History of British Columbia
- 1 Early history: pre-European connections
- 2 Early European explorers
- 3 Early European villages (1788-1790s)
- 4 Late British expeditions (1790s-1821)
- 5 From fur trade districts to colonies (1821–1858)
- 6 Colonial British Columbia (1858–1871)
- 7 Entry into Canada (1871–1900)
- 8 20th century
- 9 21st century
- 10 First Nations
- 11 See also
- 12 Further reading
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Early history: pre-European connections
British Columbia, before the arrival of the Europeans, was home to many Indigenous peoples speaking more than 30 different languages, including Babine-Witsuwit'en, Danezaa (Beaver), Carrier, Tsilhqot'in, Gitxsan, Haida, Halkomelem, Kaska, Kutenai, St'at'imcets, Nisga'a, Nuu-chah-nulth, Nuxálk, Sekani, Secwepemc, Sinixt, Sḵwxwú7mesh, Tagish, Tahltan, Nlaka'pamux, Tlingit, Tsetsaut, and Tsimshian. There was frequent contact between bands and voyages across the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca were common.
The abundance of natural resources, such as salmon and cedar, enabled the development of a complex hierarchical society on the British Columbia Coast. With so much food being available, the peoples of the B.C. coast could focus their time on other pursuits such as art, politics, and warfare.
Early European explorers
The first visitors to present-day British Columbia were Spanish sailors and other European sailors who sailed for the Spanish crown. There is some evidence that the Greek-born Juan de Fuca, who sailed for Spain and explored the West coast of North America in the 1590s, might have reached the passageway between Washington State and Vancouver Island—today known as the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (A later British explorer named Charles Barkley named the passage after Juan de Fuca's reputed visit.)
There is not much evidence to suggest that European traders and explorers regularly came to present-day British Columbia in the 17th century.
The arrival of Europeans began to intensify in the mid-18th century, as fur traders entered the area to harvest sea otters. While there is a theory and some evidence that Sir Francis Drake may have explored the British Columbia Coast in 1579, it is conventionally claimed that it was Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra who completed the first documented voyage, which took place in 1775. In doing so, Quadra reasserted the Spanish claim for the whole of the Pacific coast, first made by Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513, who declared the whole of the Pacific and its shores as part of the Spanish Empire.
In 1774, the Spanish navigator Juan José Pérez Hernández, a native of Mexico, sailed from San Blas, Nueva Galicia (modern-day Nayarit), with instructions to reach 60° north latitude to discover possible Russian settlements and take possession of the lands for the Spanish Crown. Hernández reached 55° north latitude, becoming the first European to sight the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island. He traded with the natives near Estevan Point, although apparently without landing. The expedition was forced to return to Nueva Galicia, due to the lack of provisions.
Since Pérez Hernández's first expedition failed to achieve its objective, the Spanish organized a second expedition in 1775 with the same goal. This expedition was commanded by Bruno de Heceta on board the Santiago, piloted by Pérez Hernández, and accompanied by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra in La Sonora. After illnesses, storms, and other troubles had affected the expedition, de Heceta returned to Nueva Galicia, while Quadra kept on a northward course, ultimately reaching 59° North in what today is Sitka, Alaska. During this expedition, the Spanish made sure to land several times and formally claim the lands for the Spanish Crown, while verifying the absence of Russian settlements along the coast. In the following years, several other Spanish expeditions would set sail from Nueva Galicia bound for the Pacific Northwest.
Three years later, in 1778, the British Royal Navy Captain James Cook arrived in the region, searching for the Northwest Passage, and successfully landed at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, where he and his crew traded with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation. Upon trading his goods for sea otter pelts, his crew in turn traded them for an enormous profit in Macau on their way back to Britain. This led to an influx of traders to the British Columbian coast, and ongoing economic contact with the aboriginal peoples there.
Early European villages (1788-1790s)
In 1788, John Meares, an English navigator and explorer, sailed from China and explored Nootka Sound and the neighbouring coasts. He bought some land from a local chief named Maquinna and built a trading post there.
Two years later, in 1789, the Spanish commander Esteban José Martínez, a native of Seville, established a settlement and started building a fort in Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound, which was named Fort San Miguel. This territory was already considered as part of New Spain by the Spanish due to the previous explorations of the region. Upon Martinez's arrival, a number of British ships were seized, including those of Captain Meares. This originated the Nootka Crisis, which almost led to a war between Britain and Spain. The controversy resulted in the abandonment of the Nootka Sound settlement by the Spanish. Some months later, Manuel Antonio Flores, Viceroy of New Spain, ordered a Francisco de Eliza to rebuild the fort. The expedition, composed of three ships, the Concepción, under the command of De Eliza, the San Carlos, under the command of Salvador Fidalgo and the Princesa Real, under the command of Manuel Quimper, sailed in early 1790 from San Blas in Nueva Galicia and arrived at Nootka Sound in April of that year. The expedition had many Catalan volunteers from the First Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia, commanded by Pere d'Alberní, a native of Tortosa. The expedition rebuilt the fort, which had been dismantled after Martínez abandoned it. The rebuilt fort included several defensive constructions as well as a vegetable garden to ensure the settlement had food supplies. The Catalan volunteers left the fort in 1792 and Spanish influence in the region ended in 1795 after the Nootka Convention came into force.
Late British expeditions (1790s-1821)
Subsequently, European explorer-merchants from the east started to discover British Columbia. Three figures dominate in the early history of mainland British Columbia: Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, and David Thompson. As employees of the North West Company, the three were primarily concerned with discovering a practicable river route to the Pacific, specifically via the Columbia River, for the extension of the fur trade. In 1793, Mackenzie became the first European to reach the Pacific overland north of the Rio Grande. He and his crew entered the region through the Rocky Mountains via the Peace River, reaching the ocean at North Bentinck Arm, near present-day Bella Coola. Shortly thereafter, Mackenzie's companion, John Finlay, founded the first permanent European settlement in British Columbia, Fort St. John, located at the junction of the Beatton and Peace Rivers.
