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Best of Canada

Insider’s Scoop: Gold Rush! at Canadian Museum of History

By Chris Lackner

The Gold Rush! has come to Ottawa.

Haida box by Bill Reid, 1971. Courtesy Royal BC Museum and Archives.

Haida box by Bill Reid, 1971. Courtesy Royal BC Museum and Archives.

While you can’t get rich, you can check out the shiny new exhibit, Gold Rush! El Dorado in British Columbia, at the Canadian Museum of History, April 8 to January 2017.

For an Insider’s Scoop, we talked to John Willis, curator of economic history at the museum:

Q: What will surprise visitors about this exhibit?

A: The fact that such a gold rush, of massive proportions, occurred in Canada, on its West Coast, 50 years before the Klondike.

The fact that some were willing to travel so far in order to get the gold: some trekked overland the entire distance from (central) Canada; others came thousands of miles from Europe, China, and elsewhere in Eastern Canada (the Maritimes for example).

The distances that have to be travelled within B.C. on terrain that is both rugged and spectacular (this comes out in the videos) this will surprise and impress visitors.

The fact that one could make a living not by prospecting for gold but by selling to and living off those mining the gold.


This photo depicts the main street of Barkerville just before the 1868 fire that destroyed the town. Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

Q. Why is this exhibit important? 

A: First, it establishes the importance of the 1858 and 1862 gold rushes in the making of modern B.C. history. The era transformed indigenous societies and overturned the traditional fur economy of the Hudson Bay Company. In its wake came a new type of society devoted to exploiting land, natural resources, farmland; fostering trade and building cities. Through this exhibition the society of B.C. is trying to come to terms with its history. This includes the admission tragic errors made in the past vis-à-vis indigenous nations.

Second, the exhibit shows the importance of the larger Pacific sphere to the making of B.C. history especially in the gold rush era. What happened in California, Australia and Hong Kong had considerable bearing on how B.C. got roped into this gold rush economy.

Third, the exhibit touches on the quirks of human behaviour in a gold-rush setting. Men and women (but mainly men) travel by the tens of thousands to one destination or another intending to make it rich quick by mining the gold.  They are carried away by an enthusiasm for the riches promised by gold.  Men suffer from gold fever that sets them on a path to the gold fields, however distant. That path was referred in the newspaper of the day as a “highway to insanity.” As a collective mania, the psychology of gold fever does resemble the kind of up and down and sometimes foolish human behaviour associated with the stock market.

Wheel and flumes at the Davies claim on William’s Creek, 1867. Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

Wheel and flumes at the Davies claim on William’s Creek, 1867.
Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

Q: What are your favourite aspects of, or artifacts from, the exhibition?

A. I enjoy seeing the life size version of the B.C. Express company stagecoach that dates from the era and was used on the Cariboo Road. The vehicle is in excellent shape, it was lovingly restored in the late 1980s.  And it can’t help but conjure up images of the old west.  coachThe freight saddle or aparejo positioned in a display window opposite the stage coach belonged to a local hero, French-born Jean Caux, nicknamed Cataline.  It is interesting for it reminds us of the challenges of getting freight into and out of the rugged and mountainous B. C. interior.

There is an explicit recognition of things Chinese: a picture of Hong Kong harbour full of ships circa 1860, and later in the exhibition a display of exquisite Chinese artifacts (fan, game pieces, pipe, mud-treated silk garments, shoes etc.).

Turnagain Nugget is the largest existing gold nugget ever found in British Columbia: it weighs 1,642 grams (52 troy onces) and is approximately 4.2 cm high, 18.1 cm wide and 9.2 cm deep. Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archive.

Turnagain Nugget is the largest existing gold nugget ever found in British Columbia: it weighs 1,642 grams (52 troy onces) and is approximately 4.2 cm high, 18.1 cm wide and 9.2 cm deep. Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archive.

A huge and engaging painting,  Slim Jim or the Parson Takes the Pot,  shows a group of men playing a gambling game of cards. A probable con-man disguised as a priest has surprised his fellow players by winning the hand. The picture reminds us that all forms of gambling were popular in gold-rush communities, where there were men (only) and money a plenty.

