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Section title: Chinese
Introduction | History |  Daily Life | Culture | References


History

Gold!

 
  Chinese man washing gold, Fraser River, circa 1875

The gold in California was beginning to run out. When the news spread that gold had been found along the Fraser River in British Columbia in 1858, people quickly made their way north. Many of these people were the Chinese men who had come to California to find gold. The stories of new gold reached China and soon boatloads of men were arriving to try their luck.

Barkerville, a community in British Columbia that had a Chinatown in the 1860s, grew almost overnight around the gold claims. Some of the Chinese bought the rights to gold claims that had already been worked, or worked claims that had been abandoned by other gold hunters. Sometimes they were lucky and found lots of gold left in these worked areas, many times they did not. Some Chinese men worked for other prospectors.

Many Chinese men went to work in the gold mines. They worked for one-half to two-thirds less money than the White miners. They often had to give up a portion of their wages to pay back the contractor who had loaned them the money to travel across the Pacific Ocean. They also had to pay for their food and a place to stay. There was not a lot of money to send home and even less to save for themselves.

 
Wagons pulled by burros carrying Chinese labourers employed in construction of the Cariboo wagon road  

As miners moved further north looking for gold, it was harder and harder for food and supplies to reach them. Everything had to be carried on men's backs or on horses in pack trains. From 1862 to 1864, around 1 000 Chinese workers helped to build the Cariboo Wagon Road to bring in supplies. They were reliable and worked for less money than other labourers.

As towns sprang up around the mines there was a need for all kinds of services. There were jobs such as cooking and laundry that normally would have been done by women, but as these towns had mostly men, the Chinese men became cooks and laundrymen.


Cafés and laundries opened in small mining towns and camps. Shops that carried Chinese foods and products also began to open to provide the things the Chinese workers needed. Other Chinese men became labourers, vegetable growers and sellers, fish cannery workers, household servants and merchants.

 
Wa Lee laundry in Barkerville, an early Chinese community in British Columbia, September 1868   Chinese workers cleaning fish, circa 1868-1923

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