Stories of where the first British Columbia gold came from vary; some claim gold dust was traded from the First Nations peoples as early as 1852, others say that Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Trader Donald McLean sent two pint-sized pickle bottles full of gold back to James Douglas, the Company’s Chief Factor, in 1856. It was impossible to keep it a secret. Soon the news broke out and everyone wanted a part of it.
British Columbia had two big gold rushes, one in 1858 on the Fraser River and the other in 1862 in the Cariboo district. In each, tens of thousands of men (and a few women) sailed north from San Francisco to land in Esquimalt Harbour on Vancouver Island, not far from Fort Victoria.
The miners came first to Victoria to obtain a valid “mining license” which permitted them to prospect for gold. It must have been a chaotic situation. In 1858 Fort Victoria was tiny. No more than 500 immigrants lived on southern Vancouver Island, and these were mainly Hudson’s Bay Company employees, farmers and their families. Within two months the population grew to over 20,000. Almost overnight, Victoria became a tent city as miners camped while they purchased their mining licenses, and all the supplies – equipment, food, clothing, they would need for their journey to the gold-fields.