In 1862 twenty-five camels travelled from the rocky deserts of Central Asia to Victoria, BC to be sold as pack animals for the 2nd Gold Rush in the Fraser River Basin of the Interior British Columbia.
Frank Laumeister and Charles Gowan purchased 23 of the two humped beasts for $6000.00 and moved them by barge to New Westminister, BC. Two of the camels went missing in Victoria while they were housed behind the Esquimalt Saloon and Brewery, there is no documentation to the fate of the two.
It was hypothesized that the camels would replace horses, mules, stage coaches, and oxen for transporting prospector supplies. It was thought that the camels would exceed the other animals by performance because they could travel for 50-70 kilometers per day, 6-10 days without water, carry 600 lbs each, and were well adjusted to the rocky desert’s both cold and hot climate.
By that reasoning it seemed like a brilliant idea however the reality was much different. The camels were temperamental and excitable creatures who often bit and kicked at anything that moved, and they were extremely foul smelling. Their feet suffered over the rocky terrain because they were accustomed to sand even with makeshift canvas and rawhide booties.
It is famously said by a unknown prospector that the camels “would eat anything from a pair of pants to a bar of soap” but they survived by eating grass and sages along the route travelled. The camel train first headed North to Lillooet, BC by the Port Douglas Trail then onto the Caribou Wagon Road to Barkerville, BC.
It was hell have no furry when horses and mules caught sight of the camels causing many distasteful fatal accidents to both man and beast where stampedes were common. Frank Laumeister was often threatened by court action by others using the trails.
Not long after within four months BC Supreme Court Judge Matthew Begbie issued a Government order outlawing the camels from the Caribou Trail. It was in 1863 that the camel train was retired completely.
Some had already died in blizzards, from injury/disease or falling off cliffs. Some were sold as pets or farm work animals, and one was shot thinking it was a grizzly bear. It was also rumored that many were either released purposely or escaped into the wilderness with reported sightings as late as 1910.
Many fates befell the camels and the last known surviving one died in 1905 on a farm in the unincorporated settlement called Westworld located in the interior of BC, formally known as Grande Prairie.
Today in Lilooet, BC over the Fraser River is a Historical site on Highway 99, The Bridge of 23 Camels stands in memory of this peculiar event from our Provinces past.