With the pre-European history of British Columbia covered here and the early exploration of the province covered here; we have now arrived, this week, at part three of this site’s four part overview: British Columbia as a British colony.
As mentioned in the exploration post, there may have been a tiny bit of conflict between Spain and Britain over who had the better claim to the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. In the end, Britain managed to emerge the victor based pretty much entirely on the fact that they just wanted it more. However, adding to this mess for control was the fact that treaties existed between Russia (who also had some claim to the region), Spain, and the United States; the latter of who were pressing for the complete annexation of most of what would become B.C. This particular conflict was settled with the signing of the Oregon Treaty (more info on that coming in post form soon) in 1846 at which point the United States agreed to establish its most northern border with western British North America at the 49th parallel.
Despite all of this negotiation, it wasn’t until August 2, 1858 that the Crown colony of British Columbia was established and it took until 1866 for the mainland colony to be combined with the Colony of Vancouver Island to give us the province that we have today.
In fact, if it weren’t for gold, it’s entirely possible that the British Empire may not have ever actually formalized their claim to the west coast of Canada by making it a colony under their empire. However, in 1857, both Americans and British were responding to word of mouth claims that gold had been found in the area around the Fraser River.
These rumors resulted in somewhere between ten and twenty thousand men moving into the region around what is presently Yale, B.C. which had the effect of officially launching the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. In response to this sudden spike in population (and what was likely a rather rowdy one at that), Governor James Douglas (who will be the focus of a biography post next week) was suddenly faced with the necessity of exerting British authority over a largely unknown and unexpected population. The colony of mainland British Columbia was established in order to normalize its jurisdiction as well as to undercut any Hudson’s Bay Company claims to the resource wealth in the area.
During its time as a British colony, the region of British Columbia developed rapidly with a significant increase in inhabitants, the development of numerous towns and cities (as well as the expansion of those that already existed), and the establishment of the foundations that have resulted in the province we have today such as the establishment of Victoria as the provincial capital. Considering that Canada’s time as a British colony had a significant impact on the development and history of the country, it may be surprising to learn that he colony of British Columbia lasted for just slightly more than ten years, with B.C. officially joining the confederation of Canada 1871 as its seventh province.