Category Archives: Gold Rush Notes

Brief history facts explained about the BC gold rush

Manifest Destiny and Self-government at Hill’s Bar

Down the Fraser River from Fort Yale, deposits of sand and gravel accumulated over the years.  In the Halkomelem language this low bank was known amongst the Stó:lō as Hemhemetheqw, meaning a “good place to make sockeye salmon oil.” Californian miners called these low banks ‘bars’ and based on experience, knew they were good places to find gold.

A group of California prospectors started for the ‘New Eldorado’ in March, 1858. Edward Hill was the first goldseeker of his group to stake a claim there and so this low bank was named Hill’s Bar.

In March 1858, James Moore, a friend of Hill, reported that the “whole tribe of Yale Indians moved down from Yale and camped on Hill’s Bar, about three hundred men, women and children, and they also commenced to wash for gold.”

A goldseeker named Furness made $750 in gold dust in four weeks and Hill himself averaged $50 a day.

As more and more people arrived every day, conflicts arose between the Natives and the miners, mostly American.

Before James Douglas had a chance to reach Hill’s Bar at the end of May, 1858, American miners imposed their own self-government. On May 21st, they posted laws regulating mining claims on that bar, according to what they had learned in California.

Manifest Destiny

Many Americans believed that it was their republic’s “Manifest Destiny” to expand its rule over the whole of the North American continent. American expansionists demanded all of the Pacific Slope lying south of the Russian Possessions (Alaska). Within ten years, they were engaged in wars with both Britain and Mexico to achieve their goals.

When the border was settled at the 49th parallel and not at the 54th as they had hoped, expansionists consoled themselves that there was nothing of any value in New Caledonia, the area where the Fraser River lay.

However, as soon as gold was discovered on the Fraser River, once again the slogan of “54-40 or Fight” was raised throughout the land.

When James Douglas came to Fort Yale, he warned the American miners that the Americans in arming themselves and going out against the Indians were guilty of treason.

He also warned the miners that “the Indians of Washington Territory have sent couriers all through the Fraser river territory, calling on the Indians to unite and drive out the whites. In consequence, the Indians heretofore hunting for the Hudson’s Bay Company have applied for early and increased supplies of ammunition, which was refused to them.” The HBC didn’t want to arm the Natives in their conflict against the miners.

Some miners such as Lucius Edelbute, who had been in involved in conflicts with Native peoples in California, thought it would be better for his group to identify themselves as ‘King George Men’ (British) rather than ‘Boston Men’ (Americans) when they came to the Fraser River. With the use of a Chinook jargon dictionary, they were able to talk their way out of a difficult situation when a group of Natives surrounded them and demanded that they return their salmon to the river which they did so immediately.

This poem printed in the Pioneer and Democrat newspaper (Washington) on November 5, 1858 shows that Manifest Destiny was still alive and well.

Frazer River

Now, hurrah, for up the Frazer,
Where the gold is without measure;
Where the bars and banks are gleaming,
And the floods with gold are streaming.

Now hurrah, nor wait for calling,
For the Frazer river’s falling.

Every day the sun is shining,
Men by thousands come here mining,
And, by rocker, pick and shovel,
Swear among the sand and gravel.

Now hurrah, nor wait for calling,
For the Frazer river’s falling.

Tis a rapid, foaming river,
And the heart will often quiver
When canoes go downward, splashing,
Whirling, spinning, leaping, crashing.

Mind your “p’s” don’t make a blunder,
If you do, you’ll go to thunder.

Up above, among the mountains,
Men have found the golden fountains;
Seen where they flow! Oh joy transcendent!
Down, down, in noiseless stream transplendent,

Then, hurrah, and set your riggings—
Sail above, to richer diggings.

When news gets where Buch and Cass is,
Johnny Bull can go where grass is,
He may rave and rant to foaming,
It will never stop our coming.

Then, hurrah, nor wait for papers,
The license men may cut their capers.

