In 1856 the first parliament west of the Great Lakes was elected, and Dr. J. S. Helmcken became speaker. (Today you can still see his house in Victoria .) Only two years later this still relatively unexplored and quiet part of the world was turned upside down with the first whispers of “gold” on the mainland, along the banks of the Fraser River.
As the news spread, miners—mostly Americans—arrived by the shipload at Victoria, increasing the town’s population from several hundred to more than 5,000. Fur trading faded as gold mining jumped to the forefront. Realizing that enormous wealth could be buried on the mainland, the British government quickly responded by creating a mainland colony that at first was named New Caledonia.
Because France possessed a colony of the same name in the South Pacific, Queen Victoria was asked to change the name, which she did, using “Columbia,” which appeared on local maps, and adding “British,” making the name distinct from the Columbia River district across the border. In 1858, Governor James Douglas of Vancouver Island  also became governor of British Columbia , giving up his Hudson’s Bay Company position to serve both colonies. In 1866 the two colonies were combined into one.
The lucrative Cariboo gold rush resulted in construction of the Cariboo Wagon Road (also called the Gold Rush Trail), an amazing engineering feat that opened up British Columbia’s interior. Completed in 1865, the road connected Yale  with Barkerville, one of the richest and wildest gold towns in North America. Mule trains and stagecoaches plied the route, and roadhouses and boomtowns dotted its entire length. Among the colorful characters of this era was Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie, an effective chief of law and order during a time when law and order might as easily have been nonexistent.
In addition to the gold miners, groups of settlers soon began arriving in the Cariboo. One such group, a horde known as the Overlanders, left Ontario and Quebec with carts, horses, and oxen in summer 1862, intent on crossing the vast plains and the Rockies to British Columbia. One detachment rafted down the Fraser River, the other down the North Thompson. Both arrived in Kamloops in autumn that same year. Some continued north up the Cariboo Gold Rush Trail, but others headed for the coast, having had more than their fill of adventure on the trip across.
In addition to the Cariboo Wagon Road, other trails opened up more of the province in the early 1860s. The Hope-Princeton and Dewdney Trails into the Kootenays led to settlement in British Columbia ’s eastern regions. Salmon canning was also developed in the 1860s, and several canneries on both the lower Fraser and Skeena Rivers had the world market in their pockets. (You can still see one of the old canneries near Prince Rupert  today.)
It wasn’t until 1862 that Burrard Inlet—site of today’s city of Vancouver —sprang onto the map with the building of a small lumber mill on the north shore. The region’s tall, straight trees became much in demand. More lumber mills started up, and a healthy export market developed in only a few years. Farmers began to move into the area, and by the end of the 1860s a small town had been established. “Gassy Jack” Deighton started a very popular saloon on the south shore of Burrard Inlet near a lumber camp, and for some time the settlement was locally called Gastown .
After the town site was surveyed in 1870, the name was changed to Granville. Then in 1886, the town was officially renamed Vancouver, in honor of Captain George Vancouver. At this time, New Westminster  was the official capital of the colony of British Columbia , much to the concern and disbelief of Vancouver Islanders, who strongly believed Victoria should have retained the position. Two years later, with the mainland gold rushes over, the capital reverted to Victoria , where it has remained ever since.
The next big issue to concern British Columbia was confederation. The eastern colonies had become one large dominion, and BC residents were invited to join. London and Ottawa both wanted British Columbia to join, to assist in counterbalancing the mighty U.S. power to the south. After much public debate, the southwesternmost colony entered the Confederation as the Province of British Columbia in July 1871—on the condition that the west coast be connected to the east by railway. Many roads were built during the 1870s, but it was the completion of the transcontinental railway in 1885 that really opened up British Columbia to the rest of the country. Other railways followed, steamships plied the lakes and rivers, more roads were built, and industries—including logging, mining, farming, fishing, and tourism—started to develop.
During the 20th century, British Columbia moved from roads to major multilane highways, from horses to ferries, and from gold mining to sportfishing. Yet it still attracts explorers—backcountry hikers and mountain climbers in search of untrammeled wilderness, plenty of which remains.