The painting is so big that the box in which it came barely fits, height-wise, in the corridor of our museum

Finally the Pemberton dress, a beautiful silk-dress, with its budding hoop skirt and delicate engagements (frills that go up the sleeves), which dates from the B.C. gold-rush era, reminds us that women were present in this society — as entrepreneurs, supporters of culture, as instigators of all kinds of business and community activities. The theme is well carried in the book by New Perspectives on the Gold Rush; as well as in the exhibition catalogue: Gold Rush! El Dorado in British Columbia.

Editor’s Pick: Top 5 Kid Foods Reimagined

Photo courtesy Marion Street Eatery

Photo courtesy Marion Street Eatery

With gourmet renditions of homey dishes on trend, chefs are getting in touch with their inner child. These childhood favourites are all grown up.


Nine of Toronto’s Best Views (and Photo Opportunities)


The view of downtown Toronto from Humber Bay Park West (photo: Craig Moy)

At street level, it’s easy to get a sense of Toronto’s busyness—its many packed restaurants, its workers hustling to and from their offices, its ever-present car traffic. What’s not always evident, though, is the megacity’s sheer scope. These prime vantage points and rooftop roosts show just how far the Big Smoke stretches.


Editor’s Pick: Top 5 Ways to Keep Warm

TNF Womens Shavana Parka Courtesy TNF

Photo courtesy of Wilderness Supply Co. (The North Face shavana parka)

Embrace the cold and look good doing it. These products will keep you toasty all winter long.

In the Exchange District, Bill Worb Furs Inc. boasts a collection of furs, leather and shearling. Fur hats range from aviator to New York style adding glamour and warmth. 312 Ross Ave, 204‑942‑6600

Proper winter footwear is a must for navigating the city’s shops and festivities. Canadian Footwear offers winterized-models of boots for the whole family, with brands like Rieker. 128 Adelaide St, 204-944‑7463, 1530 Regent Ave, 204-944-7466, 1504 St. Mary’s Road, 204-7474

Head to Wilderness Supply Co. for stylish, insulated winter jackets like The North Face shavana parka (pictured) that keep wind and snow at bay. Water‑resistant fabric cuts the cold and blocks winter winds. 623 Ferry Rd, 204-783-9555

Treat your tootsies to handmade moccasins and mukluks at Teeka’s Aboriginal Boutique in The Johnston Terminal at The Forks Market. Beautifully detailed designs made with leather, fur and beads adorn authentic Aboriginal footwear. The Forks Market, 1 Forks Market Rd, 204-946-0539 

A winter ensemble isn’t complete without a pair of soft sheepskin mittens from The Wonderful World of Sheepskin. These mitts combine fashion and function and keep hands warm. 250 Dufferin Ave, 204‑586‑8097

Hot Dates: HÉ HO!

DD4_4275Photo by Dan Harper, courtesy Festival du Voyageur.

FEB 12-21, 2016

Manitoba’s rich Francophone heritage comes to life at the 47th annual Festival du Voyageur. Held in the heart of the city’s French Quarter, the celebration pays homage to the past while introducing brand new fun, like karaoke and board game nights. During the day, find snow and ice sculptures, a snow maze and educational activities for little ones, and traditional fiddling and jigging performances. At night, warm up with caribou (a mix of red wine and whiskey) sipped from an ice glass and rock out to high energy local bands. Voyageur (Whittier) Park, 836 Joseph St, 204‑237‑7692, festivalvoyageur.mb.ca.

10 Museum Shows for a Cultured Spring



Abbas Kiarostami’s exhibition, Doors Without Keys, continues at the Aga Khan Museum through to March 20 (photo: Craig Moy)

The permanent collections at Toronto’s major cultural institutions are always worth exploring, but this season their limited-run shows are also very compelling. From two distinct displays of doors to an anthropological examination of tattoo art, there’s something for everyone at these unique new museum shows.