Simon Fraser was the next to try to find the course of the Columbia. During his expedition of 1805-09, Fraser and his crew, including John Stuart, explored much of the British Columbia interior, establishing several forts (Hudson's Hope, Trout Lake Fort, Fort George, Fort Fraser, and Fort St. James). Fraser's expedition took him down the river that now bears his name, to the site of present-day Vancouver. Although both Mackenzie and Fraser reached the Pacific, they found the routes they took impassable for trade. It was David Thompson who found the Columbia River and followed it down to its mouth in 1811. He was unable to establish a claim, however, for the American explorers Lewis and Clark had already claimed the territory for the United States of America six years earlier. The American Fur Company of John Jacob Astor had founded Fort Astoria just months before Thompson arrived, though within a year the local staff at Astoria sold the fort and others in the region to the North West Company, which renamed it Fort George. Though "returned" to US hands as a result of treaty complications at the end of the War of 1812, this meant only there was a parallel US fort adjacent to the NWC one, which was the more prosperous of the two. Following the forced merger of the North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company in 1821, Fort Vancouver was established as the new regional headquarters.
From fur trade districts to colonies (1821–1858)
Although technically a part of British North America, British Columbia was largely run by the Hudson's Bay Company after its merger with the North West Company in 1821. The Central Interior of the region was organized into the New Caledonia District, a name that came to be generally attributed to the mainland as a whole. It was administered from Fort St. James, about 150 km northwest of present-day Prince George. The Interior south of the Thompson River and north of California was named by the company the Columbia District, and was administered first from Fort Vancouver (present day Vancouver, Washington).
Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, the HBC controlled nearly all trading operations in the Pacific Northwest, based out of the company headquarters at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. Although authority over the region was nominally shared by the United States and Britain through the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, company policy, enforced via Chief Factor John McLoughlin of the company's Columbia District, was to discourage any settlement, including US settlement, of the territory. The company's effective monopoly on trade virtually forbade any settlement in the region. It established Fort Boise in 1834 (in present-day southwestern Idaho) to compete with the American Fort Hall, 483 km (300 mi) to the east. In 1837, it purchased Fort Hall, also along the route of the Oregon Trail, where the outpost director displayed the abandoned wagons of discouraged settlers to those seeking to move west along the trail.
Fort Vancouver was the nexus for the fur trade on the Pacific Coast; its influence reached from the Rocky Mountains to the Hawaiian Islands, and from Alaska into Mexican-controlled California. At its pinnacle, Fort Vancouver watched over 34 outposts, 24 ports, six ships, and 600 employees. Also, for many primarily American settlers the fort became the last stop on the Oregon Trail as they could get supplies before starting their homestead.
By 1843 the Hudson's Bay Company operated numerous posts in the Columbia Department, including Fort Vancouver, Fort George (Astoria), Fort Nisqually, Fort Umpqua, Fort Langley, Fort Colville, Fort Okanogan, Fort Kamloops, Fort Alexandria, Flathead Post, Kootanae House, Fort Boise, Fort Hall, Fort Simpson, Fort Taku, Fort McLoughlin (in Milbanke Sound), Fort Stikine, as well as a number of others.
Fort Victoria was established as a trading post in 1843, both as a means to protect HBC interests, as well as to assert British claims to Vancouver Island and the adjacent Gulf Islands. The Gulf Islands and Strait of Juan de Fuca are the access point to Puget Sound as well as a fall back position in preparation for the "worst case" scenario settlement of the dispute, in the face of manifest destiny. Increasing numbers of American settlers arriving on the Oregon Trail gave rise to the Oregon boundary dispute. The Hudson's Bay Company dominated and controlled all territory north of the Columbia River. The British position was that a fair division of the Columbia District was a boundary at the Columbia River.
In 1844, the United States Democratic Party asserted that the U.S. had a legitimate claim to the entire Columbia District or Oregon Country, but President James Polk was prepared to draw the border along the 49th parallel, the longstanding U.S. proposal. When the British rejected this offer, Polk broke off negotiations, and American expansionists reasserted the claim, coining slogans (most famously "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!"). With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War diverting attention and resources, Polk was again prepared to compromise. The Oregon boundary dispute was settled in the 1846 Treaty of Washington. The terms of the agreement established the border between British North America and the United States at the 49th parallel from the Rocky Mountains to the sea, the original American proposal, with all of Vancouver Island retained as British territory.
This effectively destroyed the geographical logic of the HBC's Columbia Department, since the lower Columbia River was the core and lifeline of the system. The U.S. soon organized its portion as the Oregon Territory. The administrative headquarters of fur operations, and of the Columbia Department, then shifted north to Fort Victoria, which had been founded by James Douglas.
In 1849, the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island was created; and in 1851, James Douglas was appointed Governor. Douglas, known as the father of British Columbia, established colonial institutions in Victoria. He started the process of expanding the economic base of the new colony by signing 14 treaties between 1850-1854 to purchase land for settlement and industrial development (coal deposits were known by the HBC in the vicinities of Nanaimo and Fort Rupert). Subsequent native population crashes later in the 19th century along with economic upheaval and native wars allowed his political successors to be much less consistent with British principles, treaties, and laws.
