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James Gibbons

James Gibbons’ remarkable life included years as a hardscrabble gold miner, trapper, fur trader, scout, stage coach driver, buffalo hunter, homesteader and merchant.

His was often a life interwoven with some of the most pivotal characters and moments in Western Canadian history. Gibbons was a trader in Winnipeg at the time of the first Riel Rebellion (1870); he worked on a political campaign for Donald Smith, better known as Lord Strathcona; and was part of a group that buried the dead after the Frog Lake massacre during the 1885 Riel Rebellion.

Born at Holly Hill, Donegal, Ireland, on Christmas Day 1837, Gibbons was the son of a farmer. At age15 he left Ireland for America to stay with his uncle William.

By 1856, he was part of the hordes chasing riches in the California gold fields, and news of the gold strike on the Fraser River drew him to British Columbia a couple of years later.

Gibbons "knocked around" the gold fields and mining towns of western North America for several years before arriving at the small settlement of Fort Edmonton in 1865. The next spring he joined a group of miners who were working the river upstream of Fort Saskatchewan.

Gibbons joined some buffalo hunters for a couple of seasons, then returned to Edmonton to work the gravel flats near Clover Bar for gold, where he devised his "grizzly" for separating gold from the rock and gravel. The grizzly screen helped the miners recover around $16 a day from the gravel flats; however, the season was too short for many to make a substantial living mining gold.

Gibbons drifted east to Winnipeg in 1870, arriving just as the first Riel Rebellion was underway, and worked a variety of jobs before returning to Edmonton.

In Edmonton he became a trader, bringing goods back and forth between Winnipeg and his new home.

In 1878, Gibbons formally homesteaded on the area known then as Miners Flats, which is the present-day Laurier Park in Edmonton. He farmed and traded, worked as a scout, and eventually became the Indian Agent for Stony Plain before retiring in 1907.

Gibbons was certainly aware of his place in history, as he recounted to his friend William Griesbach in 1922. "I have seen this country grow from practically nothing to what it is today and I’d like to think I played a part in the great changes that have taken place."

Gibbons died in Edmonton on 8 January 1927.

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