The newspapers of 1858 were full of news about the gold rush in British Columbia, and Americans by the thousand were heading north. Mifflin Gibbs – one of San Francisco’s most prosperous Black merchants – had other ideas. He knew that miners heading into the mountains were going to need equipment and supplies. When he got on the ship for Victoria, therefore, he took with him a huge stock of prospectors’ supplies, everything from flour and bacon to blankets and shovels. He arrived in Victoria ready to make a killing, and he didn’t find much competition. The merchants in Victoria, he wrote scornfully, are “old fogies who are destitute of Yankee enterprise.”
Gibbs was the most brilliantly successful of the 1858 immigrants but, in fact, they were a hardworking and enterprising group, determined to make good. They opened a variety of businesses in town – tailoring and clothing shops, a hardware, salmon cannery, barbershop and boarding house, to name just a few. A relatively small group went beyond Victoria to farm, and some actually made money as gold prospectors. As a group, they contributed hugely to the variety and vigour of life in pioneer B.C., but no-one was as varied or vigorous as Mifflin Gibbs. In his years in the colony, he was shop-owner, politician, journalist, coal miner and a part-time student of law and lecturer.