Meanwhile on the mainland, New Caledonia continued to focus on the fur trade with few non-native inhabitants (mostly HBC employees and their families) under the administrative oversight of Douglas, who was also the HBC's regional chief executive. The Hudson's Bay Company like the previous French colony and North West Company of Montreal still officially discouraged settlement because it interfered with the lucrative fur trade. The fur trade was a mutually beneficial relationship between the local HBC trading fort and adjacent native tribes. American expansion and control of territory was predicated primarily by settlement of the land not commercial relationships with the existing local population. The British made virtually no effort to assert sovereignty over the aboriginal peoples of the area. In accordance with the Royal Proclamation of 1763, large-scale settlement by non-aboriginal people was prohibited until the lands were surrendered by treaty.
Colonial British Columbia (1858–1871)
In 1858, gold was found along the banks of the Thompson River just east of what is now Lytton, British Columbia, triggering the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. When word got out to San Francisco about gold in British territory, Victoria was transformed overnight into a tent city as prospectors, speculators, land agents, and outfitters flooded in from around the world, mostly via San Francisco. The Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Langley burgeoned economically as the staging point for many of the prospectors heading by boat to the Canyon.
At the time, the region was still not under formal colonial authority. Douglas, fearing challenges to the claim of British sovereignty in the region in the face of an influx of some 20,000 Americans, stationed a gunboat at the mouth of the Fraser in order to obtain license fees from those seeking to head upstream. The resolution of the Oregon Boundary Dispute whereby British interests, primarily the HBC, lost governance of all territory between the 49th Parallel and the Columbia River due to a sudden influx of American settlers was 8 years previous. The British colonial office responded to the new situation by establishing the mainland as a crown colony on August 2, 1858, naming it the Colony of British Columbia.
On 19 November 1858, a government for the colony was established with Fort Langley, on the southern reaches of the Fraser, as its provisional capital. New Westminster was chosen as its first official capital, however, for reasons of military security. New Westminster, at a defensible location on the north bank of the Fraser River, possessed, according to Lieutenant-Governor Richard Moody, "great facilities for communication by water, as well as by future great trunk railways into the interior". Governor Douglas proclaimed "Queensborough" (as the site was initially called by Moody) the new capital on February 14, 1859. "Queensborough", however, did not appeal to London and it was Queen Victoria who proposed New Westminster, after Westminster, that part of the British capital of London where the Parliament Buildings were situated. New Westminster became the first city incorporated on the mainland in 1860. Douglas was named joint governor of the three colonies (the Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands had been in existence since 1853 and was merged with the Mainland Colony under Douglas' regime, in 1863).
A second major gold rush in the Cariboo region of the colony occurred in 1861-64, in the midst of smaller ones, notably in the Omenica, Big Bend and on the Stikine. The influx of gold miners into B.C.'s economy led to the creation of basic infrastructure in B.C., most notably, the creation of the Cariboo Wagon Road which linked the Lower Mainland to the rich gold fields of Barkerville. However, the enormous costs of the road, and its predecessor the Douglas Road and services such as the Gold Escort, left B.C. in debt by the mid-1860s. In 1866, because of the massive debt leftover from the gold rush, the mainland and Vancouver Island became one colony named British Columbia, with its capital in Victoria.
In 1867, there were three options open: to continue as a British colony, to be annexed by the United States, or to confederate with the newly formed Dominion of Canada. In Britain, many Little Englanders expected, or even hoped, that its North American colonies would depart from the British Empire. Admiral Joseph Denman told the Admiralty that British Columbia did not deserve Royal Navy protection, and advised the British government to "divest herself of these possessions by any means consistent with honour". Secretary of State for the Colonies Lord Granville stated his wish that British North America "would propose to be independent and annex themselves". The Times ' view was the British consensus:
British Columbia is a long way off. . . . With the exception of a limited official class it receives few immigrants from England, and a large proportion of its inhabitants consists of citizens of the United States who have entered it from the south. Suppose that the colonists met together and came to the conclusion that every natural motive of contiguity, similarity of interests, and facility of administration induced them to think it more convenient to slip into the Union than into the Dominion. . . . We all know that we should not attempt to withstand them.
Financially, becoming officially part of the United States made sense since British Columbia was economically essentially a satellite of San Francisco—the most important city of the entire American west and North America's Pacific coast—Washington, and Oregon, which provided all of the colony's supplies despite a substantial American tariff. American currency circulated widely in the colony, whose nearest British neighbors were Red River 2,000 miles to the east, and Hong Kong to the west. San Francisco's population in the 1860s exceeded 60,000, while Victoria's never rose above 4,000. All mail from British Columbia went through San Francisco, forcing the colony's post office to keep large amounts of American postage stamps.:184,186–187 The opening of the American transcontinental railroad in 1869 made it possible to travel by ship from Victoria to San Francisco, then by train to Ottawa or Washington in just 24 days. With the gold now gone, most of the American miners had left, and the economic future did not look promising unless B.C. could join the very rapidly growing, rich economies of the Pacific states.
While American residents of British Columbia celebrated the United States' purchase of Alaska in 1867, having American territory to their north and south caused British residents' fears for the future of their colony to grow. Alaska was part of American Secretary of State William H. Seward's plan to incorporate the entire northwest Pacific Coast, chiefly for the long-term commercial advantages to the United States in terms of Pacific trade. Seward believed that the people in British Columbia wanted annexation and that Britain would accept this in exchange for the Alabama claims. In the event, Seward dropped the idea of an exchange and accepted an arbitration plan that settled the Alabama claims for cash. When a false report circulated in April, soon after the Alaska news, that the British government was considering settling the claims by ceding the colony, a substantial annexation movement appeared supported by many residents and three of the colony's six newspapers.
