MP-1993.6.10.13 | Oriental man washing gold, Fraser River, BC, 1885

Oriental man washing gold, Fraser River, BC, 1885
Charles MacMunn
1885, 19th century
Silver salts on paper - Albumen process
20 x 25 cm
Gift of the Estate of M. Omer Lavallée
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Occupation (1110) , Photograph (77678) , work (389)
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Keys to History

In Canada, gold was first discovered in 1834, along a tributary of the Chaudière River, south of Quebec City. Unfortunately, nothing came of it, and it was the California gold rush of 1848-49 that marked the true advent of this precious metal. Ten years later, it was the turn of the Fraser River in British Columbia to be invaded by some 25,000 gold diggers, most of them from San Francisco. But they did not stay long, as there were not many nuggets to be found. The last prospectors' gold rush was in the Klondike, in the late 19th century.

  • What

    The prospector's most important piece of equipment was a rocker, a wooden box that tipped, in which he sifted the gravel from the riverbank. This hand-made device was four times more efficient than the famous pan, which was used much less than is generally believed.

  • Where

    Set up on the banks of the Fraser, the prospector filled a container of water and poured it over the sand. As the rocker rocked, the sand washed out, leaving behind the precious nuggets.

  • When

    This photograph dates from 1885, when the Canadian West was rife with rumours of the riches to be taken from the Fraser.

  • Who

    This man looks Asian, but he could just as easily be Indian, because many Native people took part in the various gold rushes, struggling against the whites trying to get rich from their land.