Tag Archives: Victoria

Temperance in the BC gold rush

liquor ad 1861

liquor ad 1861

In contrast to the many saloons and breweries which were successfully established in Victoria during the Fraser River gold rush, a temperance movement also began. Temperance movements were dedicated to the moderation, or in some cases complete abstinence in the use of intoxicating liquor.

On June 23, 1859, John T. Pidwell placed an advertisement in the Victoria Gazette celebrating the efforts of the eastern temperance movement and advocating the creation of a B.C. division.  Pidwell, future father-in-law of David Higgins, had arrived in Victoria in 1858 from New Brunswick where he had taken an active role as a member of the Sons of Temperance.

In his essay the Passing of a Race, Higgins remarked that certain well-regarded businessmen were profiting from selling so-called ‘liquor’ to the local tribes while the police and government turned a blind eye.

It was a notorious fact that certain firms were never disturbed. They were immune from the visits of constables, and Justice was not alone blind—she was so deaf that she could not hear the plaintive cries of the wretched victims…

From the British Colonist newspaper September 30, 1862:

Last evening a meeting of gentlemen was convened at the rooms of Messrs. Franklin for the purpose of forming a Temperance Society and Debating Club, when a certain well-known citizen was unanimously voted to the chair, which he took with many thanks for the honor conferred, and sitting down, rested his chin upon his right hand and appeared absorbed in deep thought. Several motions were made, but the chair paid no attention to them for several minutes, when the wondering audience discovered that the chairman whom they had unanimously chosen was in an advanced state of “How-come-you-so” —just in good trim for a small tea party at which whisky formed the principal beverage, but hardly the right thing for a temperance meeting…

The following is a recipe from “Six Hundred Receipts Worth their Weight in Gold” by John Marguart printed in 1867.

How to make Silver-top, a temperance drink

Take 1 quart water, 3 1/4 pounds white sugar, 1 teaspoonful lemon-oil, 1 tablespoonful flour, with the white of 5 eggs, well beat up; mix all the above well together. Then divide the syrup, and add 4 ounces carbonate of soda into one part, and put it into a bottle, and then add 3 ounces tartaric acid to the other part of the syrup, and bottle it also. Take 2 pint tumblers, and put in each tumbler 1 tablespoonful of the syrup (that is, from each bottle of the syrup) and fill them half full with fresh cold water; pour it together into one tumbler. Superb.

The First House of Assembly of Vancouver Island

The first House of Assembly for the British Colony of Vancouver Island met for the first time on August 12, 1856. There were seven elected representatives who had been voted in by slightly more than forty male property holders. The House met in “Bachelors’ Hall” inside the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fort known as Fort Victoria. Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, the first Speaker of the House, described the scene as a room:

“…about twenty feet in length by about a dozen in breadth, lined with upright plank unpainted, unadorned, save perhaps with a few “cedar mats” to cover fissures. On each side were two doors leading to as many dormitories. In the centre stood a large dilapidated rectangular stove its sides made of sheet iron, beautifully and picturesquely bulging. At the end was a wooden table, upon which stood a hundred page ledger, an inkstand, pens, and a small supply of foolscap…Around the Speaker’s table stood half a dozen very ordinary wooden chairs, for the use of the members and at a respectful distance a couple of benches, without backs for the audience.”

At the end of the year the Colony paid the Hudson’s Bay Company (simply known as the ‘Company’) twenty-five dollars for using the room. Their last meeting was held December 7, 1859.

When the House of Assembly first met there was talk of the British Government’s (the Home Government) free trade negotiations with the United States under the Recriprocity Treaty and what that would mean for Vancouver Island. As it was still under the exclusive control of the Company, free trade was considered a good thing.

In the Spring of 1858 as news of the Fraser River gold rush were beginning to spread, discussions turned to the dominant control of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Local Victoria merchants wanted protection from imported goods that were coming north on ships as fast as the flood of miners.  Mr. McKay wanted to introduce a bill which would see imported goods levied by 5 cents but this was countered with 80 signatures on a petition brought forward by Mr. J. D. Pemberton. McKay’s motion was defeated.

Up to this time, the Hudson’s Bay Company had exclusive navigation and trading rights on the Fraser River. James Yates wanted to petition the Home Government in Britain to attach ‘Frazer’s River’ and the surrounding country to ‘Vancouver’s Island’, and remove it from the exclusive control of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Taking a less drastic approach, Mr. Skinner rose to move that a conference with Governor Douglas was needed. Particularly, he wanted to know by whose authority the Company had received exclusive navigation privileges on the Fraser River and by “what right the Hudson’s Bay Co’s. goods only are allowed to be carried up.”

Mr. Yates offered to postpone his motion for a petition to the British Government until after a conference with the Governor was held.

Governor Douglas stalled over the issue, but Yates and several others continued to question his ability to both govern the colony and continue the Company’s exclusive trading rights throughout the mainland.

Hibben & Carswell’s Stationers Hall in Victoria

Yates Street, Victoria 1862

Stationers Hall – Yates Street, Victoria 1862

Hibben & Carswell’s Stationery Store on Yates Street  was one of the first businesses in Victoria.