Scene In the City: Corydon Avenue


Photo courtesy of Radiance Gifts

One of Winnipeg’s most vibrant ‘hoods offers a cultural mix of shopping and dining from around the world, with trend-setting boutiques, specialty stores and restaurants catering to the cool and hip. Start a spree at Radiance Gifts for beautiful salt lamps (pictured), and dazzling crystals like smoky quartz. Zen out with a collection of books on chakras and essential oils. Across the street at Peepers Swimwear, find colourful bathing suits perfect for a winter getaway, with brands like Speedo and Roxy. For all that sparkles, visit designer Matti Martin on Lilac St. This local goldsmith creates necklaces, earrings and rings that fuse modern and traditional design. Nearby, step inside Whodunit and bring out your inner detective, with books on crime fiction. Head north on Corydon to Nunavut Gallery and see over 4200 beautiful works of Inuit art. Paintings and sculptures by contemporary Canadian artists make a statement in any space.

Editor’s Pick: Top 5 Wild Poutines In Winnipeg

loveys2Photo courtesy Lovey’s BBQ

In a city with as much Francophone influence as Winnipeg, it’s not hard to find that glorious mixture of french fries, gravy, and melty cheese curds. These spots branch out from the classic with irresistable toppings and tasty twists.


13 of the Most Unique Cafés in Toronto



Boxcar Social makes its coffees and espresso-based beverages with a often-changing selection of beans from world-renowned roasters (photo: Boxcar Social)

Is a proliferation of cafés any indication of a city’s success? It’s not hard to argue in favour of the idea. Those who pass time at coffee shops necessarily have the leisure to do so. Leisure implies financial comfort, freedom—at least temporary—from work. Others, of course, use cafés as de facto workspaces, with caffeine helping fuel their creative contributions to the economy. And then there are the café owners themselves, who must be sufficiently confident in a city’s commercial vitality to have opened their businesses in the first place.

Ever dynamic, downtown Toronto hosts innumerable independent coffee-sipping spots. Many of the most popular, like Dark Horse, Sam James, Crema and Jimmy’s, are successful enough to support multiple locations across the city. There are far more excellent cafés than can reasonably be counted here, so let’s just say we hold the 13 places below in high regard—not only for their beverages, but for their delicious snacks, congenial ambience and other intangibles, too.


Now Open: Anya Boutique

IMGP0870Discover treasures of minimalist design at new Exchange District shop Anya Boutique. The shop carries womenswear essentials including trousers, sweaters and t-shirts from Canadian and international brands like Product of Privilege and luxury knit brand LINE the Label. The shop specializes in products made by artists and designers who focus on local production. A collection of accessories like handcrafted Moyi Moyi leather bucket bags and one-of-a-kind hand-sculpted clay necklaces from Surface Handmade make up the product mix. 88 Albert St, 204‑416‑1323

The Hottest Heated Patios for Winter in Toronto



The Drake Hotel’s heated Sky Yard patio has been transformed into a cozy, contemporary legion hall for winter (photo: the Drake Hotel)

Whether or not you accept the science behind climate change, there’s no denying that Toronto experienced an unseasonably warm end to 2015, with temperatures reaching the low teens all the way up to Christmas. But now it seems winter’s chill (a modest version of it, at least) has indeed taken hold, ensuring that on most days it’s preferable to be indoors rather than out. Of course, even on the coldest of days there are those of us who yearn for a bit of fresh air and a view of the (slate grey) sky. A handful of Toronto restaurants are set up to oblige our “outdoors, indoors” desires with their popular heated patios.


Hot Art: Fibre Art

February 2016 Morton My Back Yard

The Fabric of My Life: Fibre Art Collages by Bev Morton at Wayne Arthur Gallery showcases fibre art creations inspired by places the artist lives, works and dreams. Images of home and gallery, as well as real and imagined places, use distinct lines to define form and colour, with a simplicity that allows the viewer to participate in the experiences of the artist. Many of the pieces started as paintings, which were later recreated into fabric art. Runs Jan 31-Mar 2. Wayne Arthur Gallery, 186 Provencher Blvd, 204‑477‑5249