Soon our banner will be streaming,
Soon the eagle will be screaming,
And the lion – see it cowers,
Hurrah, boys, the river’s ours.

Then, hurrah, nor wait for calling,
For the Frazer’s river’s falling.

I’ll scrape the mountains clean, my boys,
I’ll drain the rivers dry,
A pocket full of rocks bring home,
So brother don’t you cry,
O’ California, That’s the land for me,
I’m bound for San Francisco with a wash bowl on my knee.


‘Buch and Cass’ refers to U.S. President James Buchanan and Secretary of State Lewis Cass. ‘Johnny Bull’ refers to the people of England

How the gold rush town of Richfield nearly became Elwyntown

It was bitterly cold in the winter of 1861 and William ‘Dutch Bill’ Dietz only had time to stake a claim at an unnamed creek before being forced to turn back. He named the creek after himself as a way of marking the claim. Sensing that Dutch Bill had found something big, Ned Stout and three others travelled by snowshoe to ‘William’s Creek’ and they too found gold.

Word soon got out and by the first week of March 1862 many more prospectors soon arrived at Williams Creek. They built shafts on the hillsides and as the ice retreated from the creek itself, it became possible for all claims to be worked. Shacks and business establishments were built close by and a town emerged with stores, restaurants and saloons.

Assistant Gold Commissioner Nind based in Williams Lake was overworked with covering the entire Cariboo district as more mining claims were being registered and disputes needed to be resolved. Nind’s health began to suffer and he requested a leave of absence in early May.

Thomas Elwyn

Thomas Elwyn, the former magistrate for Lillooet, was named Nind’s replacement and upon seeing the amount of work to be done, recommended that the Cariboo be divided into two districts. Peter O’Reilly was assigned the western district while Elwyn was appointed head of the eastern section which included the area of Williams Creek.

By the end of May, 1862 more than twenty businesses were established to serve the needs of the prospectors who numbered over five hundred. Soon though, the deplorable state of the trails made it nearly impossible to bring supplies.

High food prices proved to be too much of a hardship for many miners who had arrived with a small amount of provisions on their backs and little money. Many left the Cariboo altogether.

Those miners who pooled their resources were able to stay and reap the profits of their claims. In one month, Cunningham & Company took out gold at the rate of three thousand dollars every twenty-four hours. Steele & Company’s claims yielded two hundred ounces a day.

On the last day of August, Judge Begbie arrived and the first Grand Jury was assembled in the newly constructed courthouse. Among the topics discussed was a name for the town.  The jury recommended it be called ‘Elwyntown’ after Thomas Elwyn.

‘Elwyntown’ didn’t make it on the map. Instead, Lieutenant Palmer, in his role as Deputy Commissioner of Lands and Works, decided upon the name Richfield.

Richfield retained its significance even as Barkerville grew and the neighbouring towns of Cameronton and Marysville were established in 1863 and 1864.

Richfield

Richfield

They rested their heads on Pulu mattresses in the BC Gold Rush

How did gold rush miners get a good night’s rest? If they were lucky, a roadhouse or inn had beds with Pulu mattresses.

The early roadhouses had either cots or if they had ‘mattresses’, they were stuffed with straw or dried moss and sometimes feathers or curled hair.  These were expensive to import because of the tariffs.

An entrepreneur got the idea that Pulu would make a great substitute because there was no import levy on it and also it was soft and cheap. Pulu was from a tree fern known as the hapu’u pulu in Hawaii. The young fronds (fiddleheads) of these tree ferns are covered with a bronze-coloured silky floss called “pulu”. Ancient Hawaiians had long used pulu.

From the late 1850s to the 1880s over 4 million pounds of pulu were shipped in bales, to be used primarily for stuffing mattresses, pillows, and upholstery. Fortunately, this stopped when people realized that over time pulu breaks down into a fine powder. The hapu’u pulu tree fern can reach a large height but it is very slow growing at only half an inch per year.

