at least five American-style militia groups.

Villages Burned

In August 1858, these militia forces completely burned the villages of Kopchitchin and Tuckkwiowhum.

In all, the militias burned five ‘rancheries’; three above the Big Cañon and two below. The militias destroyed all their provisions including salmon and dried berries.

Lake House: a strategic stopover in the Fraser River gold rush

Lake House was a popular stopping place during the Fraser River gold rush. It only stood for two years between 1858 and 1860 yet it was an important site on the trail between Hope and Lytton.  How did Lake House come to be? And what brought about it’s demise?

A.C. Anderson’s dilemma

Years before the Fraser River gold rush in 1858, the Hudson’s Bay Company made several attempts at forging a trail up the Fraser Canyon. After the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the Company found itself required to pay American duties on goods shipped by way of Fort Vancouver. The Company’s mapmaker, A.C. Anderson was pressured to find ‘an all British route’ that could be used by men and horses loaded with bales of furs travelling from Fort Alexandria or Fort Kamloops down to Fort Langley.

Lake House – a notorious roadhouse (approximate location of trail)

The short life of Fort Yale

Anderson figured on a route down the Fraser Canyon but it was exceedingly challenging and furthermore, their intrusion into Nlaka’pamux territory was unwelcome. Despite the problems of the route, a small fort was constructed at Yale and another wayside hut, called Simon’s House, was erected near the First Nations village of Spo’zum (Spuzzum) near where a brigade could cross the Fraser River and up the steep slope on the other side. There was a long climb up to the top of Lake Mountain and down the other side to the Coquiome (Anderson) River. Considering the length of time it took to reach their destination, there would have been frequent camping spots along the way.

Eventually, the HBC came to use another route to Fort Kamloops following the Coquihalla River  which resulted in the abandonment of Fort Yale and the establishment of Fort Hope.

Gold!

Anderson’s old route up the Fraser Canyon came to be used again. In 1858, a couple of miners arrived at Fort Yale and swapped their boat for an old horse which they loaded with coffee and whiskey. They followed the former HBC trail up Lake Mountain and rigged up a canvas tent on the plateau within view of the lake.

A goldseeker who wrote to the San Francisco Bulletin in the fall of 1858 described Lake House as “nothing more than a large round tent, wherein you can get a good cup of coffee and beans adlibitum for one dollar…”

From tent to wood hut

With more and more miners passing by, a wood cabin was built to accommodate overnight visitors. Robert Frost, a judge in Olympia, Washington, recalled his stay at Lake House some time later:

“We made Boston Bar that afternoon, beached the canoe as we could not take it through the canyon, we started up the mountain; night overtook us and we had to sleep in the snow. About nine o’clock next morning we made the Lake House on the trail, a mere shack; where the proprietor got us up a breakfast at $1.00 each. It consisted of hard tack, bacon,and beans with a raw onion. I thought at the time that it was about the best meal I had ever eaten.”

A.R. Lempriere and his group of Royal Engineers stayed overnight at this location on August 8 of 1859:

“Left Boston Bar having procured 4 horses the day before and in the evening reached the Lake House situated on the top of a mountain. As it was very cold our men being tired we rushed to stay there the night: There was only one room in which we all slept with a lot of miners, Indians etc., in all numbering about 14 or 15: Bunks were arranged in three tiers all round the room, for the accommodation of travelers. I cannot say it was particularly agreeable.”

Burnt down under orders

The following year, a judge in Yale sent an officer to burn down Lake House because liquor was being illegally sold to Natives. Upon hearing the news, one of the owners, W.H. Weatherhill, protested the razing. Weatherhill claimed that he was away operating the ferry at Boston Bar and that the fellow responsible for selling the liquor had moved in without his consent.

A new route to Boston Bar

In the fall of 1860, a new trail was carved out by contractors Power and McRoberts at a cost of $62,000. This new trail which opened in April 1861 went directly from Chapman’s Bar to Boston Bar. The trail climbed along the rocky ledge about 800 feet above the Fraser River through what was known then as the ‘Big Cañon’.

Gold rush history unearthed

Lake House literally faded into the ground until it was unearthed by student archaeologists from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 2013. It turned out to be a treasure trove of Fraser River gold rush history with almost 300 items uncovered. Among the artifacts identified were solder seam cans, footwear, mule shoes, machine-cut square nails, American militia buttons, a Chilean coin marked 1845, ceramic pipes, coins, a three pronged fork and spent ammunition.

