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Gold and the early settlement of British Columbia: 1858-1885 Bunn, Agnus Macleod

Abstract

Mining frontiers have rarely attracted the attention of geographers because of the transitory nature of settlement in such areas. However, a more stable pattern of settlement emerges if the area of study is broadened to include the supply centres for the mines and the transportation routes along which the supplies were carried. The permanent impact of mining on settlement occurred in these service centres and along the main transportation routes leading to the mines. This study examines the nature of the permanent impact on British Columbia of the gold rushes which occurred between I858 and 1866. These rushes established a new pattern of settlement which remained until the coming of the railway in 1885, and, later, they acted as guidelines in the development of settlement. The British Columbia frontier was part of a larger frontier which was opened in California in 1848 and spread northward and eastward in the ensuing twenty years. San Francisco early secured a dominant position as the manufacturing centre for this frontier area, and it retained this position throughout the period of the British Columbia gold rushes. As a result, British Columbia remained within San Francisco's hinterland from 1858 to 1885 and most of the gold mined was shipped to the San Francisco Mint to pay for manufactured goods. The main flow of gold arrived when the United States Government was in very great need of gold to hack its borrowing for the conduct of the Civil War. The determination of the Colonial Government of British Columbia to secure political autonomy in spite of economic dependence on the United States led to the construction of costly wagon roads from east to west across the mountain barrier of the Coast ranges. These roads funneled trade from the interior of the Province through the Lower Fraser Valley to New Westminster and Victoria and thus avoided the traditional Columbia fur trade supply routes which lay in United States Territory. The wagon roads inaugurated a new era of transportation, and determined the locations of all important subsequent transportation routes in the southwestern part of Mainland British Columbia. Land was a strong interest among those who arrived in the gold rushes, and, at times, this land interest rivalled their interest in gold. The group of settlements subsequently established in the Lower Fraser Valley formed the nuclei of many present day communities, and the system of land survey which guided some of these early settlements shaped subsequent patterns of transportation. In the Province as a whole the patterns of settlement established between 1858 and 1866 remained substantially the same until the coming of the railway in I885. With the coming of the railway the Province entered a new phase of economic development, but the broad lines of settlement which the gold rushes created remained dominant and today they are still evident in the spatial organization of economic activities. Gold initiated a pattern which was confirmed by the subsequent construction of the trans-continental railway, the growth of the forest industries, and the development of agriculture.

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