At Pierce & Seymour’s furniture store at the corner of Yates and Douglas Streets, pulu mattresses were advertised as a popular material for bedding:

“It [pulu] is universally conceded to be equal to feathers and better than curled hair for this climate, at half the price of either.”

Pierce & Seymour also made mattresses made of straw or curled hair.

J. Ducie Cusheon placed the following advertisement in the Daily Colonist June 27, 1859:

Pulu Mattresses

Pulu Mattresses at the Union Hotel in Victoria

100 Additional Men Can be accommodated with Board and Lodgings at the UNION HOTEL, Government Street, VICTORIA, V.I.

Which house is now conducted on the same principle as the WHAT CHEER HOUSE of San Francisco.

The table which speaks for itself will be supplied with every delicacy.

Board per day  $1.00

New Beds, Pulu Mattresses, single and double rooms at $1.00 and $2.00 per week.

The NEW WING to the above House has been most tastefully fitted up with WASH AND BATH ROOM.  Also, a select private READING ROOM, with a Library of choice books, Atlantic, European and California newspapers.

J. Ducie Cusheon, Agent.

Occupations of the 1860s – Assayer to Water Carrier

What occupations were there during the BC Gold Rush? People did many different kinds of jobs.  The colonial government of Vancouver Island printed a notice January 1, 1861 with a list of trade license fees in Victoria. Some occupations are still around such as bakers, carpenters, confectioners, hair dressers, tailors, and insurance agents. As you can see from the list, some vocations are rarely heard of anymore and others have disappeared altogether.

This list of construction trades also shows that people were constructing solid buildings in Victoria – those rough wood shanties were a thing of the past.

Assayer – tested gold for purity (read the story about Marchand’s assay office)
Blacksmith – made farm tools, cooking tools, and sometimes shoed horses and oxen as well
Boarding-house Keeper – rented rooms usually for a week or more and one meal a day was provided. Check out this ad for Mike Cohen’s Red House in Victoria.
Bootmaker – wellington boots, and work boots were in demand during the gold rush.
Brickmaker – prepared the bricks and then fired them in a kiln
Camphene Dealer – camphene oil was used to light lamps
Carman – delivered goods on a horse-drawn wagon
Clothier –  made suits and sometimes drapes
Coach Builder – coaches was a shortened word for stagecoaches
Confectioner – made candy, cough drops (back then sugar was considered medicinal)
Cooper – made wooden barrels
Corn Dealer –  agents who bought grain from farmers and sold it either for feed or seed
Hosier – sold socks and undergarments (see my post on Hardy Gillard – Hoser, Glover & Outfitter)
Indian Trader – would’ve bought items directly from Natives such as furs, baskets, fish
Ironmonger – sold guns and hardware
Jobber – a wholesale merchant
Lime-burner – burning lime in a kiln was a dangerous job because of the toxic fumes. Lime was turned into powder – an essential ingredient for mortar
Livery stablekeeper – housed and fed horses (a hotel for horses)
Mason – a stone worker
Paper hanger – someone who ‘hangs’ wallpaper
Peddler – sold wares directly from a wagon to passersby – often at the edges of town
Plasterer – applies plaster (there was no stucco or drywall in those early days)
Saddler – a maker of riding saddles
Sailmaker – made sails out of canvas for scows, canoes
Saloonkeeper – typically refers to someone who dispensed liquor, although there were coffee saloons and shaving saloons as well
Scourer – this could refer to someone who washed wool or most likely, washed clothes
Scrivener – a professional writer (good for responding to legal documents)
Shipwright – they made ships
Soda water manufacturer –  water was mixed with various compounds and/or flavoring, and of course, carbonation
Syrup manufacturer – syrup was used by confectioners and saloon keepers
Teamster – driver of a team of horses or oxen
Tentmaker – one of the first commercial users of sewing machines was a tentmaker
Tinsmith – maker of stoves, stovepipes and even gold pans (see The Tinsmith of Barkerville for more)
Water Carrier – water was brought to Victoria in wooden barrels carried on horse-drawn wagons.

