Marianne Babal is a Corporate Historian for Wells Fargo.
A gold rush on the Fraser River brought Wells Fargo to Canada in 1858. That June, express agent Samuel Knight arrived on the steamship Cortez to open Wells Fargo’s first banking and express office on Yates Street in Victoria, British Columbia. Wells Fargo had already earned a reputation for reliable banking and express transportation service up and down the Pacific Coast, and Knight was welcomed into the local business community. “Such an establishment is much needed,” the editor of the Victoria Gazette wrote.
Every inbound steamer brought express shipments of valuable goods, mail, and newspapers, and outbound vessels carried bags of Fraser River gold. Wells Fargo’s shipboard messengers assured their safe delivery.
From August to October 1858, Wells Fargo agent James H. Latham bought 4,469 ounces of gold from miners and then loaded it on steamers headed south to San Francisco, where the metal was sold at the U.S. Mint. Although business slowed in the winter when the river froze over, when it thawed in spring Wells Fargo dispatched more agents to mining camps.
Brisk trade continued year-round between Victoria and other Pacific ports, and Wells Fargo’s office on Yates Street continued to provide key connections to the outside world for customers in western Canada. When Victoria’s first city directory was published in 1860, Wells Fargo advertised worldwide service — using express transportation networks which reached the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and even Europe — and promised to “ship treasure, packages, etc., at the lowest rates to all parts of the world.”
Wells Fargo messengers also safely transported gold from nearby mining districts. On his trips from the Cariboo Mining District in British Columbia, messenger Billy Ballou became a master of disguise. For security reasons, he altered his appearance and dress so that no one recognized him as he transported precious gold dust to Wells Fargo’s banking office — one of only four banks in British Columbia in the mid-1860s.
Local businessman Francis Garesche took over the Victoria Wells Fargo banking and express office in 1866, and in 1873, Wells Fargo officially transferred its entire Victoria banking business to Garesche, Green & Co. Garesche and his business partner, A. A. Green, moved the local Wells Fargo express office to Government Street in the late 1870s — where it remained for four decades.
In 1911, Wells Fargo took over routes of the Alaska Pacific Express Co. and opened offices in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and in the Yukon Territory. Just a few years later, in 1917, the company expanded beyond British Columbia and used new railroad connections to establish express offices to the east in London, Port Stanley, and Toronto, Ontario.
Wells Fargo ended its express transportation business in North America in 1918, leaving the company with just a single banking office in San Francisco. That banking office continued to maintain strong correspondent relationships with commercial banks in Canada.
Today, Wells Fargo’s internationally based employees serve businesses and institutions across the globe from offices in 30 countries and territories continuing a longstanding tradition of supporting corporate clients around the world.