Anti-confederationists, who were not necessarily annexationists, were the majority on Vancouver Island. That said, annexationists argued that the colony would never be able to negotiate with the United States a free trade agreement similar to the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854, and that annexation would end the disadvantage of the American tariff. Most Canadian-born residents supported confederation with their land of origin but were not very popular, as many in the colony believed that they sent their money home instead of spending it in British Columbia as the American-born colonists did. Residents of the mainland almost unanimously supported confederation with the rest of British North America; they argued that this would benefit the colony as Canada would soon negotiate another reciprocity treaty. Many British-born colonists were on both sides.:190–192,208–209
Representative Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts' Annexation Bill of 1866 offered voluntary annexation to British North America, including territorial status for Vancouver Island and British Columbia together as the "territory of Columbia". The bill was unsuccessful, as was Senator Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota's 1867 proposal that the United States, as part of another reciprocity treaty with Canada, offer $6 million to the Hudson's Bay Company for the territory west of the 90th longitude. The US would assume British Columbia's $2 million debt, and subsidize the Northern Pacific Railway to build a road to Puget Sound.:196–198 Two American military officers, who travelled throughout British Columbia for two months while arranging for supply of occupation troops in Alaska, wrote a detailed report to Washington in November 1867 of their belief that a majority of residents supported annexation. They claimed that "[i]t did not become necessary in a single instance to broach the subject of the cession of that territory to the United States, for it was the constant theme of conversation". Employees of the Hudson's Bay Company were said to be especially supportive, although they and many others could not make their opinion public because of fears of being denounced as disloyal. A majority of British Columbians never publicly supported American annexation, however, and support for joining Canada grew over time; in particular, annexationists failed to persuade the anti-confederation Hudson's Bay Company officials and their friends that dominated Vancouver Island politics.:209 Accusations that "American gold" and "American greenbacks" funded "renegade Englishmen" likely hurt annexation support; whether the US officers' belief of the existence of widespread covert support was correct, by October 1867 annexation no longer appeared as a topic in British Columbia newspapers or documents,
Until the Alaska Purchase and the new Dominion status (which were almost simultaneous), the British had been indifferent to the fate of British Columbia. London now paid attention, and realized the value of B.C. as a base for its imperial trade opportunities in the Pacific and the need of the Royal Navy for a station in the region. By 1868 public opinion was likely on the confederation side. Annexationists (or, at least, anti-confederationists) were in control of the Legislative Council of British Columbia, however, and in February 1869 passed a resolution opposing confederation;:213 until his death the colonial governor, Frederick Seymour, also opposed confederation. Successor Anthony Musgrave supported confederation (after being unsuccessful in bringing Newfoundland into Canada):192 but due to an accident was delayed in his duties; meanwhile, annexation support revived during the winter of 1869-1870. One hundred four individuals, about one percent of the white population of the colony, signed an 1869 petition to President Ulysses S. Grant asking for annexation. While there is no reason to believe that they accurately represented the majority opinion, it is true that many colonists viewed Washington and London as equal competitors for British Columbia's loyalty depending on who offered more incentives, while Ottawa was more foreign and less familiar.:206–208
In August 1869 Lord Granville communicated London's new view of British Columbia when he wrote to Musgrave, "I have no hesitation in stating that [support of confederation] is also the opinion of Her Majesty's Government.":195 In February 1870 Musgrave successfully persuaded the Legislative Council to pass a resolution supporting confederation with Canada. Many British-born colonists now supported confederation as the best way to maintain a connection with Britain. By April the Victoria Colonist reported that a mass meeting in Victoria supported confederation while "the most vague hint in the direction of annexation was met with a howl of execration".:214 Musgrave proposed an attractive plan for joining Canada, with the Dominion assuming the colony's debt and building a new Canadian transcontinental railway that would eliminate the reliance on the American railroad. Meanwhile, the United States was so focused on issues of Reconstruction, that few Americans picked up on Seward's grand dream to expand Manifest Destiny to the Pacific.
Entry into Canada (1871–1900)
Both the depressed economic situation arising from the collapse of the gold rushes, as well as a desire for the establishment of truly responsible and representative government, led to enormous domestic pressure for British Columbia to join the Canadian Confederation, which had been proclaimed in 1867. The Confederation League, spearheaded by three future premiers of the province — Amor De Cosmos, Robert Beaven, and John Robson — took a leading role in pushing the colony towards this goal. And so it was on July 20, 1871, that British Columbia became the seventh province to join Canada. In return for entering Confederation, Canada absorbed B.C.'s massive debt, and promised to build a railway from Montreal to the Pacific coast within 10 years.
Contrary to popular belief British Columbia did not demand a transcontinental railroad as a condition of confederation; its delegates expected a wagon road, but John A. Macdonald's national government proposed the railroad as a substitute, with Ottawa and London viewing it as a way of connecting not just British Columbia but the prairies with the rest of the British Empire.:235–236 The promise of a railroad became, however, the most important reason for British Columbia to stay within Canada. The provincial legislature threatened to secede in 1878 because Macdonald's successor Alexander Mackenzie, whose Liberal Party had opposed the railroad, attempted to modify the promise; Macdonald's return to power that year likely kept British Columbia from departing Canada.:236–238 In fulfillment of the promise, the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven in Craigellachie on 7 November 1885. (No good road yet existed between British Columbia and other provinces; until the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway automobiles had to enter the United States to travel to eastern Canada.):240–241,406
The mining frontier in B.C. led to the creation of many mines and smelters, mostly through American investment. One of the world's largest smelters still exists today in Trail. The capital and work to be found in B.C. during the turn of 19th century to the 20th century led to the creation of several new towns in B.C. such as Nelson, Nakusp, Slocan, Kimberley, Castlegar, Rossland, and Salmo. A large coal empire run by Robert Dunsmuir, and his son and later premier, James Dunsmuir also developed on Vancouver Island during this era.
As the economy on the mainland continued to improve as a result of improved transportation and increased settlement, other resource-based economic activity began to flourish. Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, fishing, forestry, and farming (including the planting of extensive orchards in the Okanagan region) became the "three F's" on which the new province built its economy — a situation that persisted well into the late twentieth century.
