The Gold Rush that took place in British Columbia between 1858 and 1863 had a
considerable and lasting impact on the province. The surge in activity in the region
caused a boom in development and business, and it boosted land-surveying in the
areas around Vancouver. But the Gold Rush also had a considerable effect on
Vancouver Island, notably the city of Victoria, where many miners had to pass through
before continuing their journey.
The years between 1858 and 1863 comprised, in fact, two separate gold rushes. The
first, in 1858, occurred on the Fraser River, and the other, beginning in 1862, took place
in the Cariboo District. These gold rushes brought thousands of people––both men and
women––into the province looking to seek their fortune.
The Gold Rush of 1858 had a particular impact on Victoria. During this first wave, more
than 30,000 people came flooding to the Fraser River. Most of the gold prospectors
came through Fort Victoria, then a small town with only about 500 families who had
come from elsewhere to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Prospectors had to stop
here in order to obtain the necessary mining license and provisions to continue their
strenuous journey to the mainland, where they would then travel by foot to the Fraser
Canyon in order to pan for the gold that could be found there.
The process in which these miners panned for gold was called “placer mining,” a
process that required sand or gravel to be washed in order to reveal gold or other
minerals. The process was so easy that the resulting product was nicknamed “free
gold,” since only the most basic tools were needed to extract it.
Most of the adventurers who came during this gold rush were Americans seeking to
extend their luck in the wake of the California Gold Rush, but prospectors came from
across the globe, with travellers coming from places as far afield as England, Germany,
and China. The effect of these many passers-by was huge: in no time the settlement at
Fort Victoria increased to almost 20,000.
This influx of people seeking to mine the land of its resources was not without its share
of problems. The land had been previously inhabited by indigenous peoples who had
used the area as a fur-trading territory, and as populations grew, conflicts arose. The
social conditions were such that many Chinese miners who had come to the area were
unable to bring their families, and the China Town that sprung up in Victoria became
essentially a community of men––many attribute these difficult and lonely conditions to
the copious opium dens and factories that sprung up in Victoria’s China Town, giving it a
sinister reputation in early days.
Today, Victoria is a vibrant tourist destination, and its China Town is the oldest in
Canada. Its “dark history” of opium from the days of the Gold Rush is memorialized in
the popular Fan Tan Alley, where old opium houses have now been transformed into