The Year That Made and Broke BC – by Crawford Kilian (The Tyee – March 15, 2023)

The 1858 gold rush brought sweeping change, and sealed a grim future for Indigenous people.

Gold, Grit, Guns is an extraordinary book that focuses on the lives of four prospectors and their mixed fortunes in the B.C. gold rush of 1858. Their diaries vividly describe the expense and hard work it took just to reach an unclaimed gravel bar, and then to find the flakes and nuggets of gold it might contain. In the process of getting rich, or more likely going broke, they also began the breaking of an ecosystem and an economy thousands of years old.

The year 1858 was a pivotal one for the western regions of British North America: it saw the transformation of “New Caledonia” into the Crown colony of British Columbia (soon to merge with the colony of Vancouver Island).

It saw the end of Hudson’s Bay Company rule and the start of more or less responsible government. And of course it saw the comings and goings of thousands of foreigners, whether they were gold prospectors or those seeking profits by selling goods to the prospectors.

The onset of a new economy, imported by thousands of outsiders, collided with a much older economy of Indigenous trade routes that extended thousands of kilometres from the coast. The Hudson’s Bay Company had not so much taken over the old Indigenous networks as plugged itself into them. James Douglas, as a very effective Black and Scottish trader who ran the HBC in the Pacific Northwest, seems to have understood and respected his Indigenous trading partners, and generally maintained good relations with them.

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