By the early 1870’s, the colony of British Columbia had, physically, reached the general look of the province as it is known today but, although this region contained a fantastic supply of natural resources, it continued to be relatively sparse in population. In 1871, the population estimates were listed as approximately 11,000 Europeans and 26,000 First Nations which, even considering the far lower world population of that time, still meant that there was an awful lot of uninhabited space.
However, despite these minimal population numbers, those that were there were able to create an enormous amount of public pressure from within the province for British Columbia to join the Canadian Confederation which had been formed in 1867. At the time there were two main factors that lead the province’s population to push for the removal of British authority in order to become the seventh province of Canada:
- A desire for the establishment of a more representative government
- A poor economic situation that resulted due to the collapse of the gold rushes in the B.C. interior
Finally, on July 20, 1871, B.C. officially joined the confederation although, at that time, none of the regions surrounding the province were a part of Canada which resulted in British Columbia being so remote from the rest of the country that mail traveling east had to have an American stamp and be carried through San Francisco in order for it to reach its destination.
In return for joining the confederation, Canada absorbed B.C.’s debts (which were, reportedly, massive) and agreed to build a railroad from Montreal to the Pacific which was scheduled to be completed within the next ten years. While the railroad would quickly become British Columbia’s largest incentive for remaining within the confederation it was, by comparison, opposed quite sensationally in the east. To the minds of those on that side of the country it was a massive undertaking that would be very expensive (they weren’t wrong) and, seeing as most of the land between B.C. and Ontario was barely inhabited, hardly seemed worth it.
Despite its detractors, however, the railroad was completed, British Columbia remained in the confederation, and the greater ability to travel across the expanse of the country helped to further populate the middle and northern parts of the country, resulting in the Canada that we have today.