In the early days of the Fraser River gold rush, 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! Cocktails were “two bits” (25 cents) in comparison.

Children worked in various trades, even at saloons where they washed glasses and swept the floor. Women worked as well, primarily as domestics or garment workers.

Clement Cornwall and the roadhouse named Ashcroft

Clement Cornwall, owner of the Ashcroft roadhouse on the Cariboo Wagon Road, was also a politician.

Cornwall was one of fourteen children born to Reverend Alan Gardner Cornwall and Caroline Kingscote in Gloucestershire, England. When Clement was just an infant, the woollen cloth trade had collapsed and the town’s only employer went bankrupt. Faced with an uncertain future, Cornwall’s father sought help from his wife’s relatives.

Clement Cornwall

Eventually the family built a home, ‘Ashcroft House’ next to the Kingscote estate in England. Clement and his brother Henry were educated at private schools and earned degrees from Cambridge. Afterward, Clement went on to article in law and was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1862.

On April 17, 1862, the Cornwall brothers waved goodbye to their family and set sail from Southampton, England bound for Victoria by way of Panama and San Francisco. They stayed in San Francisco for a few days where they purchased a packhorse for $75 dollars. Their ship docked at Esquimalt on June 2, 1862 and within a few days they travelled by steamship to Port Douglas. With their packhorse they hiked up the Douglas-Lillooet trail averaging thirteen miles a day. Arriving in Lillooet on June 20th, they heard that the prospects of finding gold weren’t as great as had been reported.

On the Cariboo Wagon Road

Considering the time was favourable for acquiring land they scouted around and settled on a strategic place on the packhorse trail in the Bonaparte River Valley that they heard was going to be widened into the Cariboo Wagon Road. On this spot the brothers hired two men to whipsaw timber into useable planks for a roadhouse. It took the workers five months to carry out this gruelling task from January to June of 1863 for four cents per foot plus their food.

On September 24, 1863, the Royal Engineers completed the Cariboo Road past the newly completed roadhouse, named ‘Ashcroft’.

As the ranch and roadhouse prospered, Clement Cornwall’s influence grew. Well-known government officials stayed there including Judge Begbie, Walter Moberly, and Gold Commissioner Peter O’Reilly.

Cornwall was elected in 1864 as the representative for the Hope-Yale-Lytton District—one of five members representing the colony of British Columbia. They met in the Legislative Hall, formerly the main barracks of the Royal Engineers’ camp in New Westminster. The following year Cornwall was awarded the role of postmaster and then as magistrate of Thompson River District in 1867.

Three years later Clement married Charlotte Pemberton of Kensal Green, London, England. Shortly thereafter, Clement was elected to the 8th Legislative Council in 1871.  This was an exciting time when the politicians were working out the details of joining Canada. In the summer of 1871, British Columbia joined Confederation and became a province.

Clement Cornwall left his position in the Senate to become Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in 1881.

Cariboo Miner remembers Quesnel Forks at Christmas

It took six days by horseback to get to Quesnel Forks from Lillooet. The town of Quesnel Forks, located where the Cariboo River meets the Quesnel River,  was laid out by the Royal Engineers in 1861. Quesnel Forks was known then as Quesnelle Forks or “the Forks”. It was a supply centre for the many camps in the area including the large camp at Antler Creek.

Quesnel Forks saw some famous people include William “Dutch Bill” Dietz, (Williams Creek is named for him), W. R. “Doc” Keithley of Keithley Creek and Antler Creek fame, Billy Barker of Barkerville, John Rose, and James May.