Hike into the past

Today you can hike this same trail that was used thousands of years ago by Nlaka’pamux who gathered cedar bark, followed by HBC fur traders and goldseekers over 160 years ago. Opened in 2012 after a massive volunteer effort, the trail past Lake House is now called the Tikwalus Heritage Trail, after a Native village that once stood near the trailhead.

Quicksilver: Trapping gold with mercury

How did goldseekers wash out the gravel from their pans without losing any specks of gold? The answer is liquid mercury, known in the 1800s as quicksilver.

quicksilver

ad for Quicksilver July 28, 1860

Imagine a gold miner at the water’s edge filling a gold pan with water and then shaking it around in a circular motion. It takes several dips of the pan to get the gravel out. Then the smaller pebbles have to be picked out by hand until all that’s left is black sand (iron ore).  With some more water added to the pan there might be some yellow ‘colour’ in the pan. How to quickly retrieve most of the gold? To solve that problem miners would pour a few ounces of quicksilver (liquid mercury) into the pan before they started. In a few minutes the ‘quicksilver’ would engulf all the fine gold fragments and form a solid mixture (amalgam).

How much quicksilver was used?

How much quicksilver was used during the Fraser River gold rush or the Cariboo gold rush? No one knows for sure. It was easy to use but extremely dangerous to handle.

Quicksilver was poured along the riffles in rocker boxes and sluice boxes. The high density of mercury allowed gold and gold-mercury amalgam to sink while sand and gravel passed over the mercury and through the sluice. Large volumes of turbulent water flowing through the sluice caused many of the finer gold and mercury particles to wash through and out of the sluice before they could settle.

Gravel and rocks that entered the sluice at high speed caused the mercury to break into tiny particles. These tiny mercury particles became airborne. In the meantime, more mercury would be added to the sluice boxes. The bottoms of some sluice boxes eventually became coated with mercury.

Working a claim at Emory Bar

Some mercury was lost from the sluice, either by leaking into underlying soils and bedrock or being transported downstream with the placer tailings. If it was too cold, the mercury was ineffective.

The Daily Colonist published a letter February 12, 1859 from a miner working a claim on Emory Bar who wrote “…the coldness of the water thickens the quicksilver so much as to prevent a full half of the fine gold from being taken up or amalgamated as it would when the weather is warm.”

Dissolving the mercury

Some miners would take their amalgam down to Victoria where an assayer would dissolve the mercury under intense heat.


Did you know? Mercury is made by  roasting crushed cinnabar ore (HgS) in a furnace. Cinnabar  is mined in only a few places in the world. The New Idria Quicksilver Mining Company in central California started operation in 1854 and closed in 1972; the town of Idria was abandoned as a result.

Fort Langley feeds the gold seekers

What food did the Hudson’s Bay Company sell to the Fraser River gold rush miners?

The Farm at Fort Langley

Every Hudson’s Bay Company post was encouraged to be self-sufficient. The sites of HBC forts were chosen to include the most fertile land as well as to be near a transportation route. When the first site for Fort Langley was chosen in 1832, a handful of cows were brought over. Seven years later, it was decided to move Fort Langley further up the Fraser River. Another group of livestock was delivered and sent out to graze on the Langley Prairie about 11 km away.

Spanish Longhorns

Spanish longhorns

Spanish longhorns

Among the animals that stepped off the Beaver (HBC steamer) were a bunch of “Wild California Cows.” These Spanish longhorns were a tough and wild breed descended from a group that had been brought to Mexico in the 1600s.

In Oregon, cattle were bred by the HBC subsidiary,  Puget Sound Agricultural Company (PSAC). Its original mandate was to provide beef to the Russian-American Fur Company.  PSAC raised a mix Spanish longhorns and British short-horns. The British breeds had been bred from cattle that had made the long journey along the Oregon Trail from the eastern United States. These cattle were much larger than the Spanish and more docile.

In a few short years, Fort Langley was growing a variety of crops, and raising herds of beef cattle for export. In addition, the fort took advantage of its location to trade for salmon and cranberries with the tribes that gathered to fish on the Fraser River.

