By Terra Cioffe  

The Trump family fortune begins far from the glittering gold letters on the Trump Tower in Manhattan. It’s a wild ride that involves drinking, prostitution and a visit from the Mounties -- and it has a Canadian connection.

It was during the Gold Rush that Donald Trump’s grandfather found a profitable niche that set the foundation for the family fortune, said Gwenda Blair, author of The Trumps: Three Generations That Built An Empire, who was featured in the documentary Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President.

"Whether he could've accumulated that much money somewhere else, in that short a period of time, as a young man with no connections, and initially not even English, is certainly ... unlikely," she said according to a news article on cbc.ca.

Modest beginnings

Friedrich Trump was the youngest of four, born to a German family who hit troubled times in 1885. At 16, Friedrich left for America hoping to make a fortune.

With only a suitcase, he landed in New York and started working as a barber. “All the action was on the other side of the country,” according to Blair, and Friedrich was on the move again. He opened up restaurants in Seattle, then a hotel in Monte Cristo, Washington, before gold fever called him further north.

After making the treacherous crossing from Alaska into Canada, he settled in Bennett, a small town in northern B.C. and opened another hotel. But, just as it was up and running, news spread about more gold even farther north and the miners moved on.

The two-story hotel Friedrich built in Bennett, B.C.
The pull of the Gold Rush

Instead of joining the gold hunt, however, Friedrich had a better idea. “Friedrich is not someone who is going to go around to these frigid cold rivers and pan around for a piece of gold,” said Trump biographer, David Cay Johnston in the documentary ‘Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President’.

He dismantled the hotel, put it on a barge and sailed it up to Whitehorse, where he reassembled it on young city’s bustling main drag. He gave the miners somewhere to stay, sold them food and drinks -- and access to prostitutes (known then as “sporting ladies”).

Up to 3,000 miners came through the hotel on a daily basis. If they couldn’t pay with money, that was fine with Friedrich - they could also pay with gold.

“Grandpa Trump was making a serious amount of money,” said Matthew Frei, host of the documentary. “But soon with the drinking and the money and the whoring, it all got out of hand.”

It wasn’t long before the Mounties came into town and closed the hotels.

“He took that as high sign to leave,” said Blair. “Just as he left Monte Cristo in the black, he left Whitehorse with a nest egg.”

While many men and their families spent their days in the unforgiving Canadian wilderness, Friedrich created a lucrative position for himself. It was the foundation for what the Trump empire would become — and it happened in Canada.

An aerial shot of downtown Whitehorse in Friedrich Trump's era.
An eye for opportunity

Friedrich showed “that he has an eye for opportunity and he has the gumption to get up, move,” said Johnston, who wrote a Trump biography.  “He understands also that when the economy turns, he’s gotta move on.”

But, Friedrich Trump is only the start of the story.

Watch more on the Trump family’s rise to power in the documentary “Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President” airing on the Passionate Eye.