This painting by Owen Staples (based on an unkown artist’s sketch) shows a glimpse of Hibben & Carswell’s Stationers Hall. It is the white building on the left side of the street just above the pile of logs. This was the original site of the store until it moved to another location on Government Street.

Stationers Hall on Yates Street had an interesting past. It was designed by architect Richard Lewis, who later served as Victoria’s mayor. In addition to housing the stationery store, the building was occupied by the Society of Free Masons, George R. Fardon’s photographic studio, and other private lodging.

Hibben & Carswell Stationers Hall

Hibben & Carswell Stationers Hall

In his book, Some Reminiscences of Old Victoria, Edgar Fawcett recalled visiting George Walkem at his rooms over Hibben & Carswell’s Stationers.

“The walls were plastered, and white, and all over were covered with [Walkem’s drawings of] animals and portraits of noted characters of the day done with a crayon pencil. These portraits were of such men as Judge Begbie, the Governor, an admiral of the station, or some noted politician. It was a sight well worth seeing, and would so be considered today.

Long after Mr. Walkem left these rooms these walls were left intact, and many schemes were devised to remove the pictures with the walls… I am sorry to say it proved to be impossible.”

Early water woes in Victoria

When the Hudson’s Bay Company post of Victoria suddenly became a “full-grown town” in 1858, it lacked most civic amenities, including street lights and drinking water.

By late 1861, the Fraser Canyon gold rush had lost its lustre and the Cariboo gold rush had not galvanized the masses of goldseekers. Supplies in Victoria were still quite expensive.

Annie Harvey wrote in her memoirs:

“…what would we say to paying 25 cents for an egg? That was what my uncle paid for the eggs used in the first Christmas pudding we enjoyed in British Columbia. As to needles, my mother needed a few extra large ones, and upon going to a shop to purchase them, the man held up a package, inquiring, ‘How many do you want? They are four for 25 cents.”

Victoria was over ten years away from getting gas for street lights. There was only coal oil, paraffin and camphene lamps to light homes, stores and other buildings. The streets were dark at night.

Incredibly, drinking water was scarce. Unless one had a well, it was necessary to buy water from water carriers who sold water stored in barrels on horse drawn carts.

Harvey wrote: “At one house…we were obliged to rely on tanks of rainwater, buying all the water we drank, and if the water in the tanks ran short we were obliged to buy for all purposes…The summer did away with that trouble when the boys could take their daily swim [in the ocean] clad only in nature’s garb.”

Robert Burns McMicking: Telegraph and Telephone

Robert McMicking: Overlander, Goldseeker, and Telegrapher

Robert McMicking: Overlander, Goldseeker, and Telegrapher

Robert Burns McMicking was born on July 7, 1843 in Canada West. The McMickings were a long established family descended from United Empire Loyalists. His grandfather had received land near Queenston for services rendered during the War of 1812.

At the age of 13, Robert was hired by the Montreal Telegraph Company.

Six years later, when news arrived of the Cariboo gold rush, Robert and his brother Thomas decided to head west with several others using the now famous overland route. The party of Overlanders arrived in the Cariboo in September of 1862 after a five month harrowing journey, later recounted by his brother Thomas for the British Columbian newspaper. Three men died along the way and horses and oxen perished.

Some of the Overlanders went to seek their fortune in the Cariboo goldfields while others, including the McMickings, worked for a short time on the Cariboo Wagon Road, earning enough money to get them to New Westminster.

In 1865, the Collins Overland Telegraph Company had just installed a telegraph cable from New Westminster to Barkerville. There were telegraph stations at various intervals along the Cariboo Wagon Road, including ones at Clinton, 83 mile house, Soda Creek, Quesnel and at Barkerville. The company was looking for telegraphers and Robert McMicking was hired.

In 1870, after Collins Overland Telegraph was taken over by the Western Union Telegraph Services, McMicking was promoted to the head of the company and moved to Victoria. Ten years later he started the Victoria and Esquimalt Telephone Company in 1880 and worked to have telephone services in Victoria.  He also played an important role in bringing electric lighting to that town.

John Grant: from Purser to Politician

John Grant - Cariboo Road builder

John Grant – Cariboo Road builder

In 1862, Gustavus Blin Wright and John C. Calbreath were awarded the contract to continue building the Cariboo Wagon Road from Clinton to Alexandra. They hired John Grant as their bookkeeper and accountant, in charge of receiving money from the government and paying the work groups.

John Grant was born in Alford, Scotland, in 1841 and immigrated to Canada West (Ontario) with his parents in 1855. Like many other Overlanders, Grant arrived in British Columbia in 1862.

He continued to work for G. B. Wright when the Cariboo Road was extended to Soda Creek the following year. Wright had a sternwheeler built, called the Enterprise to navigate the Fraser River between Soda Creek and Quesnel. John Grant was employed as the purser.

