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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Manning the Fraser Canyon gold rush Groeneveld-Meijer, Averill


In the canyon where the Fraser River flows through the Cascade mountains, migrating salmon supported a large, dense native population. By 1850 the Hudson’s Bay Company had several forts on other parts of the Fraser River and its tributaries but found the canyon itself inaccessible. Prior to the gold rush, whites rarely ventured there. Discoveries of gold in Fraser River in 1856 drew the attention of outsiders and a rush of miners, and led eventually to permanent white settlement on mainland British Columbia. Contrary to much historiography, these were not foregone results. Instead, the gold rush was a complex process of negotiation and conflict among competing groups as they sought to profit from gold discoveries. The Hudson’s Bay Company sought to gain and retain control of the resource by incorporating it into its trade and by excluding outsiders. But miners arrived by the thousands, and the Company was forced to try to regulate miners’ access to the resource. However, as a group, miners were cohesive and self-reliant; they had little need for outside intervention. The Hudson’s Bay Company was unable to regulate them while pursuing its own ideas of profit. The British government subsequently revoked the Hudson Bay Company’s trade license, and proclaimed British Columbia a colony. In efforts to impose its own ideals of order on the gold fields, the government introduced a new colonial administration which, following a chain of command extending from London through Victoria to the Fraser, sought to organize the population in the spaces of the Fraser Canyon. Government authority was reinforced by the legal system’s flexible responses to the diverse population’s activities it deemed illegal. By studying the interactions of natives, miners, traders, administrators, and the legal system, I have attempted to untangle the ways in which white men negotiated their particular racist and masculinist ideals and sought to impose them in the spaces of the Fraser Canyon.

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