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British Columbia, but a short time back the least esteemed, as it is even now the least known, of all our colonial possessions, has started into life as a full-grown settlement, and instead of waiting to receive, generations hence, the contingent overflow of communities not yet in being, it bids fair to give an impulse to the progress of the interior which could never have been looked for in the natural course of events. Advantages and disadvantages of situation alike contribute to this result. Its position, midway on the direct route from Europe to Australia and China, promises a large commercial success, dependent only on the establishment of that quicker communication with the mother country which the neighbourhood of a great and possibly hostile power, and the length of the voyage round Cape Horn, already make essential to the due protection of the infant colony. The scheme of an overland route to connect the Pacific with the Atlantic is now a matter of immediate importance, and when once that is accomplished the settlement of the districts through which it passes must speedily follow. It is, we confess, rather for this reason that we are going to draw our readers' attention to the subject. Our knowledge of the circumstances of British Columbia is still so scanty, that even the merest sketch of its capabilities and prospects must be in a great measure incomplete and unsatisfactory. But without it our view of the condition of the unsettled part of British America would be so incomplete, that we prefer to make the attempt even with the disadvantage of our present scanty materials.
On one point indeed, and that, it may perhaps be said, the one of greatest immediate interest, we have information enough. There is no reason to question either the richness of the golddeposits, or their wide distribution throughout the entire territory. It is found along the whole course of the two principal rivers, as well as of all their more important tributaries. The size both of the particles and of the deposits increases in proportion to the distance from the sea, and the richest mines are now being worked, more than 500 miles from the mouth of the Fraser, about Fort Alexandria, Fort George, and along the mountain range at the head of the Quesnel River. Gold has been found also, though as yet only in small quantities, in some of the numerous inlets along the coast, and it seems probable that the whole country from the sea to the Rocky Mountains will ultimately prove auriferous. At first, the deposits were supposed only to exist in the “bars,” or sandbanks projecting into the beds of the rivers, but the dry “benches” or terraces which run one above another along the sides of the streams, and even the table-lands at some distance from the water, are now found equally productive. This change in the field of labour
range at ough as yet the coast, the Rocky posits wers
has produced a corresponding change in the processes employed. The first miners worked only with “ rockers," a machine between a child's cradle and a wheelbarrow, containing a sieve, two blankets, and at the bottom a metal plate with quicksilver. The “pay earth" is thrown into the sieve, and the miner rocks the machine with one band, while he keeps pouring in water with the other. The sieve stops the stones and earth, the blankets the larger particles Of gold, and the quicksilver beneath retains the gold dust. The rocker, however, is very generally giving way to the sluice, in which a much larger quantity of earth can be washed in a given time, while the process itself is far more searching. A sluice will often yield from 161. to 20l. a day for each man employed, where a rocker, even in the most successful hands, does not return half that sum. The sluice requires a large supply of water, both to carry away the earth above the gold and to wash the “ pay dirt,” or black sand, in which the gold is found, and which underlies the former to a depth of from four to twenty feet. The water has often to be brought from a considerable distance, and many joint-stock companies have been formed, by whose enterprise canals have been dug, and wooden aqueducts built, in which it is carried for miles at a cost, in some cases, of several thousand pounds. For the use of the water thus brought, each owner of a mining claim pays 11. a day. Mr. Pemberton estimates the gold produced during the years 1858 and 1859 at 600,0001., and the number of miners employed at 3000; so that their average annual earnings could not be more than 1001. Even this sum, small as it appears, when the labour and uncertainty are taken into account, is double what is made on an average in California. And while the actual yield of gold in British Columbia will probably be soon very much larger than it has yet been, the average of individual success will not be raised in proportion. Population will increase, and larger returns will have to be distributed among more claimants. Again, mining is constantly requiring more and more capital. We have seen that already the working of sluices implies a certain outlay for water, so that they are generally in the hands of some small capitalist, who employs five or six labourers; and as time goes on and the surface-gold is gradually worked out, the metal has to be extracted from the solid rock: quartzcrushing comes into use, and brings with it the need for expensive machinery.
The population of the colony is as yet composed almost exclusively of miners, and of that class of merchants who find a livelihood in the supply of their more pressing wants. Towns are beginning to spring up at the chief centres of mining industry, though as yet, with the exception of Langley and New West
minster, they are nothing more than groups of half a dozen loghouses, most of which are “ restaurants,” started to supply bacon and flour to the miners. The upset price of land in the towns has been fixed at 201. for a lot measuring 64 feet by 120 feet. At Langley, however, the first town-site surveyed, seven times that sum was given at the first sale for some of the lots; and 342 lots, the whole number sold, fetched 13,0001., or nearly 401. apiece. It must be said, however, that at the time of the sale it was generally believed that Langley would be chosen for the capital, and all purchasers were afterwards allowed the option of exchanging their lots for others at New Westminster. Langley is very well situated for a commercial town: the river is deep in-shore, and affords good anchorage, while the land is elevated, with a dry soil, and free from wood. But its position on the American side of the Fraser, and only a few miles distant from the frontier, was justly considered by the military authorities as forming an insuperable objection to its selection as a capital. A site has accordingly been chosen for New Westminster on the north bank of the river, about ten miles from its mouth. It is raised above the level of the floods to which the marshy banks of the stream lower down are periodically subject; there is an ample supply of low-lying land, available for docks, quays, and warehouses. The military advantages of the position are described by Colonel Moody, the Lieutenant-Governor, as very remarkable. In front is the river Fraser, which is here broader and deeper than the Thames at London Bridge. The opposite bank is high, and slopes towards the south, so that an intrenched camp on the summit would command the frontier line. On the right flank there is the North Channel, a branch of the Fraser, and beyond that lie marshes, which, when dyked, might be flooded at pleasure. The left flank is protected by the Pitt River, while a range of high ground stretches across the rear of the town; and behind this again lies an inlet of the sea, with an island stretching right across it which would admit of being easily fortified.