Fort Langley Beef

Fort Langley Corned Beef

Fort Langley Corned Beef – ad in the New Westminster Times

Some historians have said that the farm at Fort Langley faltered during the Fraser River gold rush for lack of leadership. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that the HBC’s future was in question and that for so long they never had any competition. Nevertheless, the farm kept producing. This advertisement was printed in the New Westminster Times January 21, 1860. “For Sale. 100 Barrels of British Columbia Fresh CORNED BEEF, first quality (grown on the Company’s Farm), and preserved with great care. To be delivered at Langley. Apply to F.V. Lee, Hotel de France.”

The Meat Tariff

As more miners were heading up to the Cariboo in 1859, Governor James Douglas established a 10% tariff on meat imports, based on the purchase cost. Douglas thought that this tax would provide revenue to the colony but not everyone paid their dues. Victoria had been declared a ‘free port’ meaning that American livestock coming there weren’t subject to the 10% tariff.

Despite the cost the overland route to the BC Interior was increasingly used by packers and drovers as the gold seekers went further north. Considering the vast profits to be made, many packers paid their dues, but many did not and slipped over the border unnoticed.

Under public pressure, James Douglas abandoned the 10% tariff the following year, and instead applied heavier customs duties on all goods and animals entering British territory through the Southern Interior.

Urgent need for beef

Six thousand cattle entered the mainland colony in 1861-1862, but that still wasn’t enough to satisfy the demand. It was reported in June 1861 that bacon was selling for 40 cents a pound at Lillooet and 75 cents a pound at Keithley Creek.

By 1862, the need for American meat at the Cariboo mines had become so urgent that the governor directed the Gold Commissioner at Rock Creek to encourage the importation of 2,000 to 3,000 live cattle duty free.

The man who built Trounce Alley

How did Trounce Alley in Victoria B.C., get its name?

Thomas Trounce

Thomas Trounce

Thomas Trounce was a gold rush miner and a builder, originally from Cornwall, England. He moved to London as a young man and later with his wife Jane, moved to New Zealand where he worked as a carpenter and joiner. When the California gold rush broke out, they sailed for San Francisco. With all the fires that occurred in San Francisco, Trounce had steady work as a builder. Then, in 1858, news of the Fraser River gold rush reached his ears and Trounce got on a ship bound for Victoria.

He first lived in a tent on Government Street while he worked as a builder. He was able to buy a property not long later. The only issue was that the right of way to his property belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company and this they sold. What was he to do? Trounce was hardly discouraged, instead he established his own thoroughfare between Government and Broad Streets which became known as Trounce Alley.

Tregew ‘The Flourishing Place’

In 1860, Trounce built his house in James Bay which he named Tregew, Cornish for ‘the flourishing place’. It lived up to that name with all the fruit he grew there.

Many buildings in Esquimalt were built by Trounce thanks to his good business dealings with Admiral Hastings and Paymaster Sidney Spark. It was discovered later that the paymaster had overlooked the requirement to get other tenders.

Trounce, who advertised himself as an architect and builder was able to take advantage of both roles. He built several brick buildings around Victoria and was the contractor for the construction of the St. Nicholas Hotel.

In later years, Trounce served as alderman on Victoria City Council and he became a Grand Master of Masons. Apples that were grown at Tregew earned him a prize at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition. Shortly after his wife Jane died in 1888, Trounce married again to Emma Richards, a widow 27 years younger. He was 76.

A hundred and seven years after it was built, Tregew was demolished to make way for an apartment building.

Water Troubles in Victoria

In the early days of the Fraser River gold rush, drinking water was expensive. Every saloon charged “one bit” (12 cents and one half penny) for a glass of water. Some even charged as much as 15 cents. In comparison, you could buy a cocktail for two bits (25 cents).

water for sale - September 28, 1859
water for sale – September 28, 1859

Why was water so expensive? There was no sewer system back then, only open drains which contaminated the local streams. John Muir, one of the early settlers of nearby Sooke, recalled that to navigate Wharf Street one had to wear boots at least 32 inches high. Given that and the overall stench, it is no wonder that the citizens of Victoria didn’t trust to drink or even bathe in water unless it was purchased from a water carrier. If they were short of water they washed themselves in the ocean or used rainwater they collected.

Every day, water carriers took their horse drawn wagons to a place outside of town known as “The Springs” and filled their barrels free of charge.

