1902 Encyclopedia > British Columbia

British Columbia

BRITISH COLUMBIA, the first of the Canadian pro-vinces organized on the Pacific, was admitted into the Dominion in 1871. Including Vancouver's Island, it em-braces an area of 233,000 square miles, of bold sea-coast, lofty mountain ranges, and rugged picturesque river courses, as well as rich fertile valleys. Unlike the great river sys-tem to the east of the Rocky Mountains, the rivers of British Columbia make their way by abrupt rapids and falls, in their comparatively brief courses from the Rocky Moun-tains to the sea.

British Columbia owes its rise to the status of a pro-vince of Canada to the sudden influx of gold-diggers in 1856 and following years. The bed of the Fraser River had been discovered to be a rich auriferous deposit; and all who preferred the lottery-like chances of the diggings to the more laborious but certain fruits of patient industry hastened to this new Eldorado. In a semi-official publication of 1864, it is stated that, in 1860, " Antler, the most important creek, yielded at one time, at the lowest estimate, gold to the value of $10,000 per day. On one claim $ 1,000 worth was taken out of the sluice-boxes as the result of a single day's work." But it was not till 1862 that the unsystematic process of mere surface diggings and washings of nomad adventurers was super seded by sinking shafts and carrying on a regulated system of mining under the direction of experienced engineers. Companies were formed; large capital was invested; and an official report of 1870 states the yield of gold for that year from the mines of Cariboo, Silionet, Lilloet, Columbia, Yale, and Lytton at $1,333,745, in addition to the large quantities of the precious metal carried out of the province by private adventurers. It appears from authentic returns that from 1862 to 1871 gold to the value of $16,650,036 was shipped from British Columbia by the banks, and so registered and put on record; while the estimated value of that which was carried out of the country by miners themselves during the same period is probably not over-estimated at $6,000,000. Nor is this a mere temporary supply derived from surface-washings. Extensive tracts of gold-bearing quartz rocks constitute an important element in the permanent mineral resources of the country. According to the Tables of the Trade and Navigation of the Dominion of Canada, printed at Ottawa in 1875, the export of gold in dust and bars from the province of British Columbia during the previous year is valued at $1,072,422.

As explorations and surveys are carried further into the interior the auriferous regions prove to be widely extended, and rich in their promised yield. Gold has been found over an area of not less than 200 miles, and is readily obtained by the simple processes of the adventurous gold-washer, in the beds of the Fraser, the Thompson, the Peace, and Ominica Rivers, or the creeks and tributaries flowing into them. Stickeen River, towards the Alaska frontier, the most recent gold-field, has been successfully worked since 1875, and continues to yield an abundant return. But though the rumour of river-beds of golden sand is the readiest of all stimulants to emigration, a rush of gold-diggers is not the most satisfactory addition to the population of a young colony ; nor is wealth thus easily acquired generally turned to good account. The immigrant population included bands of lawless adventurers, Texans, Mexicans, Spaniards, Californian, Australian, American, and Chinese gold-diggers, with a heterogeneous gathering of reckless fortune-hunters from all parts of the world. The necessity for some regularly-organized form of government to control such a population made the organization of the territory beyond the Rocky Mountains into a province of the Dominion all the more welcome to the industrious settlers who were there seeking a permanent home.

Under the new orderly rule the crowd of gold-seekers was speedily followed by emigrants in pursuit of more settled industry. Agricultural labourers soon found that the golden harvest could be secured to themselves by providing for the miners the fruits of the soil. It is probably no exaggeration to estimate the worth of the gold carried out of the province from 1856 to 1875 as not less than $36,000,000. Much of this might be considered as pro-ductive of no direct benefit to the country, Indirectly, however, it has largely contributed to the opening up of the new province, and making its many attractions known. It led to the construction of roads, developed the mining districts, encouraged agricultural and general trade, and stimulated the growth of permanent settlements. In 1841 the " Vincennes " ship of the American exploring expedition entered the Straits of De Fuca; and Dr Pickering has preserved a vivid picture of the forbidding aspect of rudest savage life which then met his eye. Contrasting the then strange uncultivated scenes of that wild coast with the familiar centres of American civilization on the opposite shores of the same continent, he says, " Scarcely two centuries ago our New England shores presented only scenes like that before me: and what is to be the lapse of the third]" Within less than twenty years thereafter the town of Victoria was rising on Vancouver's Island, and that of New Westminster on the neighbouring mainland. The printing press was in full operation. The British Colonist, the New Westminster Times, and other newspapers were in circulation, where so recently the Indian trail and wigwam were the sole evidence of the presence of man. The produce and manufactures of the province exported during the year ending June 1874 are valued in The Trade and Navigation Returns for the year at $2,120,624 ; the customs receipts are being chiefly expended on public works, and the varied resources of the country have been rapidly developed and turned to the best account.

