History of British Columbia

History of British Columbia

British Columbia is the westernmost province in Canada. Indigenous peoples have inhabited the territory that is now called "British Columbia", as described in their oral traditions, from time immemorial. There are claims by the English to have explored the region in the Sixteenth Century, but it was the Majorcan-born Spanish navigator Juan José Pérez Hernández who did the first documented travel 1774. He inaugurated a golden age for the Spaniards in the region, who in 1790 created the first colony in British Columbia. The Spanish supremacy ended in 1795 when the Nootka Convention came in force, giving place to United Kingdom. Originally politically constituted as a pair of British colonies, British Columbia joined Canadian Confederation on July 20, 1871.

Early history (until 1513)

British Columbia, before the arrival of the Europeans, was home to many Indigenous peoples speaking more than 30 different languages, including Babine, Beaver, Carrier, Tsilhqot'in, Gitksan, 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.

The abundance of natural resources, particularly salmon and cedar, enabled the development of a complex hierarchical society on the British Columbian coast. With so much food being available, the peoples of the B.C. coast could focus their time on other pursuits such as art and politics.

Early European Explorations (1513-1788)

The arrival of Europeans began around the mid-18th century, as fur traders entered the area to harvest sea otters. While it is thought that Sir Francis Drake may have explored the British Columbian coast in 1579, 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 Pacific coast, first made by Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513.

In 1774, the Spanish navigator Juan José Pérez Hernández, a native of Majorca, sailed from San Blas, Nueva Galicia (modern-day Western Mexico), 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. [ [http://www.cicese.mx/mexico/bc/biografias/Juan_Jose_Perez.html Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada] ] [ [http://www.mvuchuck.com/historic.htm Nootka Sound Service LTD's website] ]

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. [ [http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=5688 The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History] ] 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 settlements (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. [ [http://www.histocat.cat/pdf/catalans_al_canada.pdf "Catalans al Canadà", page 7] , study from the [http://www.histocat.cat "Fundació d'Estudis Històrics de Catalunya"] ]

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 South 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 the town of Astoria just months before Thompson arrived, and the Nor'westers had to content themselves with establishing a rival post, which they named Fort Vancouver (present day Vancouver, Washington).

From fur trade districts to colony (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 and northern interior of the region was organised 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 the Columbia River was organised into the Columbia District, and was administered first from Fort Vancouver, and later from Fort Victoria.

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. In 1844, the United States Democratic Party asserted that the U.S. had a legitimate claim to the entire 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 such as "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 establishished 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. 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. Meanwhile on the mainland, New Caledonia continued to be an unorganised region of British North America, its 100 or so European inhabitants (mostly HBC employees and their families) under the administrative oversight of Douglas, who was also the HBC's regional chief executive.

Two colonies (1858-1867)

In 1858, gold was found along the banks of the Fraser River in the Fraser Canyon north of Yale. When word got out about the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, Victoria was transformed overnight into a tent city as prospectors, speculators, land agents, and outfitters flooded in from around the world, mostly from 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 licence fees from those seeking to head upstream. 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. The capital was established at New Westminster on the southern reaches of the Fraser, which became the first city incorporated on the mainland in 1860. Douglas was named joint governor of the two colonies.

A second gold rush in the Cariboo region of the colony occurred in 1861-62. The influx of gold 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, poor judgement and mismanagement of funds made by the gold rush 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.

Entry into Canada (1867-1900)

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 21, 1871, that British Columbia became the sixth 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. In fulfillment of this promise, the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven in Craigellachie in 1885.

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, British Columbia. 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 pertained 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, Prince George, Fort St. James, Kamloops, and Fort St. John). It also led to the establishment of new communities, such as Yale, New Westminster, and — most notably — 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, Vancouver was incorporated in 1886. 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, Greater Vancouver is the third most populous metropolitan area in Canada, behind Toronto and Montreal

The Twentieth Century (1900-present)

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. However, before 1945, racism was more rampant and socially acceptable in Canada and British Columbia's immigration policies of the past still leave an embarrassing scar. 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, who were all denied 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 Canadian Navy cruiser, towed the "Komagata Maru" out to sea while thousands of white people 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. 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, and 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.

