Music during the BC gold rush

Music was an essential part of daily life during the gold rush years in British Columbia. Musical instruments were much more difficult to acquire unless gold seekers managed to bring a violin or flute with them.

One of the Overlanders of 1862 recalled a typical evening on the prairies during the first part of their journey to the Cariboo:

“An association of musicians was formed on the trail. After supper, many others amused themselves on different kinds of brass instruments, clarinets, flutes, violins and a concerteena…At Edmonton, the musicians gave a concert to a crowded house…”

Some of the Royal Engineers were trained as musicians and provided welcome entertainment to the citizens of Fort Victoria.

The Victoria Philharmonic Society was formed in 1859 with forty members who paid $5 to join. Flutes, violins and other stringed instruments were very popular. Barrel organs and pianofortes as they were known, were coveted items and brought at great expense and effort.

James Loring purchased an upright piano and had it shipped as far as Quesnel and from there four men carried it in its crate for 60 miles to Barkerville. The hurdy gurdy was a popular stringed instrument during the Cariboo gold rush and dancers were known as ‘hurdy gurdies’.

hurdy gurdy player

playing a hurdy gurdy (creative commons image)