Considering Gum Shan


Canadian history is often taught from an East to West perspective. As a consequence, European immigrants have tended to frame the historian’s gaze. In this chapter, we seek to reorient your perspective. What would Canada’s history look like if we thought about it from West to East? Indeed, this was precisely the view thousands of Chinese migrants took when they gazed at the prospects of North America’s Gum Shan, Gold Mountain. With gold struck in the Fraser Valley in 1858, just nine years after the California Gold Rush, immigrants from all over the world moved into Indigenous territories along the river valley.

In this chapter, we have provided two colonial reflections on immigration into the region in the mid-nineteenth century. In documents one and two, James Douglas and the Bishop of Columbia, George Hills, report on the development of mining along the Fraser River in the early 1860s. These passages have been selected to get you thinking about the place of Chinese migrants within this economy and the way that the Gold Rush drove colonial settlement on the West Coast.

Though thousands of Chinese men migrated into the region (there were 7,000 in the colony by 1860), Tzu-I Chung’s article (Interpretation 1) demonstrates the deep history of Chinese trade with North America’s western coast. Beginning nearly a century before, when English trader John Meares brought 50 workers from Canton province to help him build a fur trade post, Canada’s connection to China was long standing and anchored in global trading systems that complicate the East-West historical narrative common in Canadians’ popular memory.

This Module Includes:

  • Document 1: James Douglas to the Duke of Newcastle, 23 April 1860, Further Papers Relative to the Affairs of British Columbia, Part IV, (London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1862), 4-6.
  • Document 2: William Carew Hazlitt, The Great Gold Fields of Cariboo, (London: Routledge, Warne, & Routledge, 1862), 158-161.
  • Interpretation 1: Tzu-I Chung, “Kwong Lee & Company and Early Trans-Pacific Trade: From Canton, Hong Kong, to Victoria and Barkerville,” B.C. Studies, 185 (Spring 2015), 137-161.