Golden Miles of History

The Goldrush

"There are all kinds of people on earth that you will meet someday... They will be looking for a certain stone... They will be people who do not get tired but who will keep pushing forward, going, going all the time... They will travel everywhere looking for this stone which our great-grandfather put on the earth in many places."

- Sweet Medicine, Cheyenne Prophet

In 1846, Hudson's Bay Chief Factor James Douglas sent Alexander C. Anderson to find an all-British route for fur brigades from New Caledonia to the Pacific coast. Anderson explored the series of rivers, lakes and First Nations trails between Harrison Lake and Lillooet but concluded that a short season of unloading & portaging goods made the route as impractical as the Fraser River.

Ten years later, Douglas began supplying First Nations with hand tools to collect placer gold for trade in the Fraser River watershed while American miners trickled in from Oregon Territory. Douglas sent a shipment of gold to the San Francisco mint in 1857, word got out and the stampede was on.

By 1858, there were 30,000 or more miners along the Fraser River and they faced a winter without re-supply.

Douglas contracted Otis Parsons to build a pack trail along the route Anderson explored with labour supplied by the miners themselves. Two years later, the Royal Engineers upgraded the trail into a wagon road and three new steamboats were built to operate on the lakes between Harrison Lake and Lillooet.

Lillooet became an important mining centre & transportation hub with a cable ferry across the Fraser operated by Parsons.

Without any formal authority over the vast inland territories of New Caledonia and its multitude of First Nations, Douglas was determined it would not become part of the U.S. He forced the miners to submit to British authority by charging them for permits. California newspapers encouraged miners to travel via Washington Territory saying that within a year New Caledonia would be part of the U.S.

Open warfare raged between First Nations and the US Calvary south of the border. The majority came via Victoria and paid their dues instead.

Douglas travelled to the Fraser Canyon with a small escort of British marines to maintain order between the miners and First Nations with diplomacy rather than force.

St'át'imc assembled at Lillooet rightfully saying that since the gold was in their territory, the miners should pay them to mine it. They also expressed their fear the mining would impact salmon runs but the Boston Men were many and the King George Men few. Douglas could only assure the St'át'imc they would be "treated in all respects as Her Majesty's other subjects . . . magistrates would tend to their complaints (and) they might hold mining claims on the same terms . . . as other miners."

Queen Victoria approved of the measures Douglas took, proclaimed the Colony of British Columbia and the newly arrived Judge Matthew Begbie swore him in as its Governor in November of 1858.

When the miners pushed into the goldfields further north, Douglas sent the Royal Engineers to build a road for them. Lillooet became Mile Zero of the Cariboo Road and blossomed into the largest settlement north of San Francisco with a population of 16,000 at its peak.

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.