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Lecture 5

HIS312H1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Homosociality, Miscegenation, Canadian Shield

Course Code
Ian Radforth

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Lecture 5: Colonizing the West Coast
The history of colonization and immigration to Canada’s west coast differs from developments
in eastern Canada in several ways:
Timing: Immigration began later, in the 1850s
The region’s distance from Britain and from other British colonies
o It often took 3 months of ocean travel to go from Britain to BC when there was no
Panama Canal
o The trip was long, risky, and unappealing
The Aboriginal population of BC was much larger and a bigger factor
Unusually rich resources (salmon, seal, timber, gold) meant a different economy
The gold rush brought a sudden influx of men of many backgrounds
The imperialists who hoped to build a stable British colony on the west coast had deep anxieties
about the nature of the colony that emerged in the colonial period (1859-1871).
The immigrant population was overwhelmingly male and outnumbered by the Aboriginal
This was not a stable colony on the British model
Gender and racial instability characterized the colony
These anxieties need to be placed in perspective against the catastrophic results of European-
introduced diseases on Aboriginal people. It is estimated that British Columbia’s rich resources
had enabled between 100,000 and 200,000 Aboriginal people to live there before European
contact. By the late nineteenth century that population was only 27,000.
Exploration and the Fur Trade
Explorers along the coast: Russians (1728), Spanish (1774), British Captain James Cook
In the early nineteenth century fur traders approached from two directions
Pacific trade: various national groups trading for sea-otter pelts with Aboriginal people to
meet demand for otter furs in China
Overland trade: the Hudson’s Bay Company expanded operations westward from
Rupert’s Land over the Rockies to the coast
Establishing the Colony of Vancouver Island
The Hudson’s Bay Company wanted a formal right to develop the region
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In 1849 it negotiated with the British government, which created the crown colony of
Vancouver Island (only Vancouver Island; not mainland BC)
The chief western officer of the HBC, Sir James Douglas, became the governor of the
new colony
His frontier capital was at Fort Victoria, a fur trade post initially (later called Victoria)
His goal: economic development to enhance the profits and future of the HBC
o Coal mining at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island
Imported skilled coal miners from Scotland (along with their families)
Hired Kanaka labourers from Hawaii
Hired some local Aboriginal people
o Agriculture
Planned to attract wealthy British investors who would create estate farms
and hire farm labourers
Attracted a few investors, but workers brought from England did not stay
because of more attractive options in nearby California during its gold
rush (1849)
Disappointing results
The Gold Rush of 1858 (and 1860)
In 1858 Gold was discovered on the nearby mainland along the Fraser River.
Sudden influx of 30,000 newcomers in one year
Most came from California, where the gold rush there was winding down
o Travel from San Francisco to Victoria was quick by schooner and cost only $15
per ticket
o A diverse population: white Americans, African Americans, Chinese, Germans,
Italians, Spaniards, Jews
o Travelled to gold deposits up-river in mountains of the mainland
Governor Douglas takes control
o Douglas feared the rush of Americans would lead to a US takeover of the region
o He designated the mainland colony of “British Columbia” and the British
government confirmed his move
In 1866 the two colonies, Vancouver Island and BC, were united under the
name “British Columbia”
BC joined Confederation (the Dominion of Canada) in 1871 as a province
o Douglas required all miners to have a license, which had to be issued at Victoria
The rush of miners into Victoria (before leaving for the mainland gold
fields) made Victoria into a booming centre for the first time
Miners purchased food and equipment and made travel arrangements at
A second discovery of gold in the early 1860s, this time in the Cariboo country of the
mainland extended and expanded the gold mining frontier
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Gradually men attracted to the gold fields found other opportunities in the salmon
fisheries, lumbering, agriculture, and coal mining.
Life on the Mining Frontier
The trek inland was long, hazardous, and uphill into the mountains
o Donkeys carried the load
o Steamboat services developed quickly on navigable waters
o Tales of hardship and adventure predominated
o Fortunes were made supplying and transporting men and gear A Poor Man’s
A Poor Man’s Camp
o Little capital was needed to pan for gold in the streams or dig at the surface of the
o Many poor men were drawn to the possibility of striking it rich
o They lived rough, not wanting to waste time or money arranging for creature
o They created hard-living, hard-drinking frontier communities with fighting and
o Douglas and his officials tried to impose British law and order, which they did but
only to an extent
Responses to the mining frontier
o Some miners found the life squalid, miserable, and lonely
o Some thrived on the bachelor freedoms, the adventure, the male world
o Rivalries and violence were everywhere, as men struggled for dominance or
simply got drunk and rowdy
o Yet, there was also male bonding
Homosocial British Columbia
A distinctive society and culture developed in colonial British Columbia (1849-1871)
The predominance of the mining frontier created a homosocial culture, that is a culture
that was shaped by the overwhelmingly male population
The newcomer population was diverse in origins and included quite a few Chinese
The large Aboriginal population meant the male miners encountered Aboriginal people
The colony’s long distance from Britain meant that Britain’s control over the colony was
shaky and incomplete
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