With the booming economy came the expansion of the original fur trading posts into thriving communities (such as Victoria, Nanaimo, and Kamloops). It also led to the establishment of new communities, such as Yale, New Westminster, and — most notably, though a latecomer — Vancouver. The product of the consolidation of the burgeoning mill towns of Granville and Hastings Mill located near the mouth of the Fraser on Burrard Inlet in the later 1860s, Vancouver was incorporated in 1886 following its selection as the railhead for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Despite a devastating fire which all but wiped out the city three months later, Vancouver quickly became the largest city in the province, its ports conveying both the resource wealth of the province as well as that transported from the prairie provinces by rail, to markets overseas. Vancouver's status as the principal city in the province has endured, augmented by growth in the surrounding municipalities of Richmond, Burnaby, Surrey, Delta, Coquitlam, and New Westminster. Today, Metro Vancouver is the third most populous metropolitan area in Canada, behind Toronto and Montreal.
It was also during this period where ethnic diversity began to develop significantly, as immigration was not fed entirely by European countries. Chinese and Japanese emigrants made many coastal settlements home, beginning in the 1850s, and became increasingly more pronounced in the 1880s.
Since the days of the fur trade, British Columbia's economy has been based on natural resources, particularly fishing, logging and mining. From the canneries to the mills and mines, B.C.'s resource sector was increasingly the domain of large commercial interests.
With industrialization and economic growth, workers arrived to join in the seemingly boundless prosperity. Increasingly, these workers came from Asia as well as Europe. The mix of cultures and diversity was a source of strength, but also, often, of conflict. The early part of the 20th century was a time of great change and talk between immigrants and the First Nations, all of whom found their lives changing rapidly.
Rise of the labour movement
The dominance of the economy by big business was accompanied by an often militant labour movement. The first major sympathy strike was in 1903 when railway employees struck against the CPR for union recognition. Labour leader Frank Rogers was killed while picketing at the docks by CPR police during that strike, becoming the British Columbia movement's first martyr. Canada's first general strike occurred following the death of another labour leader, Ginger Goodwin, in 1918, at the Cumberland coal mines on Vancouver Island. A lull in industrial tensions through the later 1920s came to an abrupt end with the Great Depression. Most of the 1930s strikes were led by Communist Party organizers. That strike wave peaked in 1935 when unemployed men flooded the city to protest conditions in the relief camps run by the military in remote areas throughout the province. After two tense months of daily and disruptive protesting, the relief camp strikers decided to take their grievances to the federal government and embarked on the On-to-Ottawa Trek, but their commandeered train was met by a gatling gun at Hatzic, just east of Mission City, and the strikers arrested and interned in work camps for the duration of the Depression.
Race and ethnic relations
During the 20th century, many immigrant groups arrived in British Columbia and today, Vancouver is the second most ethnically diverse city in Canada, only behind Toronto. In 1886, a head tax was imposed on the Chinese, which reached as much as $500 per person to enter Canada by 1904. By 1923 the government passed the Chinese Immigration Act, which prohibited all Chinese immigration until 1947. Sikhs had to face an amended Immigration Act in 1908 that required Sikhs to have $200 on arrival in Canada, and immigration would be allowed only if the passenger had arrived by continuous journey from India, which was impossible. Perhaps the most famous incident of anti-Sikh racism in B.C. was in 1914 when the Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver harbour with 376 Sikhs aboard, of whom only 20 were allowed entry. The Komagata Maru spent two months in harbour while the Khalsa Society went through the courts to appeal their case. The Khalsa Society also kept the passengers on the Komagata Maru alive during those two months. When the case was lost, HMCS Rainbow, a Royal Canadian Navy cruiser, escorted the Komagata Maru out to sea while thousands of Caucasians cheered from the seawall of Stanley Park.
During the Second World War, security concerns following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Canada's entry into the war versus Japan led to controversial measures. The local Japanese-Canadian population was openly discriminated against, being put in internment camps. The Pacific Coast Militia Rangers were formed in 1942 in order to provide an armed presence on the coast in addition to the pre-war fortress garrisons, which were expanded after hostilities. Japanese military attacks against BC amounted to a small number of parachute bombs released from great distance away and by the middle of 1942 the threat of direct attack diminished following defeat at the Battle of Midway by US forces.
Alcohol was prohibited in British Columbia for about four years, from 1917 to 1921. A referendum in 1916 asked BC citizens whether they approved of making alcohol illegal (the other question was whether women had the right to vote). The contested results rejecting prohibition led to a major political scandal that subsequently saw the referendum being overturned and alcohol prohibited. However, by 1921 the failures were so apparent—a thriving black market, arbitrary (often class- and race-based) enforcement and punishment, rampant corruption—that alcohol was established as a commodity subject to government regulation and taxation as it is today. U.S. prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s led to a thriving business of producing and smuggling alcohol to quench the thirst of BC's southern neighbors. Many of Vancouver's richest families built or consolidated their fortunes in the rum-running business. Some compare today's robust cannabis-growing industry in BC (the number-one cash crop) to this earlier era.
World War II contributions
A Pacific Command was created in 1942 also, and was disbanded in 1945. Militia units from southern BC provided cadres for many regiments that eventually fought in Europe. The Rocky Mountain Rangers sent a battalion to fight the Japanese in the Battle of the Aleutian Islands in 1943. Thousands more British Columbians volunteered for the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force. Two soldiers, Ernest Alvia Smith and John Keefer Mahony, were awarded the Victoria Cross for actions with BC-based regiments in Italy.
Columbia River Treaty
In 1961, British Columbia ratified the Columbia River Treaty which required the building of three large dams in British Columbia in return for financial compensation related to U.S. hydroelectric power production enabled by the dams. The dams flooded large areas within British Columbia, but would prove to be a very stable and renewable source of power for the province.
