Gold miners pine for preacher

The Hollywood image of the old west gold mining camps as lawless, lustful and licentious did not apply to peaceful, law-abiding Canada, judging by a report on September 19, 1864 in the Vancouver Times (Victoria, Vancouver Island). The biggest complaint of Vancouver Island miners appeared to be a lack of clergymen on Sundays. The editor had just returned from a visit to 22 mining camps (including the Wake-Up-Jake, and the Wide Awake) where five or six men at each camp were sluicing out gold at rates of about $10 to $100 a day. He reported:

The first impression which strikes a visitor who has seen other mining camps, is the quiet and re­spectable demeanor of the miners on Sunday. Yesterday there was no minister on the creek, and conse­quently no religious service; and it was evident that a large number of men felt disappointed that no one had remembered them.

The day seemed principally to be spent in visiting their friends’ camps, cleaning up their habitations, giving a little more attention than usual to their ablutions — some to the care of their underclothing, others balancing accounts and dividing the week’s dust, while some were doing a little shopping. In a few camps cards were in requisition, but generally those who were not employed at domestic labors or receiving and making calls, were reading or sleeping. In only one case were there any men employed in actual mining, and the neighboring claim owners deprecated the system of working on Sundays…

The quiet and peaceable conduct of the miners generally, the marked abstinence from quarrelling, drunkenness and fighting, speaks highly for the character of the men on Leech River. The duties of the magistrate, beyond the friendly settlement of disputes arising out of mining arrangements, are of the lightest description. Not one arrest has been made on the creek, nor one crime committed, since the dig­gings were discovered… The number of substantial buildings erected or in the course of construction is very great; both storekeepers and miners look forward to living on the creek the whole winter through.

Unfamiliar Canadian history stories 056


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