Andrew Jackson Abbott and T. S. Handley ran a restaurant and hotel in Quesnel Forks. A Cariboo miner recalled Abbott’s restaurant at Christmas:

“It was a small one room wooden shack. The furniture was all homemade…In the centre of the restaurant was a six-legged table constructed of whip-sawn pine…The culinary utensils were few and far between, but a roaring fire blazed on the hearth and made us feel happy.

Pork and beans was our chief dish, but not our only one; for we had some frozen beef, boiled, roasted, stewed and fried. The boiling pieces were knocked off with an axe, as were those intended for the stew pan, but the steaks were cut with a saw. [The meat was so frozen ] that we could scarcely tell whether we were working through bones or flesh until the frost thawed out. Then we had plum duff without the plums; plainduff we called it. Next came slapjacks or pancakes, tea and coffee, whisky hot and whisky cold, brandy neat and two tins of sardines…

The chairman of the evening was friend Mike Brown… seated on an empty biscuit box supported by a nail keg…The cook of the pork and beans was complimented by the fellow who looked after the slapjacks, who in turn, had a good word to say for the plainduff man. Then Tom Barry put in a claim for his whisky hot, which was duly acknowledged by the boss of the stew and all the rest of us…

1861 Christmas at the Abbott Hotel and Restaurant in Quesnel Forks – one big table

Victoria Theatre and Drama in the Fraser River gold rush

In the early days of the Fraser River gold rush, who entertained gold rush miners while they were in Victoria? There was no Victoria Theatre. Amateur musicians and actors gave concerts, readings, and plays in a narrow building sometimes advertised as the ‘Assembly Rooms’ or ‘Assembly Hall’ on Broad Street between Yates and Fort.

Hudson’s Bay Company Warehouse Transformed

By the early 1860s gold miners were coming back to Victoria with plenty of gold dust. The time was right for a professional theatre. Someone suggested that they use the former HBC warehouse on the southwest corner of Government and View Streets. This warehouse was converted into the Victoria Theatre which could seat 600 people.  Upstairs was a photo studio which also helped to bring in some revenue.

Outside the theatre, the town-crier would ring his bell at intervals to let passersby know that the doors were open. He would give an entertaining run down of the evening’s program, first in English and then in Chinook. For many this was itself entertainment.

Gold miners sat in the expensive gallery seats with a “quid of tobacco” in their mouths and their feet on the railing in front of them. From below people could look up and see rows of boots of all sizes and shapes. Two private boxes were located on either side of the stage. English actor Charles Kean played there in 1864 and noted “plenty of draughts.”

Fire at Victoria Theatre

The theatre was lit with camphene oil lamps which often went out mid-performance which sometimes caused confusion as people rushed to relight the lamps. Miss Lulu Sweet and other actors were on stage performing the nautical drama ‘Black-Eyed Susan’ when a fire broke out. The Daily Colonist wrote of this incident on October 18, 1860:

“Last evening, one of the swinging camphene lamps in the gallery was accidentally knocked down by some person who was crawling over the backs of the seats to get a nearer view of the stage, and the contents spilled upon the floor, causing a great blaze. A cry of fire was at once raised, and impromptu bucket-companies having been formed, the flames were extinguished without the aid of the engines or truck, which were quickly on the spot. The actors were all on the stage at the time dancing a sailor’s hornpipe, and the greatest consternation was caused for a few moments.”

The Royal Hotel had its own theatre on Wharf Street.  John Ducie Cusheon built the ‘Naval and Military Theatre’ adjoining his Union Hotel on Government Street. An amateur group from Esquimalt performed there for the first time on February 15, 1860. Sometimes the location of these venues was in peculiar places. Goodacre’s Butcher Shop had a room downstairs called the New Idea where people could watch minstrel shows and light comedy.

Theatre Royal

In the fall of 1867, R.G. Marsh undertook an massive renovation of the Victoria Theatre, renaming it Theatre Royal. One of the biggest improvements Marsh did was to install gas burners for heat and light. Also, the Royal Box was decorated with red draperies which featured a golden crown in the centre. A dim narrow passage from Langley Street led directly to The Royal Box and the glare of the footlights.