Grant spent the following six years gold mining in the Cariboo and Peace River areas. In 1876, he joined a business firm in Cassiar. In 1882, Grant became a member of the ‘Provincial Parliament’ for Cassiar (members were given the title M.P.P.). In 1887, Grant became the mayor of Victoria.

Kwong Lee Company: gold rush merchants

Kwong Lee Company

Kwong Lee Company

Kwong Lee Company was established in Victoria in 1858 by Lee Chang. The company advertised itself as importers and dealers in “all kinds of Chinese goods, rice, sugar, tea, provisions, etc.”

The store on Cormorant Street in Victoria  became something of an institution for Chinese gold seekers and it was often compared to the Hudson’s Bay Company as they carried such a complete range of food and goods.

As the gold rush progressed, Kwong Lee and Company established locations in Yale, Lytton, Clinton, Lillooet, Quesnel (known then as Quesnel Mouth), Quesnel Forks,  Stanley and Barkerville.

 In 1865 Lee Chang, resigned and sold his interest to Loo Chuck Fan.

Queen Victoria’s influence on the BC gold rush

As a colony of Britain, the monarchy held great influence over the people in British Columbia. Queen Victoria herself had named British Columbia and the town of New Westminster.

Albert Wharf in Victoria was named after Prince Albert. Approximately three miles south of Yale on the Fraser River were the prosperous gold diggings of Victoria Bar and Prince Albert Flat. In the spring of 1860, it was reported that Prince Albert Flat was paying from $8 to $14 “to the hand” with four companies working there.

News of Prince Albert’s untimely death on December 14, 1861 reached the town of Victoria the following year in February. The news came as a shock to Victorians whose town was named in honour of the Queen.

The confirmation of the…demise of Prince Albert was received throughout the length and breadth of the Old and New Worlds – with heartfelt sorrow. The flags of the Government Buildings and the of the Harbormaster’s Office were at half-mast during the day…His Excellency Governor Douglas has most appropriately issued a call to Her Majesty’s loving subjects resident to manifest their grief…

Citizens wore black crape hat bands or wore crape bands around their left arms as signs of mourning for a week after hearing the news.

It was not revealed at the time but Prince Albert died of typhoid fever; a disease that also affected the gold rush population in British Columbia at that time.

Amor de Cosmos: gold rush publisher and politician

Amor de Cosmos

Amor de Cosmos

Amor de Cosmos was one of the most influential people of the Fraser River gold rush.

Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia on August 20, 1825, Amor de Cosmos changed his name from William Alexander Smith years later while living in California. Cosmos came to Victoria as soon as the Fraser River gold rush began in 1858.

At that time, there was only a pro-government publication located on the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort grounds called the Victoria Gazette, later known as the Daily Victoria Gazette, run by two publishers from California.

Cosmos started the British Colonist in December 1858 “to be published every Saturday.”

We intend…to make the “British Colonist” an independent paper, the organ of no clique nor party – a true index of public opinion.

Cosmos was very clear on his opinions and was critical of Governor Douglas’ administration and referred to the competing interests of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s dominance over Victoria as “exclusive”, “anti-British” and “belonging to a past age.” It wasn’t long before the opinions of the British Colonist gained interested readers. Six months later, the British Colonist was being printed three times a week.

Cosmos sold the newspaper to David Higgins in 1863 and campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat in the Legislature of Vancouver Island. Afterward, Cosmos lead the Confederation League which saw British Columbia become a province of the Dominion of Canada in 1871.

Cosmos served as the second premier of British Columbia from December 1872 until February 1874, when he was ousted after trying to change the terms of union. He continued as a Member of Legislative Assembly for Victoria until 1882.

Olympia oysters: food of the BC gold rush

Olympia oysters were a much sought after delicacy, starting from the California gold rush through the Fraser River gold rush and to the late 1860s.

Label on a can of oysters 1850s

Label on a can of oysters 1850s

Wild oysters were abundant in the San Francisco area but soon became depleted as demand outstripped supply. As a result, people looked for Olympia oysters further north. They became a lucrative source of trade for people living in the Puget Sound area. The town of Oysterville, Washington, sprung up directly because of the demand for oysters. Vancouver Island was another source for oysters.

Despite the fact that they were serving the same species of oyster, many saloons distinguished between the source of their oysters – either referring to them as Olympia oysters or Island oysters.

In Victoria, there were oyster saloons. Some oyster saloons were attached to another larger saloon as in the case of the Theatre Saloon, or they stood on their own. Here is a notice from June 27, 1859:

“Fire! Last evening the roof of Rudolf’s Oyster Saloon, Waddington street, was discovered in a blaze . Fortunately the rain prevented the shingles burning.  Had it occurred a day or so ago when the roofs were dry and the wind blew furiously, no one could guess at the result…”

Oysters were eaten on the half shell, fried, or they were made into soup, sauce, patties and as a main ingredient in many other creations and combinations. Oysters were typically served with other types of seafood and meat. They were also served with welch rarebit (known today as welsh rarebit) and even ice cream.

The Occidental Hotel in Victoria had its own oyster stand where oysters were sold by the “bag, gallon, quart, etc.”