Golden Miles of History

Multicultural Lillooet

" . . . our conversations all the way up [the Fraser River] were with Englishmen (staunch Royalists), Americans (Republicans), Frenchmen, very numerous, Germans in abundance, Italians, several Hungarians, Poles, Danes, Swedes, Spaniards, Mexicans, and Chinese . . ."

- Colonel Richard Moody, Journal, January 1859

In August of 1858, Queen Victoria proclaimed the Colony of British Columbia and appointed James Douglas as its Governor. His first priority was to put an end to open warfare between American gold miners and First Nations in the Fraser Canyon.

Lacking firepower, Douglas had to rely on diplomacy and sent "three English gentlemen" including Judge Matthew Begbie to restore law and order instead.

Begbie lectured the American miners on what was expected of them under British law. While they might choose to govern their own country with "the Bowie knife and Colt's revolver," there wasn't any need to carry or use weapons in lands where the Union Jack flew.

Following the official partition between British and American Pacific territories in 1846, ethnically diverse fur trappers, traders and packers – British, French Canadians, Métis, eastern First Nations, Mexican muleteers and Kanakas or Hawaiians – found refuge from US race laws north of the border.

Wanting to attract potential citizens who would resist American expansion and seeking protection for his own mixed race family, Douglas promised equal rights under the law for all races and welcomed "half castes of all complexions (and) Asiatics" as miners and settlers.

Later, racially discriminatory and exclusionary legal rulings overturned this early promise but the original vision for British Columbia was for all races and ethnicities to share equal protections, rights and opportunities.

Cayoosh Flat was the Fraser River terminus of the Douglas Trail, the first road built into the Colony of British Columbia, but that name was never popular. After consultation with St'at'imc Chiefs, the town was renamed Lillooet.

Surveyed by the Royal Engineers, Lillooet's Main Street became known as the Golden Mile for all of the gold that was mined along it. By 1859, Lillooet was thriving and the new Colony's most strategic settlement. Between 1860-63 it was known as a lusty and brawling goldrush town with thirteen saloons, twenty-five licensed premises and a population of 16,000.

Built wide enough to turn around a twelve oxen team, clouds of dust rose from Lillooet's Main Street as thousands of people and pack animals made their way north to the Cariboo goldfields. Some stayed to farm and open shops to supply them and the hundreds of miners who wintered in the town.

The boom didn't last. With the construction of a new road between Yale and Clinton in 1863, Lillooet became a ghost town. Twenty years later, unemployed Chinese rail workers started mining tailings to survive along the Fraser. They discovered gold in Cayoosh Creek and the town boomed again.

The boom and bust economy of Lillooet continued in successive waves brought about by big game hunting, the construction of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, gold mining in Bralorne, the development of the Bridge River Power Project, the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII and forestry with value-added agriculture a new boom on the horizon.

Want to learn more of the epic history of British Columbia? Pick up a map of Lillooet's Golden Miles of History Tour at the Lillooet Museum & Visitor Centre or at participating merchants.