If the 20th century can be said to have been (see above) one of ethnocultural strife, the 21st thus far can be said to be one of relative harmony. One of the first pronouncements of Stephen Harper, upon his victory in the 39th general election to the Parliament in Ottawa, was that proper redress would be afforded the payers of the Chinese head tax.  On 22 June 2006, he offered an apology and $20,000 compensation for the head tax once paid by Chinese immigrants. Asian people, at 20.2% of the total population, were in the 2006 census by far the largest visible minority demographic, with many of the Lower Mainland's large cities having sizable Chinese, South Asian, Japanese, Filipino, and Korean communities.
The Chinese appeasement policies continue to bear fruit. Whereas prior to 2009 the Federal government was ill-disposed toward the Chinese, by spring of that year the China Investment Corporation was able to purchase of a 17% share fraction of the Vancouver miner Teck Resources. The transition of views on the Chinese government has been unprecedented, from one of fear to one of official cooperation in the space of five years, and in the face of popular trepidation. In November 2013, British Columbia finance minister Mike de Jong reported a successful placement of Chinese RMB$2.5bn in dim sum bonds.
- The scandal of the December 2003 BC Legislature Raids, which led to the October 2010 conviction of Dave Basi and Bob Virk, ministerial aides to Gary Collins and Janet Reid, respectively, involved "bribes - cash, meals and NFL tickets - in exchange for leaking confidential [information] about the sale" of BC Rail. The case set precedent in R. v. Basi, according to which defendants' counsel may participate at pre-trial hearings involving a police informant.
- Although Robert Pickton had apparently claimed responsibility for 49 murders at or near his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, at trial by jury in 2007 he was only convicted of six.
- On 14 October 2007, Robert Dziekański was tasered by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. The incident might have been unreported, but for the cell-phone video taken by eyewitness Paul Pritchard. It took six years for the provincial coroner to determine that death of Dziekanski was a homicide.
- A drug dealer who failed to pay $100,000 to the Red Scorpion gang for trafficking on the its turf was the catalyst for the execution of six people in a Surrey high rise in 2007.
After a scandal-filled second term for the BC NDP government, the BC Liberals won the 2001 election with the biggest landslide in BC history: 77 of 79 seats. Gordon Campbell became the seventh premier in ten years, and the first Liberal premier in almost 50 years. On 25 November 2005, the Civil Forfeiture Act (CFA) was passed by Campbell's second government with a 3:2 majority. This Act followed Ontario's Civil Remedies Act, which had passed in November 2003. This Act makes it possible for the government to amerce or to seize property without due process, and the Civil Forfeiture Office (CFO) has been eager to use this power in order to fill the coffers of government. The office does not need criminal charges, or convictions, to amerce a property. Bill 5 was introduced by Solicitor-General Rich Coleman, who made liberal use of the "organised crime" fear, uncertainty and doubt tactic. He also mentioned that Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta had also recently introduced similar legislation.
The Act, which was brought in with "organised crime" as the target, since at least 2007 has been expanded to target ordinary citizens. In latter-day practice, amercements may include partial (Jang) or full seizure (Lloydsmith, Rai) of a house. On 4 May 2011, Solicitor-General Shirley Bond of Christy Clark's first government introduced the concept of "administrative forfeiture", under which a civil court is no longer required to judge amercements of property worth less than $75,000. The CFO moved in summer 2012 to seize the Guide Certificate of Robert Milligan, a certain way to destroy his livelihood. The CFO has a budgetary target. Offences under the Motor Vehicle Act, Wildlife Act and Employment Standards Act are now pursued by the CFO. The public is now bribed with the proceeds, for example, violence-prevention projects at six schools, an anti-gang campaign, women and family violence programs and a workshop on sexual exploitation awareness. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton expressed unreserved support for the CFO and CFA in a January 2014 interview.
The status of the First Nations (aboriginal) people of British Columbia is a long-standing problem that has become a major issue in recent years. First Nations were confined to tiny reserves that no longer provide an economic base. They were provided with inadequate education and discriminated against in numerous ways. In many areas they were excluded from restaurants and other establishments. Status Indians gained the right to vote in 1960. They were prohibited from possessing alcohol, which rather than preventing problems with this drug, exacerbated them by fostering unhealthy patterns of consumption such as binge drinking. Certain privileges of status Indians are governed by the Indian Act. With the exception of what are known as the Douglas Treaties, negotiated by Sir James Douglas with the native people of the Victoria area, no treaties were signed in British Columbia until 1998. Many native people wished to negotiate treaties, but the province refused until 1990. Another major development was the 1997 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Delgamuukw v. British Columbia case that aboriginal title still exists in British Columbia.
60% of First Nations in British Columbia are aligned with the First Nations Summit. This brings a total of 58 First Nations, but only 20 are said to be in active negotiations. Three Final Agreements have been settled, with one being rejected by Lheidli T'enneh in 2007. The other two, the Maa-nulth treaty group, a 5 Nuu-chah-nulth member group, and the Tsawwassen First Nation. Although these treaties have yet to be ratified by Parliament in Ottawa and Legislature in Victoria, neighbouring First Nations are seeking to block these treaties in the courts. A group of Vancouver Island and some mainland First Nations, the WSANEC, Lekwungen, and Semiahmoo, are seeking to block to Tsawwassen First Nation treaty, claiming infringement on their rights and land titles. On the west coast of Vancouver Island, the Ditidaht First Nation is doing the same against the Maa-nulth treaty group. The only treaty signed in recent years, the Nisga'a Treaty (1998), was negotiated outside of the current treaty process. There is considerable disagreement about treaty negotiations. Among indigenous people, there is mounting criticism of extinguishment of Aboriginal title and continued assimilation strategies by attempting to change the indigenous peoples from nations to municipal style government. Therefore, a substantial number of First Nations governments consider the current treaty process inadequate and have refused to participate.