The commercial advantages of New Westminster are unfortunately not quite so conspicuous. It can, it is true, be reached without much difficulty by vessels under sail, as the river has, by the strength of its own stream, forced a passage through the extensive sandbanks which lie for five miles beyond its mouth, in the shoalest part of which there is always twelve feet of water at low tide, and from eighteen to twenty at high. A more formidable difficulty is to be found in the intricate navigation of the St. Juan Archipelago. “Although,” says Captain Richards, commanding H. N. Surveying Ship Plumper, “ the Gulf of Georgia and the channels leading into it have been navigated
by sailing vessels, yet the disadvantages are obvious and very great, and the loss of time incalculable. The general absence of steady winds among these channels, the great strength and uncertainty of the tides, and the existence of many hidden dangers, could not fail to be productive of constant accidents, and in a commercial point of view such a class of vessels could never answer.” Mr. Pemberton argues from these facts that the capital of British Columbia should be either Victoria or Esquimault, the latter being the only really good harbour on the coast. If British Columbia and Vancouver's Island were united, this would have been at least a feasible course, though even then the inhabitants of the mainland would probably have been jealous of the preference given to the island. But so long as they remain distinct colonies, such a step is obviously impossible. Nor do we see why the capital should of necessity be also the principal seaport. Natural advantages point out Esquimault as the port of entry for sea-going ships, and no reasons of policy will prevent its becoming so. But the extraordinary number of islands and deep salt-water inlets which are found along the inner coast of Vancouver's Island and the whole western shore of the continent at once demand and give facilities for a system of internal navigation, both by steamers and coasting sailing vessels, extensive enough to supply all the demands of New Westminster and the other towns along the coast of the mainland.
With the view of encouraging an immigration of farmers from England, Australia, and the Canadas, whose object will be not merely to try their luck at the gold-diggings, but to create a home for themselves and their children, and who may form the nucleus of a settled agricultural population, the upset price of country lands was fixed at 10s. per acre. This inducement, however, was not found sufficient. At the first sale of surveyed lands, which took place at New Westminster in Oct. 1859, only four lots found a purchaser, and even these fetched no more than the upset price. At Douglas and Hope, owing, perhaps, to the neighbourhood of rising towns, persons were found anxious to have the right of purchasing, at a fixed price, any unsurveyed land they might improve, guaranteed them, and Governor Douglas has accordingly made this permission the basis of a “preëmption law," conceived in a very liberal spirit. By this law any British subject, or any person intending to become a British subject, may acquire 160 acres of unoccupied and unsurveyed land, not being a town-site, auriferous land, or Indian reserve, on simply taking possession and recording his claim with the nearest magistrate, to whom he must also give a description and rough plan of the ground taken. Whenever the land shall be surveyed by the Government, the claimant or his heirs, if they have been in con
tinuous occupation of the same land from the date of the record, will be entitled to purchase it at a price, not exceeding 10s. per acre, to be hereafter fixed by the Government. So soon as a person in possession has made permanent improvements in his land to the value of 10s. per acre, and obtained a certificate to that effect from the nearest magistrate, he will be able to pass a good title to a purchaser, who will then have the same right of purchase upon survey as the original claimant. The holder of 160 acres may also purchase at any time any additional quantity of unsurveyed land at the same price, 5s, of which is to be paid down, and the rest at the time of survey. Lands abandoned by a claimant may be taken up, with any improvements which may have been effected on them, by any person on the original terms. Whether this system will be found successful in attracting settlers remains to be seen.
And yet, so far as the agricultural capabilities of the country have been investigated, the reports have been highly favourable. Every where the mountains enclose valleys of singular beauty and fertility; along the rivers inaccessible cliffs alternate with levels covered with natural pasture; and barren rocks give place to park-like expanses of rich verdure, shaded by majestic trees; while on the coast the numerous islands are green throughout the winter. On the upper waters of the Fraser there is a good deal of land which is well suited either for stock or dairy farming. Even at Fort Alexandria crops are not injured by the frost more than once in every four or five years; and still farther to the north, almost at the frontier of the colony, along the banks of the Skeena River, Lake Babine, and Lake Stuart, Mr. Downie found large tracts of fine land, as well adapted for farming as any he had seen in the south. On the Thompson River the land is even better than on the Fraser, and increases in promise as you ascend the stream. In the neighbourhood of the Nicola River and Lake there is good grazing-ground, and the slopes of the mountains are covered with natural grasses. The only drawback to agriculture is a deposit of nitrate of soda, which, when present in large quantities, is injurious to wheat, though it does not affect vegetables. Towards the south the advantages of soil and climate are greater still. From Fort Kamloops, where the north and south forks of the Thompson unite to the Okanagan Lakes, there is a very large tract of pasture, if not farming-land; while in the Sinulkameen valley bunchgrass—“ probably the best-known grazing food for cattle and horses”—is plentiful, and the soil admirably adapted for cultivation. “The soil, where it is richest,” says Mr. Pemberton, “in the river deltas, the valleys, and the plains, usually consists of black vegetable mould, six inches to three feet in depth, over