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John Robert Giscome

John Robert Giscome, the eldest of three children, was born in Saint Mary, Jamaica, in 1832. In 1854, John and his brother Peter went to work on the Panama Railway, which was being built to accommodate the huge increase of traffic to California caused by the California Gold Rush. After the railway’s completion in 1855, Peter returned to Jamaica, but John went on to California to seek his fortune. Unfortunately, California had already been well-mined. In addition to the lack of gold, California had also passed unjust testimony and suffrage laws which were designed to limit Black and Chinese immigration into the state, and despite efforts to overturn them, many found themselves frustrated by the oppression they faced. In 1858, at the invitation of Governor James Douglas, there was an exodus of over 600 free Blacks from California to Vancouver Island. John Robert Giscome was one of them. 

In Quesnel, in 1862, Giscome met his Bahamian partner, Henry McDame - together the two decided to join the Cariboo Gold Rush and prospect the Peace River Country. They canoed up the Fraser River, hoping to reach Fort St. James, but were forced to winter in Fort George due to the ice.

Artist rendering of John Robert Giscome by Richard Estell.

When they continued on their journey the following April, they found the Salmon River too swollen from the winter runoff to continue. Their Indigenous guide showed them an alternate land route that ran northwest, from where the present-day Huble Homestead is located, to Summit Lake. This trail, known as Lhdesti, would later be called the Giscome Portage. During this time, they also discovered the gruelling fate of the Rennie party.

The party canoed north to McLeod Lake, and at Fort McLeod received a 30-shot salute for being the first non-Indigenous men to traverse the route. They travelled through Williston Lake and finally reached Peace River around May. Unfortunately they found little gold there and returned to Victoria for the winter; this is when Giscome reported his findings to a Victoria newspaper, The Daily British Colonist

The final resting place of John Robert Giscome, located at Ross Bay Cemetary in Victoria, BC.

In 1870, Giscome and McDame were some of the first to successfully prospect Germansen Creek during the Omineca Gold Rush. It was not until four years later, though, that they really struck it big. In 1874, McDame found a vein of gold in a Dease River tributary—now called McDame Creek—and helped set off the Cassiar Gold Rush. Giscome, McDame, and some others formed the Discovery Company which successfully prospected the creek for many years. British Columbia’s largest gold nugget was actually found in McDame Creek in 1877. It weighed 72 ounces, making it around the size of a large potato.

Unlike many prospectors back then, John Robert Giscome died a wealthy man. By 1891, he had retired to Victoria and invested in real estate. He died there in 1907 at the age of 75, leaving to his landlady a $21,000 fortune (which would now be worth almost half a million dollars) and a legacy of discovery.

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