A November 2007 court ruling for the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation called future participation in the process into question. The judge ruled that the Xeni Gwet'in could demonstrate aboriginal title to half of the Nemaia Valley, and that the province had no power over these lands. Under the BC treaty process, negotiating nations have received as little as 5% of their claimed land recognized. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, called the court victory a "nail in the coffin" of the B.C. treaty process.
- Indigenous peoples
- European empires
- Important figures
By nationality, in chronological order of influence to the region:
- Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475–1519), Spanish explorer and conquistador from Jerez de los Caballeros, claimed possession of the Pacific Ocean and all adjoining lands in the name of the Spanish sovereigns in 1513.
- Juan José Pérez Hernández (1725–1775), Majorcan born Spanish explorer, first European to explore the region in 1774.
- Bruno de Heceta (1744–1807), Basque born Spanish explorer, explored the region in 1775.
- Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra (1743–1794), Liman born Spanish explorer, explored the region in an expedition in 1775 along with Bruno de Heceta.
- Esteban José Martínez, Sevillan born Spanish explorer who founded the Spanish fort in Nootka Sound in 1789. It can be considered the first formal colony in the region (prior to that there was only a trade post founded by the Englishman John Meares).
- Gonzalo López de Haro, accompanied Esteban José Martínez in the 1789 expedition.
- Francisco de Eliza, made an expedition to Nootka Sound in 1790 to rebuild the Spanish fort abandoned by Esteban José Martínez.
- Pere d'Alberní (1747–1802), Catalan born Spanish soldier and explorer from Tortosa, Captain of the First Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia appointed in Nootka Sound. His mission was to rebuild the fort, after Esteban José Martínez had abandoned it. He went with his company in the expedition of Francisco de Eliza, in 1790.
- Salvador Fidalgo, Catalan born Spanish explorer from La Seu d'Urgell, made an expedition to Nootka Sound in 1790.
- José María Narváez, Spanish explorer, discovered Point Grey (modern day Vancouver, British Columbia) on July 5, 1791.
- Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, explorer commissioned by the King; first European to circumnavigate Vancouver Island, and author of the "Relacion".
- British or from the British Isles
- Francis Drake, British privateer
- James Cook, British explorer
- John Meares, British explorer
- George Vancouver, British explorer
- Alexander Mackenzie, British explorer
- David Thompson, British explorer
- James Douglas, first Governor of British Columbia
- Matthew Baillie Begbie, first Chief Justice of British Columbia
- The Canadas and the Maritimes
- Other history pages
- Heritage Minutes
- History of the west coast of North America
- List of ships in British Columbia
- List of Royal Navy ships in the Pacific Northwest
- See Bibliography of British Columbia for a more extensive guide to resources. This is a basic guide to major works.
- Barman, Jean. The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia U. of Toronto Press, 1991. 430pp
- Carlson, Roy L. and Bona, Luke Dalla, eds. Early Human Occupation in British Columbia. Vancouver: U. of British Columbia Press, 1996. 261 pp.
- Carty, R. K., ed. Politics, Policy, and Government in British Columbia. Vancouver: U. of British Columbia Press, 1996. 381 pp.
- Francis, Daniel, ed. Encyclopedia of British Columbia. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour, 2000. 806 pp.
- Griffin, Harold. Radical Roots: The Shaping of British Columbia. Vancouver: Commonwealth Fund, 1999.
- Hak, Gordon. Turning Trees into Dollars: The British Columbia Coastal Lumber Industry, 1858-1913. U. of Toronto Press, 2000. 239 pp.
- Harris, Cole. The Resettlement of British Columbia: Essays on Colonialism and Geographical Change. Vancouver: U. of British Columbia Press, 1997. 314 pp.
- Hayes, Derek. Historical Atlas of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest: Maps of Exploration. Vancouver: Cavendish, 1999. 208 pp.
- Johnston, Hugh, ed. The Pacific Province: A History of British Columbia. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1996. 352 pp.
- McGillivray, Brett. Geography of British Columbia: People and Landscapes in Transition. Vancouver: U. of British Columbia Press, 2000. 235pp
- Muckle, Robert J. The First Nations of British Columbia. Vancouver: U. of British Columbia Press, 1998. 146pp.
- Norris, John. Strangers Entertained: A History of Ethnic Groups in British Columbia. Vancouver: Evergreen Press, 1971. 254 pp.
- Ormsby, Margaret A. British Columbia: A History (Macmillan, 1958) online edition
- Recksten, Terry. The Illustrated History of British Columbia. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2001. 280 pp.
- Woodcock, George. British Columbia: A History of the Province. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1990. 288 pp.
- Whitcomb, Dr. Ed. A Short History of British Columbia. Ottawa. From Sea To Sea Enterprises. 2006. 71 pp.
- Book Review: The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, Macleans magazine, July 18, 2003, quoted entire in The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Sir Francis Drake article, The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Another victory for Drake: Amateur treasure hunter's coin find proves English hero discovered Canada before the Spanish, AP Reporter, Daily Mail, London, March 14 2014
- Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada
- Nootka Sound Service LTD's website
- The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History
- Catalans al Canadà, page 7, study from the Fundació d'Estudis Històrics de Catalunya
- Mackie, Richard Somerset (1997). Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific 1793-1843. Vancouver: University of British Columbia (UBC) Press. p. 250. ISBN 0-7748-0613-3. online at Google Books
- The Canadian Frontier 1534-1760 by W.J. Eccles.
