El Dorado in British Columbia
A travelling exhibition by the Royal BC Museum
In 1858 gold discoveries on the Fraser River triggered global awareness of this far flung British preserve on the north west of North America. Newspapers quickly spread the word about the new “El Dorado”. That summer was frenzy. An estimated 30,000 miners and entrepreneurs followed overland trails north through the United States or arrived in Victoria via ship from San Francisco. This was the third great gold rush of the world, following the California gold rush of 1848 and that in Australia in 1851. Newspapers filled pages with stories of the strikes and of the opportunities to make fortunes. Myth quickly surpassed reality. The huge influx of miners, many American, created worries for Great Britain who had established the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1849 but had not yet formally colonized the mainland, a fur trading preserve held by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
This exhibition will recapture the excitement of the gold rush as it moved up the Fraser River to the Cariboo and then spread throughout British Columbia to almost every river headland. The focus will be on the experiences of the multi-national migrant cohort and of the First Nations who occupied the lands and whose lives would be forever changed. We will also talk about the long-term effects of the rushes, including the establishment of the Government Agent system, and environmental legacies.