Gold! It was dreams of golden wealth and the promise of adventure that drew thousands of young men west to California and British Columbia in the 1800s. Although never achieving the spectacular wealth in gold of its neighbors to the west, Alberta witnessed its own gold rush in the 1860s, and over the subsequent decades many people passed through the province on their way to other mining frenzies that swept across the northwest. Many prospectors settled in the province and became leading members of Alberta’s burgeoning communities.
The First Gold in Western Canada
The 1849 rush in California brought ‘Forty-Niners’ from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and Midwest who traveled overland and by sea. Ocean travel also brought Peruvians and Chileans, Mexicans, Australians, Europeans, and Chinese. In the spring of 1858, the easier diggings long since worked out in California, news arrived in San Francisco of discoveries on the Thompson and Fraser Rivers – to the north in British territory.[ii]
By July, it was estimated that 30,000 “half-wild Californians” had passed through the sedate, trading outpost of Fort Victoria on their way to the mouth of the Fraser; 3,000 having arrived in one day.[iii] Following the Fraser River upstream, those miners who struggled on and inured the hardships of cold and wet, hunger and privation, were rewarded with the richest diggings of all – in a region that became known as the Cariboo, east of present day Quesnel, roughly 100 km west of Jasper National Park.
Gold in Edmonton
The presence of gold in the gravels of the North Saskatchewan was first noted by Dr. James Hector who, with the Palliser expedition in 1859, was shown small amounts of gold washed from the river.[iv] Late in Autumn of that year, a group of five miners from the Cariboo, [v] upon hearing reports of gold at Edmonton, ascended the Fraser River, and by way of Yellowhead Pass and Jasper House, arrived at the fort.
The party included Americans Tom Clover and Timolean Love. Clover had been an original ‘Forty-Niner’ and would spend four years mining and prospecting the gravels of the North Saskatchewan before moving on.[vi] Love, who traveled between Fort Edmonton and Fort Garry for supplies, probably did more than anyone to create interest in the mines on the Saskatchewan with his enthusiasm, optimism, and aggrandizements. He was convinced the gold fields would soon prove themselves, bringing an influx of miners and settlement into the area.