Minerals.—The mineral products of British Columbia still occupy the foremost place in its exports. They are valued in 1874 at $1,351,145. But it is important for the future progress of the young province on the Pacific that its minerals include coal. Mr Horetsky, in his Canada on the Pacific, describes the shipping of coal at Vancouver Island for the San Francisco market, where it sells at $12 per ton ; and Mr Grant, in his Ocean to Ocean, reports his visit to Nanaimo, with a population of seven or eight hundred, all depending on the neighbouring Douglas mine. " The man-ager," lie says, "informed us that they would probably ship 50,000 tons this season, and that next year they would be in a position to ship 100,000 or more. The coal measures which the few seams now worked represent extend over the whole eastern coast of Vancouver Island." Fine anthracite coal is also found near the coast, and in vast quantities, of superior quality, on Queen Charlotte's Island ; and about 160 miles in the interior, on the River Nicholas, 50,671 tons of coal were exported in 1874 to the United States and Mexico, the value of which was $278,213.

When the census was taken in 1870, the population of the little capital of Victoria amounted only to 3,270, including 211 Chinese, but exclusive of Indians. Already it exceeds 5,000 souls, of very diverse character and nationality, but with abundant energy, and an assurance of progress. The Government of the Dominion is extending its aid to the young province with a liberal hand. In the fiscal year 1872-3, the total receipts to the Dominion from all sources in British Columbia amounted to $417,409; while the expenditure,—apart from railway surveys,— was $639,037. The same spirit still prevails. Buildings are in progress in Victoria for a post-office, savings bank, Government and Indian department; plans have also been prepared for a custom house and revenue office; and the efficient organization of courts of law and a system of police is being followed up by the erection of a penitentiary.
Fisheries.—Attention is now being energetically directed to the treasures of the ocean, the value of which has long been familiar to the native tribes. Mr J. W. Powell, Indian commissioner, in a report to the minister of the interior, dated at Victoria, February 4, 1875, after a general survey of the condition of the Indians of the province of British Columbia, and the results of efforts to encour-age their attention to agriculture, thus proceeds :—

" Fish is the great staple product of all the coast Indians, and owing to the numerous lakes and rivers with which British Columbia is most bountifully supplied, affords the chief means of subsistence to almost all of the interior tribes. All kinds of fish are found in great abundance in the Northern Pacific waters; but the salmon, of which there are some six varieties, is the most con-stant and appreciated article of diet. The fish is now forming one of the most important exports of this province. The dog-fish is caught in large quantities for the oil contained in the liver, which not only forms a common article of barter between Indians them-selves, but is sold to and exported as one of the chief products of the country by the Whites.

"The exports of fish, fish-oil, and furs (the two latter being
almost solely obtained by Indians) for the fiscal year ended June
1874 were:-

== TABLE ==

All this, it has to be borne in remembrance, is the produce of native Indian enterprise, under the stimulus supplied by the White traders. The co-operation indeed extends to other industries besides those of the hunter and the fisher. The fur-bearing animals of the province include the bear, beaver, land and sea otters, fur and hair seals, martens, minks, racoons, fishers, wolve-rines, wolves, foxes, lynx, ermines, skunks, and pumas. Besides the produce resulting from the hunting and trapping of those fur-bearing animals, and the fruits of native industry in the fisheries of the rivers and the coasts, the Indian commissioner also notes the collection of cranberries as another productive resource of native industry. The export of cranberries from British Columbia varies according to favourable or less productive seasons. In the year 1874, which was regarded as a poor season, cranberries, gathered by the Indians, were exported to the value of §2011.

With such results from the unregulated labours of rude Indian tribes, it is manifest how great must be the resources of the country, not only in the furs which have long been an object of trade, but in the unheeded fisheries of the ocean and rivers. The whale still frequents the coast, and is pursued with success by the Clallums, Macaws, and other coast tribes. Now regular companies are being formed for its capture. In 1871 the "British Columbia Whaling Company" had produced 20,000 gallons of oil ; and the results continue on a progressive scale. The dog-fish also, which has long been an object of special favour among the Indians, is now taken in large quantities by the Whites for its oil. In 1870 the produce of this fishery alone yielded 50,000 gallons of oil; and the price which it commanded in California has since proved a sufficient stimulus to increased zeal in prosecuting the fisheries. Cod, halibut, haddock, salmon, sturgeon, smelt, and sardines, all abound along the coasts, or in the straits and estuaries, and with the growing population and wealth both in the provinces and in the neighbouring States of the Pacific, the value of this branch of industry must rapidly increase. The riches of the sea must, indeed, in the end, far outrival all the produce of the gold mines, and may yet rival the fisheries of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Even now, with a sparse population, and trade in its infancy, the exports of the fisheries for 1874 are valued at $114,118.

