Work: Mining

Chinese worker at worksite.

Chinese worker at a worksite.

In Chinatown , as in Old China, so many men walked about with scarred faces and limbs. Who did not have a tale to tell? .

from The Jade Peony , p. 63, by Wayson Choy



The Chinese first appeared in large numbers in the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1858 as part of the huge migration to that colony from California during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. Most of the Chinese who came to British Columbia in the 1850s and 1860s came directly from California — as the gold rush in California was coming to a close, the rush was just beginning in the north. A second wave of Chinese migration occurred when news of the BC Gold Rush eventually reached China and attracted many for new opportunities in the “Gold Mountain.”

There were two major gold rushes in British Columbia in the mid-1800s. The first was the Fraser Gold Rush in the 1850s while the second occurred in the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s. While the Fraser Gold Rush drew Chinese north, it was during the Cariboo Gold Rush that the first Chinese community was established in Canada in the gold mining town of Barkerville.

In the goldfields, Chinese mining techniques and knowledge turned out to be better in many ways to those of others, including hydraulic techniques. In the Fraser Canyon, Chinese miners stayed on long after all others had left for the Cariboo Gold Rush or other goldfields elsewhere in BC or the United States and continued both hydraulic mining and farming, and owned the majority of land in the Fraser and Thompson Canyons for many years afterwards.

At Barkerville, in the Cariboo, over half of the town's population was estimated to be Chinese, and several other towns including Richfield, Stanley, Van Winkle, Quesnel, Antler, Quesnelle Forks and Lillooet had significant Chinatowns.

Barkerville became a prosperous town during the Gold Rush. At the height of the gold rush in the 1860s, as many as 5,000 Chinese lived in Barkerville. Yet, since Chinese were not allowed to prospect in areas other than on abandoned sites due to racial discrimination, Chinese prospectors did not make the same fortunes as did their white counterparts
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