John Robert Giscome
John Robert Giscome, eldest of three children, was born in Saint Mary, Jamaica, in 1832. In 1854, he 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 Giscome went on to California to seek his fortune. Unfortunately, California had already been well-mined, and African Americans suffered under its oppressive legislature (for example, the testimony of a black man accused of being an escaped slave could not be admitted into evidence, whether he was free or not). Thus, he joined about 600 other blacks in the California black migration of 1858 and headed to Victoria at the invitation of Governor Douglas. The recent discovery of gold in British Columbia had caused a huge influx of Californian prospectors, and Douglas was likely trying to counter American territorial ambitions by inviting settlers who would be loyal to the Crown.
In Quesnel in 1862, he met his Bahamian partner, Henry McDame, and they 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. When they continued their journey next April, they found the Salmon River too swollen from the winter runoff to continue. Their guide showed them an alternate land route that ran northwest from where Huble Homestead would later be built to Summit Lake, which came to 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-Indians to traverse that route. They travelled through Williston Lake and finally reached Peace River around May. But they found little gold there, and returned to Victoria for the winter, where Giscome reported his findings to a Victoria newspaper.
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 most 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 (almost half a million nowadays!) and a legacy of discovery.