Early Chinese-Canadian Gold Miners Commemorated for Their Contribution to Cariboo Communities in British Columbia


For May Asian Heritage Month in Canada, two historians from the interior of British Columbia remember the legacy of two early Chinese-Canadian miners.

For more than a decade, Lorna Townsend in Quesnel and Richard Wright in Kamloops both studied the history of Ah Bau and Chew Nam Sing, two of the best-known pioneers among approximately 5,000 people who came to the region from China. of Cariboo in British Columbia. the end of the 19th century to pan for gold.

the Caribou Gold Rush from 1861 to 1867 attracted thousands of prospectors from other parts of Canada, Great Britain, the United States, Latin America and China. The Royal BC Museum says many Chinese prospectors chose to make the Cariboo their new home and operated farms, grocery stores and other businesses to serve local communities.

Townsend, who volunteers at the Quesnel and District Museum and Archives, said that based on her interpretation of census data, mining records and newspaper articles, Ah Bau was born around 1840 in China and was began mining in the northern Cariboo as early as 1862 in what is known today as the Ahbau Creek watershed between Quesnel and Hixon.

Places named after Ah Bau

Ahbau Lake, Ahbau Creek Falls, and Ahbau Creek Bridge are other places north of Quesnel named after the gold miner. There is also Ahbau Street in Prince George, about three kilometers west of City Hall.

Townsend said she doesn’t know why Prince George Street is named after Ah Bau, but assumes people associate the lake and stream with him only because he claimed and lived in the isolated area of ​​the watershed of 50,000 hectares for decades.

“There weren’t many people in that area and he spent 40 years there,” she said. “I think the pioneers of the time would have associated this area with the man during those years, and so it carried on after his death.”

The Lake Ahbau Recreation Site pictured in 2013. Lorna Townsend says several places in the 50,000-hectare Ahbau Creek watershed are named after Ah Bau because he was one of the few people to live there between the middle and the end of the 19th century. (Parks Canada)

Generous man who loved poker and whiskey

Townsend said Ah Bau died in the spring of 1902 at his cabin near Lake Ahbau. He was in his early sixties.

She said that in his heyday from 1864 to 1876, Ah Bau led a team of 700 Chinese laborers to extract more than a million ounces of gold from the fields he claimed. She describes him as a “versatile” worker who also trapped for fur in the winter and served as a river pilot, helmsman and leader for traders in the Peace River area.

Townsend said Ah Bau befriended primarily Aboriginal men and people of European descent, all of whom loved him as a cheerful, kind-hearted man.

“He would have died a very rich man if it weren’t for his generosity. He always helped others, and he also had a penchant for poker and whiskey, so he often lost a lot of money,” he said. she declared.

Ah Bau, center, photographed circa 1858 with a white man and an Aboriginal man. Townsend says Ah Bau’s best friends were either local First Nations people or people of European descent. (Royal British Columbia Museum)

Chew Nam Sing: a motivated entrepreneur

The Quesnel Museum said Chew Nam Sing, born in 1835 in China, spent some time mining gold in California before arriving in British Columbia in 1858. Until the 1870s he purchased land on both sides of the Fraser River several miles north of Quesnel to raise cattle and grow vegetables with his wife and children.

The site, named Nam Sing Ranch, was sold after the Chinese miner died at age 75 in 1910. Today the land is shared between Quesnel Airport and a family ranch.

Quesnel Airport is on part of the Nam Sing Ranch site. (Town of Quesnel)

Wright, who made a 12 minute documentary on Chew’s legacy two years ago with the New paths to the gold societysays he doesn’t know how long Chew prospected in the Cariboo, but he ran a very successful business transporting produce from Quesnel to Barkerville, about 86 kilometers away, where residents suffered from a shortage of fresh produce.

Wright says Chew hired many Native Americans and Europeans as packers and cowboys.

“He was obviously a driven, determined individual,” Wright said.

Chew Nam Sing, left, pictured with three children, was a determined entrepreneur who ran a very successful business gardening produce in Quesnel and transporting produce to Barkerville, according to Richard Wright (Royal British Columbia Museum)

In addition to places named after Ah Bau and Chew, the BC government designated four other places in 2015 as places of historical significance to Chinese Canadians, including Barlow Avenue in Quesnel.