- Superior Rendezvous Place Fort William in the Canadian Fur Trade by J. Morrison
- It was named after the Columbia Department of the Hudson's Bay Company, which in turn was named after the Columbia River. Ged Martin, "The Naming of British Columbia," Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1978), pp. 257-263 in JSTOR
- Barman, Jean. The West Beyond the West. 72
- Margaret Ormsby, British Columbia, A History, Toronto: Macmillan Company of Canada Limited, 1976, p. 174
- Ormsby, p. 175
- Ormsby, pl 175
- Jean Barman, The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia (1991) p. 91
- Charles Hou and Marlena Morgan, eds. The Destiny of British Columbia: confederation or annexation? (1984)
- Sage, Walter N. (1932). "The Critical Period of British Columbia History, 1866-1871". Pacific Historical Review 1 (4): 424–443. doi:10.2307/3633112. JSTOR 3633112.
- David E. Shi, "Seward's Attempt to Annex British Columbia, 1865-1869," Pacific Historical Review, May 1978, Vol. 47 Issue 2, pp 217-238 in JSTOR
- Keenlyside, Hugh LL.; Brown, Gerald S. (1952). Canada and the United States: Some Aspects of Their Historical Relations. Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 129–136.
- Howay, F. W.; Sage, W. N.; Angus, H. F. (1942). British Columbia and the United States: The North Pacific Slope from Fur Trade to Aviation. Toronto: The Ryerson Press.
- Neunherz, R. E. (1989). ""Hemmed In": Reactions in British Columbia to the Purchase of Russian America". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 80 (3): 101–111. doi:10.2307/40491056. JSTOR 40491056.
- Charles Emmerson, The Future History of the Arctic (2010) p 74
- Reginald Trotter, "Canada as a Factor in Anglo-American Relations in the 1860s," Canadian Historical Review, (1935) 16:354.
- John Herd Thompson and Stephen J. Randall, Canada and the United States: Ambivalent Allies (4th ed. 2008) pp 46-7
- Barman, The West Beyond the West (1991) pp 91-97
- Doris W. Dashew, "The Story of An Illusion: The Plan to Trade 'Alabama' Claims for Canada," Civil War History, Dec 1969, Vol. 15 Issue 4, pp 332-348
- Phillips, Paul A. (1967). No Power Greater: A Century of Labour in British Columbia. Vancouver: BC Federation of Labour/Boag Foundation. pp. 39–41.
- Phillips, Paul A. (1967). No Power Greater: A Century of Labour in British Columbia. Vancouver: BC Federation of Labour/Boag Foundation. pp. 71–74.
- Manley, John (1994). "Canadian Communists, Revolutionary Unionism, and the 'Third Period': The Workers' Unity League," (PDF). Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, New Series 5: 167–194.
- Brown, Lorne (1987). When Freedom was Lost: The Unemployed, the Agitator, and the State. Montreal: Black Rose Books. ISBN 978-0-920057-77-3.
- Carved From Wood: A History of Mission 1861-1992, Andreas Schroeder, publ. Mission Foundation (1991), 227 pp., ASIN: B000WB9TWM
- "Electoral History," Elections BC
- Haddow, Douglas (5 August 2010). "Marijuana may cause Canada's economic comedown". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- "CCNC Press Release - Chinese Canadians welcome New Year's promise on Head Tax Redress from PM Designate Stephen Harper". Ccnc.ca. 2006-01-26. Retrieved 2013-09-16.
- Office of the Prime Minister (2006). "Address by the Prime Minister on the Chinese Head Tax Redress". Government of Canada. Retrieved 2006-08-08.
- "Statistics Canada. "Canada’s Ethnocultural Mosaic, 2006 Census: Provinces and territories"".
- Toronto Star: "China fishes for secrets in rich, vulnerable waters" 11 Dec 2007
- G+M "The man behind the Teck-CIC deal" 3 Jul 2009
- Boesveld, Sarah. "Government infiltrated by spies, CSIS boss says". Toronto: The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- G+M: "Clark, Robertson to lead B.C. trade missions to Asia" 22 Oct 2013
- "B.C. and China endorse partnerships" 26 Nov 2013
- thetyee.ca: "BC Premier Urged to Consider Fast Legal Action Against China Treaty" 24 Oct 2013
- "Canadian Province Issues Offshore Yuan-Denominated Bonds" 5 Nov 2013
- G+M: "BC Rail trial ends after deal reached" (Mason) 18 Oct 2010
- "Dziekanski death at hands of RCMP a homicide, B.C. coroner rules". CBC News. The Canadian Press. 8 April 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
- news24.com: "Dead drug dealer failed to pay gang, 'Surrey Six' trial hears" 19 Dec 2013
- G+M "Timeline: How B.C. has seized $41-million in property in nearly eight years" 25 Jan 2014
- G+M: "B.C. Opposition plans to question scope of ‘cash cow’ office that seizes property" 28 Jan 2014
- G+M: "WHEN THE PROVINCE GOES AFTER ILL-GOTTEN GAINS, WHO PAYS?" 25 Jan 2014
- "Official Report of DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY (Hansard) MONDAY, MARCH 7, 2005 Afternoon Sitting Volume 27, Number 27"
- Huge win for Interior natives, The Province, November 22, 2007
- BC History in images - A visual history of British Columbia starting as early as 1542, from the UBC Library Digital Collections.
- British Colonist newspaper in Victoria, complete text Dec. 1858 to June 1910, searchable
- British Columbia History Internet/Web Site, 1995–2004, compiled by historian and archivist David Mattison, was succeeded by the British Columbia History Portal, 2003–present.
- First Nations Languages of British Columbia contains information about the native languages of British Columbia.
- BC History Journal
- "Coastal Moving Image Gallery," 1920s film clips of BC First Nations taken by anthropologist Harlan I. Smith, from BC Archives website.