The Annexation Debate: How British Columbia Nearly Became a US State

In the final post of this blog’s breakdown of the general major sections of British Columbia’s history the transition of B.C from a colony of Britain to a province of the confederation of Canada was covered.  However, in 1867, there were actually three potential futures for the province:

  1. Remain a British colony
  2. Become a part of the confederation of Canada
  3. To be annexed and become part of the United States

In Britain, by many, it was actually hoped that the North American colonies would leave the British Empire including:

  • Admiral Joseph Denman who, when speaking to the Admiralty, stated that B.C. was undeserving of Royal Navy Protection
  • The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Granville, who said that he hoped that North America “would propose to be independent and annex themselves”
  • Finally, The Times which stated that “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 consist 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.”

In addition to this, there were several reasons why becoming an official part of the US made sense for the province of British Columbia:

  • Due to the gold rushes in the province, there were numerous American citizens who had made their way into BC and had settled in the area
  • With the purchase of Alaska made by the US in 1867, B.C. was now surrounded by American states along both the southern and northern boarders
  • Economically, British Columbia was essentially a satellite of the American west and the entire Pacific Northwest of North Vancouver, San Francisco with American currency in wide circulation throughout the province

Up until the purchase of Alaska, the British had, for the most part, been indifferent to the future of this colony.  However, at this point they began to pay attention and an increased focus was placed on the region as a base for imperial trade in the Pacific as well as the perceived need for a Royal Navy base in the area.  With the prevalent opinion being that British Columbia joining the confederation of Canada was preferable to British interests than an annexation to the Unites States and the majority of the British-born inhabitants of the province seeing confederacy as the better chance for maintaining ties to their native country, the general public opinion began to swing in this direction.  Opposing this move, however, was the Legislative Council of British Columbia which was made up almost entirely of annexationists including then governor of the province, Frederick Seymour.  It wasn’t until his death, when the confederation supporting Anthony Musgrave succeeded him to the position of governor, that the confederates received enough support to over-rule those in favour of annexation.

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