Theatre Royal opened on October 10, 1867.

Shaving Saloons and Beards of the BC Gold Rush

tufts2

tufts were commonly worn before 1850

By the mid-1850s, beards were popular. In 1857, a journalist strolled through Boston’s streets, conducting a statistical survey: of the 543 men he tallied, no fewer than 338 had full, bushy beards, while nearly all the rest sported lesser facial hair of various sorts. Only four were “men of the old school, smooth shaven, with the exception of slight tufted promontories jutting down from either ear.”

Doctors encouraged men to grow beards as a means of warding off illness, especially sore throats. It was believed that a thick beard would capture the impurities in the air before they could get inside the body.

Many different styles of beards were seen – flowing beards, stubby beards – as well as many types of moustaches.

In 1858 the South Australian Advertiser printed: “Some men wear beards, whiskers and moustaches; others shave the whiskers and beard and leave the moustache; whilst others preserve the moustache and part of the beard but eschew whiskers!”

beard1

a beard style of the mid 1800s

The word ‘whiskers’ typically referred not only to bushy cheek growths—to massive sideburns and muttonchops, but also to a ‘wreath beard’ or ‘chin-strap beard’. Check out my portrait of packer Joel Palmer. In the mid 1860s many men imitated the look of the Civil War general, Ambrose Burnside, known for his ‘mutton chop’ style, where whiskers broadened across the cheeks and met in a moustache. Thomas Hibben wore this style of mutton chop. Another style known as ‘Piccadilly Weepers’ – very long, comb-able, pendant whiskers – came into being in the 1860s.

The Royal Engineers who came to British Columbia in 1858 all had long full beards. Many of the gold miners probably didn’t have time to trim their beards either.

From an article printed in the British Colonist “A miner’s experience on the Pacific Slope” Thomas Seward recalled the summer of 1858 when he was digging for gold on the Fraser River:

Our life at this period was so monotonous it is hardly worth describing, one day exactly resembling another. Rising with the sun and cooking our breakfast of beans, boiled over night, making our bread of water and flour in our gold pans, frying, perhaps, a salmon or slice of bacon…Dinner at twelve showed no change of bill of fare, and supper followed in its footsteps with striking fidelity. The life was a hard one, certainly, but I was not unused to it, and as a pretty energetic worker, rocking out sometimes as many as 400 buckets in a day…

On April 21, 1859, it was reported that Queenborough (which later became known as New Westminster) consisted of two wharves, fifteen houses, two restaurants, two bakers, a grocer, and a barbershop.

Some later advertised ‘shaving saloons’. Here is an ad from a Halifax newspaper in 1860:

shavingsaloon

Fred Paine on Johnson Street (four doors down from Wharf Street) advertised himself as one of the first to shave and cut hair in Victoria. His advertisement which was printed in the British Colonist in 1863 gives his prices which Americans would have been familiar with – 2 bits meant 25 cents and 1 bit was 12.5 cents (12 cents and one half penny).

Cutting Hair…. 2 bits
Shaving…. 1 bit
Shampooing….1 bit
Dressing…..2 bits

Shoemakers and Sore Feet in the Fraser River gold rush

At the onset of the Fraser River Gold rush, most people were still making their own shoes and boots to save money.

In 1856, a popular book was published, “Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker” which showed how to make a shoe that would cost half as much as a store-bought shoe. All that was needed was a pre-cut sole, fabric for the upper, thread and needle.

There were two main methods of making shoes by hand – ‘turned’ and ‘welt’.