Victoria’s water source sold

Governor Douglas had declared The Springs to be public property in August 1858, however the lands belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company. After the HBC was officially removed from its control of Vancouver Island, it began to sell its properties. In March 1861, an area surrounding The Springs was auctioned off.

The sale of Victoria’s water source escaped public knowledge until the new owners fenced off the area and hired a guard to keep out trespassers. A notice was put up at the gate informing the new price of water. A water carrier was caught trying to break down the fence and was arrested and hauled off to police court. As soon as people read about it, they were outraged. The Water Case as it became known, received extensive coverage in the Daily Colonist:

Editorial: The British Colonist (1861-04-26) p 2 “The Water Stoppage”
Editorial: The British Colonist (1861-04-26) p 2 “The Water Stoppage”

“The rightful owner of the Springs is the public. We have unquestionable authority for stating that Gov. Douglas declared them, in 1858, a public reserve; and, as Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Company, empowered to dispose of their lands, he refused to do so, on the ground that they were wholly reserved for the uses of the town. Under the Grant of the Island to the Company [Hudson’s Bay Company], he had the right to reserve any land for public purposes. Besides, the Company had no right to sell a public reserve. Having acted in good faith with the public in 1858 in respect to the Springs, how is it that faith has been broken? How is it that the Company has been allowed to sell them? On Mr. Pemberton’s new official map we find no public reserve marked at the Springs…”

Vigilantes and the lynching of an Okanagan man

Many Natives panned for gold but they were often forced from their claims or swindled out of them by white miners. Sometimes they provoked Natives into a violent confrontation just to shoot them claiming self-defense, knowing they had the backing of vigilantes. At several camps in the BC gold rush, vigilante committees ran the diggings.

At Rock Creek on June 13, 1861, a French miner named Pierre Cherbart started a fight with an Syilx/Okanagan man named Saul which ended with the death of Cherbart. Saul went back to his chief and told him what happened. Chief Silhitza told him to wait for a trial to tell his side of the story.

Sounds of gunshots at Rock Creek

Rock Creek, just north of the American border was a notorious place for rough miners. The first gold commissioner was forced to flee for his life. Few miners bothered to pay the mining fees. They were a rough bunch and like many would start their day with bitters and finish the evening with whiskey. The sound of gunshots punctuated the end of many conversations.

Map of Rock Creek area and Osoyoos Lake

William Cox, Rock Creek’s second gold commissioner, held an inquest into the death of Pierre Cherbart and put an arrest warrant for Saul. At the time of Cox’s decision, Saul was staying at a camp near Osoyoos Lake just below the border. Just as soon as the vigilante miners got word, a group captured Saul and “he was hanged towards eight o’clock in the morning. He didn’t die until the afternoon having suffered the most atrocious tortures at the hands of the Americans who made a game of it.”

During the mid 1850s, vigilantism was the norm south of the border in America. It was not uncommon for a group of self-appointed vigilantes to capture someone and find a good sturdy branch from which to hang them. Saul suffered a worse fate.

Father Pandosy

In 1855, Father Pandosy had stood by helpless as the Yakama he knew were forced to leave their homes when the settlers arrived and taken their lands. The governor of Washington Territory ordered Pandosy to abandon his mission and leave. He headed north to the Big Lake, where he established a mission near the Okanagan village of Skela’unna (Kelowna).

When Chief Silhitza told him about Saul’s vigilante execution, Pandosy penned a letter to Governor James Douglas on his behalf. He didn’t mince words.

“…my heart is heavy on seeing the manner in which justice is delivered to us. If the guilty man had been taken by the authorities, judged according to the rules, the entire camp would have learned a lesson at the gallows; but men without a warrant apprehend us and execute us without trial when Mr. Cox, your representative, is here and he has not even prepared a trial.”

At Douglas’ request, Cox provided further information about the murder of Pierre Cherbart and the chain of events that led to Saul’s lynching. James Douglas decided to let the matter drop and no action was taken to apprehend the men responsible. He was sensitive to the fact that the crime happened on American soil. This did not sit well with the Okanagan people.

W.G. Cox was transferred to other gold fields and John Haynes was brought in from Osoyoos to look after the Rock Creek office.

By the fall of 1861, the easy diggings at Rock Creek were played out. At the same time, stories of rich gold strikes in the Cariboo began to circulate. The miners departed with the first fall of snow.

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.”