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. [ [http://www.elections.bc.ca/elections/electoral_history/part1-24.html "Electoral History," Elections BC] ] 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.

In the 1960s, British Columbia ratified the Columbia River Treaty.

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 provide no 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. Native people only 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.Fact|date=October 2007 The lives of status Indians are still 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, BC area, no treaties were signed in British Columbia. 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 bring 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, neighboring 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 westcoast of Vancouver Island, the Ditidaht First Nation is doing the same against the Maa-nulth treaty group. The only treaty, the Nisga'a Treaty (1998) signed in recent years was negotiated outside of the current treaty process. There is considerable disagreement about treaty negotiations. Many non-indigenous are vehemently opposed to it. For indigenous, there is mounting criticism of extinguishment of Aboriginal title, continued assimilation strategies by attempting to change the indigenous peoples form nations to municipal style government. Therefor, 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 has 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. [http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/story.html?id=44bcbe05-644b-41ac-a8c2-168540b2342d Huge win for Interior natives] , The Province, November 22, 2007] 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, has called the court victory a "nail in the coffin" of the B.C. treaty process.

ee also

Indigenous peoples

* Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast
* Dunneza
* Dakelh
** Babine
** Wet'suwet'en
* Okanagan
* Haida
* Kaska
* Ktunaxa
* Kwakwaka'wakw
* Gitxsan
* Musqueam
* St'at'imc
* Nisga'a
* Nuu-chah-nulth
* Nuxálk
* Sekani
* Wuikinuxv
* Secwepemc
* Sinixt
* Sḵwxwú7mesh
* Tagish
* Tahltan
* Haisla
* Nicola
* Tsilhqot'in
* Nlaka'pamux
* Tlingit
* Tsetsaut
* Tsimshian
* Heiltsuk
* Saulteaux

European empires

* Spanish Empire
* Russian Empire
* British Empire

Important figures

By nationality, in chronological order of influence to the region:
* Natives:
** Maquinna, Nuu-chah-nulth chief
** Klatassine (Klatsassan), Tsilhqot'in chief
** Joe Capilano (Khatsahlano), Skwxwu7mesh chief
** Dan George, Tsleil-waututh (Burrard) chief and actor
* Spaniards:
** 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.

* 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
**Simon Fraser, fur company explorer
**Francis Jones Barnard, expressman and entrepreneur (Ontario)
**Amor de Cosmos, newspaperman and Premier (Nova Scotia)
**W.A.C. Bennett, retailer and Premier (New Brunswick)


* Pacific Northwest
* Alaska
* British Columbia
* Colony of British Columbia
* New Caledonia
* Columbia District
* Washington
* Oregon
* Oregon Country
* British Columbia ghost towns
* Stikine Territory
* Queen Charlotte Islands
* Vancouver Island
* Colony of Vancouver Island
* Nootka Sound


* Nootka Crisis
* Nootka Convention
* Oregon Treaty
* British Columbia Gold Rushes
* Oregon boundary dispute
* Alaska Boundary Dispute
* Pig war
* Columbia River Treaty
* Komagata Maru
* Japanese Canadian internment

Other history pages

* History of the west coast of North America
* List of ships in British Columbia
* List of Royal Navy ships in the Pacific Northwest


External links

* [http://www.victoria.tc.ca/Resources/bchistory.html British Columbia History Internet/Web Site] , 1995-2004, compiled by historian and archivist [http://www.davidmattison.ca David Mattison] , was succeeded by the [http://www.bchistoryportal.tc.ca British Columbia History Portal] , 2003-present.
* [http://ydli.org/fnlgsbc.htm First Nations Languages of British Columbia] contains information about the native languages of British Columbia.
* [http://www.bchistory.ca/ BC History Journal]
* [http://www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca/sn-144ED4D/exhibits/timemach/galler07/frames/index.htm "Coastal Moving Image Gallery,"] 1920s film clips of BC First Nations taken by anthropologist Harlan I. Smith, from BC Archives website.

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