Credited by many as the “Father of British Columbia”, James Douglas played an enormous role in B.C.’s establishment as a colony of Britain in the mid-1800’s.
Born in Scotland on August 15, 1803, Douglas was apprenticed to the North West Company (then a competitor of the more enduring Hudson’s Bay Company) at the age of 16 where he began his career in what is now Montreal. As a result of his transfer to the Fort of Île-à-la-Crosse in 1820, James was thrown directly into the ongoing conflict between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North Westers. In fact, he threw himself into this conflict with such enthusiasm that he was one of four North Westers who was specifically, and individually, warned (less than a year after his arrival) against parading within gunshot distance of the nearby HBC post. Perhaps luckily for Douglas and his longevity, this struggle between the two companies did not go on for much longer as several months later the two organizations were merged and he was made a clerk of the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, possibly due to skill or potentially his past history with the HBC, Douglas was transferred to the western region of the country less than four years after this company blend.
Life in the north west appears to have agreed with Douglas; on a professional note he spent 19 years at Fort Vancouver until he ultimately achieved the company postilion of Chief Trader while, personally, he met and married the half-Indian daughter of one of the company’s chief factors. Finally, in 1840, he was granted the highest level of rank for field service and made Chief Factor which meant that he was ideally placed, in 1849, when the HBC was leased the whole of Vancouver Island by its colonizing power, Britain.
An image of the wife of James Douglas, taken in Victoria in 1857.
Two years after this event, in 1851, James was named the Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island which was a position that he then held for the next 13 years. In 1858, when the colony of Vancouver Island was combined with the colony of British Columbia, his authority was extended and he became the first Governor of the province of B.C. as it appears today; a position he held for 6 years until his retirement in 1864. With this ending of his service, Douglas was granted the position of Knight Commander within the Order of Bath by Queen Victoria and was the recipient of a thank you letter signed by 900 of the people of British Columbia. In his retirement, James Douglas avoided politics completely and, instead, used a large amount of his new-found spare time to travel Europe.
This remarkable man’s life ended in Victoria on August 2, 1877 as the direct result of a heart attack and his subsequent funeral is still thought to have been the largest in British Columbia’s history.