The province of British Columbia has the same advantage over the neighbouring States of the Pacific, owing to climate and favourable geographical position, which the eastern provinces enjoy in comparison with the States on the Atlantic. This is specially manifest in the value of its timber ; and this must go on increasing with the wealth of the surrounding States. Already the value of the produce of the forest has amounted in the year 1874 to $260,116; and in its various forms of planks, spars, laths, and shingles, it is being exported not only to the neighbouring States and to South America, but to Australia and China, as well as to Great Britain. The white and yellow pine and the valuable Douglas pine abound. Cedar and hemlock attain to a great size ; fine oak and maple are also abundant; and the rivers and the natural harbours afford every facility for a lumber trade for which the countries on both sides of the Pacific will supply as ready a market as the Eastern States and the ports of Europe afford to the lumberers of the pro-vinces of Eastern Canada.

Already railway enterprise is abundantly stimulated by the de-velopment of the resources of this young province ; and now the great question of the future is the route of the projected Pacific Railway, and its terminus on the Pacific coast. The disputes be-tween the Provincial Government and that of the Dominion relative to its immediate construction have been the cause of much local irritation. In the summer of 1876, the Earl of Dufferin, as Governor-General of the Dominion, made a tour through British Columbia, ind greatly contributed to a more reasonable feeling by his conciliatory mediation. The construction of a railway through the province is attended with more than the usual difficulties. In contrast to the vast level ranges of prairie to the east of the Rocky Mountains, its surface is extremely irregular; and the selection of a railway route is controlled by the necessity of finding both a pass through the Rocky Mountains and a suitable access to the seaboard. Yellow Head Pass affords what appears to be the most advantage-ous route, at an elevation of about 3700 feet above the level of the sea. Immediately to the west of this an irregular plateau extends to within less than 100 miles of the coast, where the Cascade Range is reached. From this the descent to the coast is abrupt; the rivers have furrowed deep channels, or directed their courses into the natural canons of this rugged coast line, and much diffi-culty has been experienced in selecting an available route. From the mouth of the Columbia River, for 700 miles northward, the coast is indented with numerous inlets which cut deep into the land, and are comparable to the rugged fiords of Norway. Bute Inlet, w-hich was first selected as the terminus of a proposed route through the Homathco Valley, is of this character. It is an ex-posed sound, walled by lofty cliffs, and with its waters of great depth, so that no suitable roadstead or anchorage is available. The latest surveys (1876) indicate that the line must pass by the Fraser River to New Westminster, where suitable natural harbourage can be found. The chief objection to this route is its vicinity to the frontier, so that it very partially opens up the interior of the coun-try. But Dean Inlet, which has been advocated as a preferable terminus, lies too far to the north. The project of an interoceanic railway through British American territory is, under any circum-stances, a bold one ; and the way in which it is being pressed onward to practical realization abundantly illustrates the enter-prize of this young country, which only requires the increased population which such facilities would supply to develop its inex-haustible resources.

Altogether, evidence enough has already been disclosed to show the great future which is in store for the Canadian provinces on the Pacific. The next decennial census will embrace British Columbia, and furnish more definite statistics as to its industrial progress and natural resources. A steady influx of emigration of the best quality is its first great need. The present population, apart from the native Indian and half-breed, is of a very miscellaneous character, including British, Canadian, American, French, German, and Chinese settlers, with as yet a large preponderance of the male sex.

In the Tables of the Trade and Navigation of the Dominion for 1874, the province of British Columbia not only exceeds in the value of its exports both the provinces of Prince Edward Island and Manitoba, but it exhibits the exceptionably favourable con-trast of an excess in value of exports over imports. The total value of all goods imported for the year 1874 amounted to $2,048,336, while the value of its exports during the same period was $2,120,624.

Under the principles of confederation, the full rights of self-government and representative institutions both in its own local parliament and in that of the Dominion have been accorded to this young province. It has its own lieutenant-governor and Legislative Assembly, and is represented at Ottawa by three senators and six members of the House of Commons in the Dominion Parliament. ( D. W.)

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