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The Overlanders of 1862: Journeying West for Gold

For the week of Monday, July 20, 2015

In July 1862, The Overlanders, a party of some 150 men, one pregnant woman, and her three children, made a brief supply stop in Fort Edmonton. Their journey had begun in southern Ontario and would end in the gold fields of the Cariboo Mountains, within what later became the province of British Columbia.

The Overlanders departing Fort Garry, Manitoba, 1862. Artist William George Richardson Hind travelled with the group and recorded their journey through sketches
© Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1963-97-1.4R:A

It was the start of the North American Gold Rush. When gold was discovered in the Cariboo Mountains in 1859, about 30,000 men and women descended upon the area to stake claims. Most were drawn northward from other gold fields on the lower Fraser River and from California, but excitement reached as far as Upper Canada.

The Overlanders were settlers from the Niagara Peninsula who followed tales of riches in the Cariboo. Loosely led by Thomas McMicking, they left in early spring, making their way by boat and then by train through the United States to Fort Garry (Winnipeg). Piling onto wooden carts, they followed the prairie trail to Fort Edmonton where they traded carts for horses in anticipation of the gruelling trek across the Rocky Mountains. This leg of the journey followed the Yellowhead Pass, an old fur trade route. There, the group split into three parties and, choosing different routes, descended the difficult canyons of the Fraser River.

A sketch of the confluence of Qu'Appelle and Assiniboine Rivers, Manitoba. The Overlanders overcame challenging terrain on their journey to the Cariboo gold fields
© Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1963-97-1.10R

On their long trek, the travellers experienced rough terrain, floods, river torrents, and inadequate food and supplies. Many turned back, some died, but most pushed on, and in October of 1862, they reached the Cariboo gold fields after a journey of 5,500 kilometres! Most did not acquire the riches they had travelled so far to find, but many did settle in British Columbia.

To commemorate their epic journey, The Overlanders of 1862 were designated as an Event of National Historic Significance in 1936. Part of their overland route, now known as the Fort Garry-Fort Edmonton Trail, is also a National Historic Event and Fort Edmonton is a National Historic Site.

For more on the Gold Rush in western Canada, read Toward a Better Future, St Paul’s: A Little Church in the Gold Rush Boomtown, and Gold!!! in the This Week in History archives.

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