Colony of British Columbia (1858–66)

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Colony of British Columbia
British colony
1858—1866


Flag

Capital New Westminster
Languages English
Government Constitutional monarchy
Queen regnant Victoria of the United Kingdom
Historical era British Era
 -  Established August 2, 1858
 -  Merged with Colony of Vancouver Island to form Colony of British Columbia (1866-1871) August 6, 1866

The Colony of British Columbia was a crown colony in British North America from 1858 until 1866. At its creation, it physically constituted approximately half the present day Canadian province of British Columbia, since it did not include the Colony of Vancouver Island, the vast and still largely uninhabited regions north of the Nass and Finlay Rivers, the regions east of the Rocky Mountains, or any of the coastal islands. The Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Stikine Territory were merged with it in 1863, and it was amalgamated in 1866 with the Colony of Vancouver Island to form a new Colony of British Columbia.

Background[edit]

The explorations of James Cook and George Vancouver, and the concessions of Spain in 1794 established British claims over the coastal area north of California. Similar claims were established inland via the explorations of such men as John Finlay, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, Samuel Black, and David Thompson, and by the subsequent establishment of fur trading posts by the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). However, until 1858, the region which now comprises the mainland of the Province of British Columbia was an unorganized area of British North America comprising two fur trading districts: New Caledonia, north of the Thompson River drainage; and the Columbia District, located south of the Thompson and throughout the basin of the Columbia River.

Sir James Douglas, first governor of the Colony of British Columbia

With the signing of the Treaty of Washington in 1846, which established the US border along the 49th parallel, the HBC moved the headquarters of its western operations from Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River (present day Vancouver, Washington) to the newly established Fort Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia were organised as a crown colony in 1849. Meanwhile, the mainland continued to function under the de facto administration of the HBC, whose chief executive, James Douglas, also happened to be governor of Vancouver Island. The non-aboriginal mainland population during this time never exceeded about 150 at Fort Victoria,[1] mostly HBC employees and their families.

By 1857, Americans and British were beginning to respond to rumours of gold in the Thompson River area. Almost overnight, some ten to twenty thousand men moved into the region around present-day Yale, British Columbia, sparking the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. Governor Douglas and the colonial office were suddenly faced with having to exert British authority over a largely alien population. Douglas — who had no legal authority over New Caledonia — stationed a gunboat at the entrance of the Fraser River in order to exert such authority by collecting licenses from prospectors attempting to make their way upstream. In order to normalise its jurisdiction, and undercut any HBC claims to the resource wealth of the mainland, the district was converted to a crown colony on August 2, 1858 by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and given the name British Columbia. Douglas was offered the governorship of the new colony by the colonial secretary, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, on condition that he sever his relationship with the HBC. Douglas accepted these conditions, and a knighthood. British Columbia was given its own capital — New Westminster — in 1859, but James Douglas would govern both colonies from Victoria for the next six years.

Governorship of Sir James Douglas[edit]

The influx of people into the new colony required Douglas to act quickly in drawing up regulations and creating infrastructure. Magistrates and constables were hired, mining regulations drawn up, and townsites surveyed at Yale, Hope and Fort Langley in order to discourage squatting on crown land. In addition, roads were constructed into the areas of greatest mining exploration around Lillooet and Lytton. The colony, however, was not immediately granted a representative colonial assembly, because of uncertainty as to whether the gold rush would yield a stable, settled population. Douglas, who had endured unhappy conflicts with the assembly on Vancouver Island, was relieved.

A portion of the Cariboo Road in the Fraser Canyon, c. 1867.

The rush indeed was short lived, and the exodus of miners, speculators, and merchants was already underway by the time the Royal Engineers had laid out the colony's new capital at New Westminster. Prospecting continued, however, and additional finds farther inland in the Cariboo region in 1860 signalled an impending second gold rush. Provisioning was already proving to be an acute problem, and with more distant finds it became clear that wagon trains would have to replace pack horses, necessitating new infrastructure. By 1862, the Cariboo Gold Rush, attracting an additional 5000 miners, was underway, and Douglas hastened construction of the Great North Road (commonly known now as the Cariboo Wagon Road) up the Fraser Canyon to the prospecting region around Barkerville.

By the time of this gold rush, the character of the colony was changing, as a more stable population of British colonists settled in the region, establishing businesses, opening sawmills, and engaging in fishing and agriculture. With this increased stability, objections to the colony's absentee governor and the lack of responsible government began to be vocalized, led by the influential editor of the New Westminster British Columbian and future Premier, John Robson. A series of petitions requesting an assembly were ignored by Douglas and the colonial office until Douglas was eased out of office in 1864. Finally the colony would have both an assembly and a resident governor.

Frederick Seymour, second governor of the Colony of British Columbia, and his cat.

Governorship of Frederick Seymour[edit]

Douglas's successor was Frederick Seymour, who came to the colony with twenty years of colonial experience in Van Diemen's Land, the British West Indies, and British Honduras. The creation of an assembly and Seymour's appointment in April 1864 signalled a new era for the colony, now out of the shadow of Vancouver Island and free of a governor suspicious of sharing power with elected representatives. Douglas's wagon road project was still underway, presenting huge engineering challenges, as it made its way up the narrow Fraser Canyon. Successive loans authorised by Seymour's predecessor, largely for the purpose of completing the road, had put the colony £200,000 in debt; and the Chilcotin War of 1864 cost an additional £18,000 to suppress. Seymour himself made the difficult journey through the Great Canyon of the Homathko and Rainbow Range as a show of force and participation in the hunt for Klatsassin, the Tsilhqot'in war leader, but the armed expedition reached a denouement when Klatsassin surrendered on terms of amnesty in times of war, only to be tried and hanged for murder, as Seymour had not endorsed the terms.

On Seymour's return overland, he made a tour of the Cariboo minefields, and along the Fraser Canyon, which made him increasingly convinced of the colony's future prosperity. On returning to the capital, however, fiscal reality set in as it became clear that British Columbia's indebtedness was getting worse. Even as the colonial administration took drastic measures to augment revenues and improve the road system to attract prospectors and settlers, the economic situation grew increasingly dire, and agitation grew for an almagamation of the two colonies. Seymour opposed this proposal, but with pressure from various quarters of the colonial government, he eventually relented, recommending that British Columbia be the dominant partner, and (unsuccessfully) that the capital be located at New Westminster. The two colonies were united by an Act of the British Parliament, and proclaimed on August 6, 1866 (see Colony of British Columbia (1866-1871)).

Governors of British Columbia[edit]

Legislative Council[edit]

Members 1863–1864[2]

Members 1864–1865[3]

Members 1866[4]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]