During the gold rush in B.C. some curious animals were brought here to carry the prospectors’ supplies: camels!
Bactrian camels to be exact. The ones with two humps.
There was a shortage of pack animals at the time, so an entrepreneur who had seen camels brought to California during their gold rush figured they’d do just as well here.
That entrepreneur, John Calbreath, bought 23 of them for $300 each.
Originally hailing from the Gobi Desert, they landed in Victoria in 1862 then were taken up the Fraser River by steamship to Lillooet.
They then made their way up to the gold fields accompanied by men and their horses, both of which did not get along well with camels! And vice versa.
The conventional wisdom (though there are some historians who disagree) is that he was wrong about them being perfect for the climate here, and that the camels’ hooves weren’t suited to the rocky terrain.
The experiment lasted only two years, at which point some of the animals were let loose into the wilds of British Columbia.
One was shot as a hunter thought it was a bear, one lived out its days at a petting zoo, and the others… well, we’re not sure what ever happened to them.
In this episode of BC Was Awesome I traveled to Lillooet and Kamloops to track down their story, and the legend that there might still be some roaming around the province.
BC Was Awesome is a British Columbia history TV show co-produced by Vancouver Is Awesome and Artaban Productions. A book of the same name is set to be published in time for the province’s centennial celebrations in 2021. Watch all of the episodes for free on the V.I.A. YouTube channel.