The turned method was for shoes with a lightweight upper and flexible sole. Women’s slippers or light dress boots would be made using the turned method. A popular style of shoe for women in the 1850s was the gaitor or Congress boot, either laced or with elastic sides.

gaitor boot for women

gaitor boot for women

 

The welt method used an insole, outsole, uppers, and a leather strip called a welt. The shoemaker positioned the welt between the upper and insole and sewed them together with one seam along the inner edge of the welt. A thin narrow shank and wood shavings filled the space between the insole and the outsole to add stability to the shoe. A heel was added.

Heavy boots and cheaper shoes, such as brogan, were held together with either pegs or nails. Pegged shoes did not have stitch indentations on the bottom of the outsole since each had its own peg. It is interesting to note that the nails used for constructing shoes left round holes while the pegs were square and left square holes that often skewed to a diamond shape over time. Pegged brogans were often made with a midsole which was a full layer of leather. These made the shoes durable but heavy. Brogans were almost heelless so they were hardly made for walking. Wellington boots had heels but weren’t meant for hiking either.

When the gold rush miners had to walk vast distances every day just to get to the Fraser River gold diggings, they soon started making their own footwear, including moccasins. Here is an excerpt from Herman Reinhart’s diary:

“I never suffered so much in my life as on that trip to the Fraser River. My ankles…would swell up so that I could hardly get along, but I had to drag on anyway. I made me moccosins of carpet from a saddlecloth I had, and I would have to put on a new sole every night after I got into camp. How glad many of us were when we…could sit down and rest our sore feet.”

In February 1858, the Mechanics Magazine published “Certain improvements in the construction of heels for boots and shoes,” by W. Westley.

“These consist of forming an entire or partial rim of metal the shape and height of the heel and the inside of which is filled up with gutta percha, scrap leather, or wood, through which holes may be made for attaching the heel to the boot or shoe. The metallic rim may be be japanned, or covered with steel around the bottom edge; or the rim itself will be made of cast iron, chilled on the under edge, to prevent rapid wearing away.”

A breakthrough in technology came in 1862 when the McKay Stitcher was invented. This machine, based on an earlier invention by shoemaker Lyman Blake, sewed the soles of shoes to the uppers without a welt. A lining then covered the seam that went through to the inside of the shoe. This prevented wear of the stitching thread. The shoes made on this machine came to be called “McKays.”

parts of a Wellington boot

parts of a Wellington boot

Here is a page from my upcoming graphic novel on the Fraser River gold rush. In the first panel I drew a Wellington boot which was commonly worn in the 1850s.

20hermanstory

Conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC

There was increasing conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC (Hudson’s Bay Company) in the years before the two fur trade companies merged.

Fur traders working for the HBC criticized the company for being slow to respond to situations while the NorthWest Company ran roughshod over them.

1816 was a bad year. In Athabasca (north Saskatchewan), the HBC was short of provisions but they faced open hostilities from the NWC. As a result, 16 HBC employees died of starvation. At Red River, 22 settlers including Governor Robert Semple were killed in what became known as the Seven Oaks Massacre.

Lord Selkirk, whose idea it was to establish settlers in the area, against the wishes of the HBC, travelled to the North Westers’ headquarters at Fort William. In retaliation of the massacre, Selkirk and his private army seized the fort and arrested several of the partners.

The NorthWest Company had a strong position in the Athabasca area but there were mounting problems within the company ranks.

At Ile á la Crosse in northwestern Saskatchewan, both the companies had forts there. The NorthWest Company had Fort Black and the HBC named theirs Fort Superior. Here both sides engaged in guerilla warfare.

Peter Skene Ogden was one of the young Northwesters accused of leading the bitter rivalry at Ile á la Crosse, where the HBC’s post and goods were captured under warrant in 1817. James Douglas was named by the HBC for harassing those at Fort Superior.

Both of these men later went on to become Chief Traders with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Eventually, James Douglas became the colonial Governor of Vancouver Island and British Columbia and a key political figure in the Fraser River Gold Rush.

In my graphic book, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush, I have included a biography of James Douglas, including his time in the fur trade.

Conflicts between NWC and HBC

Conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC