The path that British Columbia took to become the province it is today has been marked by the abundance of natural resources that make up its geography. This webpage provides additional information on how the relationship that humans have with these important parts of our economy, sustenance and culture have changed over the years and are constantly evolving.
Lesson 1 – Pre and Post Contact 1700-1810s
Lesson 2 – Industry Development 1778-1900
Industry development timeline, from 1778-1900. Click on the point for each date to read about the industry advancements that went on during that time.
Douglas fir trees are used to make masts for sailing ships. James Cook started this practice when he arrived in Nootka Sound. Western red cedar bark was a popular material for waterproof clothing among many BC First Nations as it is rot resistant.
Fort Langley trades salmon with Indigenous groups and sends salted salmon to countries overseas. The Sto:lo and other Nations traded salmon with fur traders. Fort Langley also began salting fish for preservation and shipping it abroad. Two hundred barrels of salted salmon are shipped abroad. It is especially popular in the Hawaiian Islands.
The Lafarge company was born in Le Teil, Ardèche, France. Joseph-Auguste Pavin de Lafarge began regular extraction operations in the limestone quarries. This company would expand in the 1950s to 1970s and begin extracting gravel from the area now known as Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam.
The Hudson’s Bay Company builds the first sawmill in BC in Victoria called Millstream Mill. It was built in Esquimalt harbour, on a creek that was named Millstream creek in honour of the mill. Ironically, the creek was not powerful enough to power the mill all year round so it became a flour and sawmill at HBC’s Craigflower farm 6 years later.
The Hudson’s Bay Company began mining in Fort Rupert on the northern tip of Vancouver Island after the Kwakawaka’wakw of the area brought an HBC clerk coal and explained that the material was precious to them and would not permit them to work the coal but would instead mine it themselves and sell it to them. The coal was considered the best in the British Empire and created further incentive to colonize Vancouver Island.
A prospecting party begins searching for coal in Nanaimo, Snuneymuxw Chief Che-wich-i-kan talked about black stones being plentiful in his area while on a trip to Victoria.
Placer Gold discovered in Haida Gwaii. There was a quartz vein full of gold at Lax Kw’alaams, then called Fort Simpson. A HBC representative was taken to the vein by two locals and their child. While the three were chipping gold pieces, the child stayed with the canoe and minded the gold they brought back. On their last trip back to the canoe, they found that the child had dumped all of the gold into the water. This turned out to be one of the only fruitful quartz veins in Haida Gwaii. There was another at Skidegate that the Haida people would quickly gather all of the gold from after each dynamite blast by European miners before they could get to it
First shipment of Nanaimo coal is sent on a ship named Cadboro to Victoria. Most of the coal was collected and loaded by individuals from the Snuneymuxw First Nation who were paid with Hudson’s Bay blankets and other goods for every twenty barrels of coal.
To own and access the rich coal deposits in Snuneymuxw Territory (now the city of Nanaimo), the Treaty of 1854 is created. Treaties were designed to take over property rights of Indigenous people to their land for settlers, resources, for both. The Treaty of 1854 was one of the 14 Douglas Treaties on Vancouver Island.
Gold discovered in the Thompson River by a member of the Secwepemc nation. The presence of gold was kept secret until it was traded with fur traders at Fort Kamloops. This began the Fraser River Gold Rush that brought roughly 20,000 prospectors to the area.
A sample of 800 ounces was sent to San Francisco by James Douglas for assaying. Prospectors, mostly Americans, flooded to the area. James Douglas was worried the Americans would try to take over the territory.
New Caledonia is renamed British Columbia by Queen Victoria after James Douglas petitioned for the area to be made into a recognized British Colony to secure the land away from the Americans.
Governor of British Columbia, James Douglas, creates the Gold Fields Act to control how gold is mined. It required miners to obtain a free miner’s certificate for a fee of 1 pound, that grants them free entry to explore for minerals. They could then stake a claim to any area on Crown Land. The size of land a miner could claim was regulated under the act. BC still operates under the Free Mining System.
Barkerville becomes the center of the Cariboo gold rush. Named after William Barker who found gold in the nearby Williams Lake, Barkerville saw the first Chinese community in Canada. The community provided services to the 20,000 prospectors.
Gold is discovered on Upper Peace River. The river was prospected for years but there was not much gold to be found, and it did not inspire more intense mining or exploration, especially considering how difficult the area was to access. There were no trails, and the weather and terrain were very rough.
Hudson’s Bay Company sells the mining rights to the Nanaimo area coal to an Englishman named James Nichol. He forms the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company for the purpose of mining and selling coal from the Nanaimo area.
Barkerville’s population is 30,000 people, surface placer gold is running out (gold that is found mostly above ground and mined through gold panning).
James Syme cans salmon for the first time in Annieville, marking the beginning of the salmon canning industry in BC. It was in operation in an old saltery for 3 years and produced award winning canned salmon. A provincial depression, thanks to the end of the gold rushes, halted sales.
Omineca region gold rush begins. The Peace River Prospecting Party found gold in Vital Creek. Many creeks in the area had gold so plentiful that miners would find 100 ounces a well. That’s equal to $100,000 a week today.
First commercial salmon cannery opens in Annieville. The Annieville Cannery was opened on the Fraser River across from New Westminster by Alexander Loggie and Co. There was also a slattery on site for processing lower quality fish which were fish that was covered in salt and/or soaked in a salt-water brine as a way of preserving it. In their first operating season, they exported 30,000 1-pound cans to England.
British Columbia becomes the sixth province to join Canada. The province agreed to join Confederation on Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s promise to build a railway across the country, through the Rockies, to connect the western most province.
The Indian Act is created to control the lands and lives of Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit peoples. The goal was to assimilate vast and varied culture into European society by forbidding their governance and culture. Government officials would determine people’s rights and benefits based on good moral character.
The Columbia River Skiff boat is introduced and makes fishing easier in more open waters. It has a round bottom hull and sharp ends for easy gliding while using drift nets which are walls of fishing nets that cross the salmon’s path. The majority were owned by canneries and rented to fishers.
Machines make the process of canning salmon faster and more efficient. The gang knife cuts fish into uniform pieces the length of the can using circular blades. Conveyor belts and soldering machines for sealing cans dramatically increased efficiency.
Phoenix Cannery opens in Richmond. The Phoenix Cannery was the oldest cannery in Steveston, situated on what would become known as “Cannery Row.” It was also known as English Cannery after its owner Marshall English. It burned down in 1895 and was rebuilt by the Anglo British Columbia Packing Company.
The Bon Accord Hatchery is created to try and increase the number of salmon. Salmon numbers had been in decline and the hatchery’s aim was to increase the number of fish returning to the Fraser River.
Canadian parliament passes the Chinese Immigration Act meant to discourage Chinese people from entering Canada by charging a $50 head tax and limiting the number of Chinese people allowed on a vessel coming to Canada. This was the first piece of Canadian legislation to exclude immigrants based on ethnicity.
Canadian Pacific Railway completed. Export of BC lumber to eastern Canada and internationally. Railway extensions were built to reach logging camps for easier transport and export.
Japanese immigrants arrive to work building boats, as fishermen, and in the canneries. They came to escape poverty in their villages in Japan by fishing during the annual salmon run. Many also worked as boat builder along the waterfront. Steveston saw a large boom in Japanese immigration.
Temple Frederick Sinclair employs James Fox to assist him in the removal of rock from the quarry along Pitt River that is later to become the Gilley Quarry in Coquitlam. Sand, gravel, or crushed rock excavated from a quarry is called aggregate. Aggregate is used in construction to create stable foundations for things like roads and railroad tracks.
Canadian Western Lumber Company, also known as Fraser Mills, founded on the banks of the Fraser River. It became the largest mill in the commonwealth and second largest in the world. Most of the workers for the first 20 years of operation were Chinese, Japanese, and Indian.
Wilmont Commission creates regulations to try and control the salmon fishing industry. Samuel Wilmot did extensive surveying of the fishing industry and decided to implement regulations on net size, the number of boats and canneries, and annual closures for canneries. There were frequently hundreds of boats on the Fraser River at one time before this commission. It was not well received and only lasted 2 years.
Steam-powered donkey engine, introduced from the US, replace oxen. The steam donkeys increased the speed of work and volume of timber that could be logged, but they also increased the danger to the workers.
Fraser River Fisherman’s Benevolent Association is formed to help fishermen deal with cannery owners, specifically to maintain the price they were paid for their fish. They were the first union of fishers in BC. Their other priorities were to ban American boats from the Fraser River and exclude Japanese fishers from the industry.
Licenses for canning production is lowered due to a decrease in demand for canned salmon. The economy slowed down during this time around the world. Shipping salmon internationally and domestic buyers lessened. The number of canneries on the Fraser River went from 24 – 9 between 1893 and 1895.
The East Kootenay Coalfields begin production. It is still the largest producer of coal in BC. The decision and interest to mine was based mostly on the upcoming need for fuel for the imminent southern leg of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Towns like Fernie popped up rapidly in the wake of the growing economy.
Lesson 3 – Worker’s Stories & Tools 1900s
The Vancouver Island Coal Strike
Toy Coal Dump Truck
The earliest dump trucks were actually “wagon dumpers” attached to horses in the 1880s. The first steam powdered “tipper dust-cart” debuted in 1896. Shortly after that the hydraulic hoist was invented, which made dumping as easy as pulling a lever. The first vehicle to use the hoist was the Northwestern Fuel Company’s coal delivery truck. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, many vehicle brands produced dump trucks and the general shape of them is still generally used today. Early coal trucks were the same size as a normal truck, but as mining operations have gotten bigger, mining trucks, called haul trucks, have become massive. The largest haul truck in the world is the BelA7 75710 which can hold nearly 450 metric tonnes!
Headlamps were developed around 1900. Thomas Edison developed a lamp for miners around 1914-15 that had extra safety features to prevent any internal sparks from igniting gas in the air around them. Early lamps were powered with acetylene gas, called carbide lamps, that included a water reservoir that dripped water into the gas to control the flow, and therefore the brightness of the lamp and the longevity of the fuel. Carbide lamps declined in popularity after the 1932 Moweaqua Coal Mine disaster, a methane gas explosion in Illinois that killed 54 miners. Battery-powered lamps were developed, but they were not as bright and did not last as long without recharging.
This headlamp dates to the 1950s and was likely used by Mr. Ben Smith during the construction of the Massey Tunney between 1957 and 1959.
Toy Steam Shovel
Steam shovels were the earliest examples of a power shovel or excavator, designed to excavate and move rocks and soil. They were used around the world, from Australia, to Russia, to coal mines in China. They were used to excavate mines, create quarries, in construction, and road construction. Usually built on railway chassis, with a boiler and movement engine, power was driving to the wheels by a chain drive to the axle. With the advent of rail lines, cities boomed, and the resulting skyscrapers phenomena meant that the demand for powerful steam shovels to excavate away material grew. 102 steam shovels helped to create the Panama Canal. When diesal powered shovels entered the market in the 1930s, steam shovels fell out of favour.
Main components include steam boiler, water tank, winch, main engine, boom, dipper stick, crowd engine, wheels, and excavator bucket. The house contains and protects the works, a rotating platform which allows the bucket to rotate and swing. They were usually operated by the three-man crew: an engineer, firemen, and ground man.
Scale and Weights
Scales have been used for weighing for thousands of years. The simplest scales consisted of a rod on a string with two pans attached. The object that needed to be weighed would be placed on one pan, then on the other side pre-measured weights would be added until the pans were perfectly balanced. Early weights were uniformly sized rocks or pieces of metal, such as the one in our collection. This basic scale design was in use for most of recorded history. In the late 18th century Richard Salter developed the spring scale, which used the amount of pressure exerted on a spring to determine the weight of an object. Nevertheless, weights that required counterweights such as this one were commonly used to measure things like gold.
Fish Net Mender
As long as humans have been fishing, they have been creating nets to fish with. While it’s hard to find many surviving nets because they were traditionally made from materials like willow bark, grass, flax, or even human hair, net weights made out of rocks have survived as evidence of early net making. Nets, no matter what they are made of, often rip and develop holes that are too big. It is cheaper and less time-consuming to mend a net than make it, so knowing how to mend nets was a very important skill. Typically, this was a skill that many people in a fishing community would know how to do. The men on the boast would be able to make quick repairs at sea, and the women at home could mend nets when their husbands were on land. Nowadays it is not a very common skill because most people choose to buy a new net if their old one rips. However, the skill is still being practiced in fishing communities all over the world and they use menders very similar to these, although modern day needles are made of plastic. These mending needles are of a European design. To learn more, check out this news article.
A picaroon is a tool for handling cut logs. The point is driven into the log, which can then be dragged or flung to where it is needed. This minimizes the need to bend over or touch the woods as much. A picaroon is also a tern for a pirate, but it is unclear how it became the term for a log-handling tool. Similar to the picaroon is the hookaroon. The picaroon and hookaroon are very similar, but the shape of the head is different. The picaroon has a wedge with a spike at the end that is straight or slightly bent. The hookaroon has a more curved end, often with a serrated edge. Because of the shape of the picaroon, it is better for handling smaller pieces of wood, while the hookaroon can handle larger pieces of wood as they are less likely to fall off. The design of picaroons and hookaroons remain largely unchanged and the tools are still used to this day, mostly by those who chop a lot of firewood.
Veneer Worker Statue
Wood veneer is made by slicing a thin layer of wood from a log in a uniform thickness. Veneer can then be used for decorative purposes and/or to place overtop of a material that is not wood to make it look wooden. The same technique applies to making plywood. The earliest examples of veneer dates back nearly 4000 years in Ancient Egypt. Veneer was cut by hand with a saw or knives. In the 1820s a special lathe wass invented to cut veneer that was more unifrom and precise, but the practice of cutting veneer by hand continued in many places.
This statue was presented to Warren Fenton in 1990 “for distinguished service to the Canadian forest industry” by the Canadian Wood Council. Fenton specialized in making wood veneer.
The origin of the word “pickaxe” or “pick” comes from the Latin picus, which means woodpecker. In prehistoric times the pickaxe was made from door antlers. As humans learned metallurgy, they began to fashion them out of metal. Originally, they were used as a farming tool, prior to ploughs being invented. In medeival times they were used as weapons (war hammers). Pickaxes traditionally used by miners have one end that is pointed and one end that is blunter. These serve different purposes, as the pointed end is used to break up harder material and the blunter end if used for softer material.