British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost province in Canada, with the State of Alaska and the Northwest Territory and the Yukon on its northern border, and the United States to its southern border; it is Canada's third largest province, after Québec and Ontario, at nearly 950,000 square km.1 British Columbia confederated after much debate, as discussed below, in 1871.
From 1792-94 Captain George Vancouver named various parts of what we know of today as British Columbia: he charted Vancouver Island as Quadra and Vancouver's Island, and the coasts of present-day northern Washington State and southern British Columbia as New Georgia, he then gave the name New Hanover to the central and northern coast, none of which took cartographic root for long.2 However, another captain in 1792, Robert Gray, named the Columbia River after his ship of the same name, and in subsequent decades the land around the river soon absorbed the mantle to become the Columbia District,3 for the British, at least, as the United States considered much of the same region as Oregon Country, or Territory.4
In 1858, Queen Victoria wrote in agreement to Lytton's earlier letter that eschewed New Caledonia as a suitable title, as the French had claimed a colony in the same name, and she offered British Columbia as the best choice, a designation proclaimed officially at Fort Langley on November 19, 1858.5 In this despatch to London, Douglas reports on, among other things, his arrival to Fort Langley to proclaim the Act of Parliament providing for the Government of British Columbia, a ceremony that was performed at Fort Langley with becoming solemnity on the 19th inst.
The first and Indigenous peoples to settle within the province's current boundaries may have done so after the last Ice Age, with settlements dated back 6000-8000 years,6 though recent studies on the subject reveal a much earlier date range for human presence, at 16,800-14,850 years ago.7
Hayes considers it a near certainty that Japanese or Chinese sailors plied the northwest coast long before Europeans; to support this, he cites, among other things, a traditional Chinese tale that, in 219 BC, a junk sent for Japan was forced by incessant storms to a land the lost sailors would call Fu-sang, or Fousang—a Northwest Coast location noted on several European maps as late as the mid-eighteenth century.8 The earliest European presence could go back to the legend of Juan de Fuca's purported visit to the presently named Juan de Fuca Strait, in the early 1590s.9 However, throughout the mid-to-late 1700s, European exploration of the Pacific Northwest increased steadily, largely due to growing political competition between Russia and Spain—for example, the latter nation ordered Juan Pérez to the northwest Pacific, in 1773, in answer to a perceived Russian threat.10
British Columbia joined the Dominion of Canada as a province on July 20th, 1871, following a debate as rich and controversial as the colony's storied past, much of which can be discovered on this, The Colonial Despatches, database and website. Throughout the period covered by the same, from 1846-1871, the borders that would demarcate the province, as it is appears today, shifted for a variety of economic and political reasons, and through several salient treaties and resolutions, among which was the Hudson's Bay Company and North-West Companies' licence of exclusive trade with the Indigenous population, in 1821, which was renewed, albeit in edited form, in 1838.11
The Treaty Establishing Boundary West of the Rocky Mountains, more simply known as the Treaty of 1846, ratified that the divide between the United States and Great Britain's territories, long tussled over for trade and settlement, should be continued westward along the said forty-ninth parallel of north latitude to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island; and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of Fuca's Straits, to the Pacific Ocean.12 Unfortunately, the middle of the channel would prove to be an equivocal clause.
Douglas argues, in this despatch, that Rosario Strait is the true channel through which the line of Water Boundary was intended to be carried, and not the Canal de Haro, one of the alternative interpretations of the clause.13 This dispute would catalyze already combustive border tensions to a flash-point on San Juan Island, during the so-called Pig War, which began in 1859 when Lyman A. Cutler shot dead a hog, owned by the HBC, that had raided his garden.14 The matter escalated rapidly into very dire military posturing on both sides, until the boundary was at last arbitrated in Berlin by Emperor Wilhelm I, and on October 21, 1872, the Haro Straight was chosen as the middle of the channel.15
Both British and United States survey teams took six years, from 1857-62, to mark independently the 49th parallel on mainland British Columbia, a line made ever more ethereal by lost official reports on both sides, measurement discrepancies, and limitations of the survey equipment at the time.16 Initially, a mean line was drawn between the two borders, much to the confusion of local settlers, no doubt, until the boundary was surveyed again from 1901-1907, and was found to be hundreds of meters north of its intended mark.17 In 1908, a new Treaty of Washington was ratified to provide for the more complete definition and demarcation of the international boundary between the United States and the Dominion of Canada.18
  • 1. J. Lewis Robinson, British Columbia, The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  • 2. G. P. V. Akrigg and H. B. Akrigg, British Columbia Place Names (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997), 29.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. D. W. Meinig, The Great Columbia Plain (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1968), 104-05.
  • 5. Akrigg and Akrigg, British Columbia Place Names, 29-30.
  • 6. Robinson, British Columbia.
  • 7. Theodore G. Shurr, The Peopling of the New World: Perspectives from Molecular Anthropology, Annual Review of Anthropology 33 (2004): 552.
  • 8. Derek Hayes, Historical Atlas of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver: Cavendish Books, 1999), 9.
  • 9. Ibid., 16.
  • 10. Ibid., 35.
  • 11. E. O. S. Scholefield, British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present, vol. 1, 1875-1919 (Vancouver: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914), 669-71 and 672-75.
  • 12. Ibid., 675.
  • 13. Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 32, History of British Columbia 1792-1887 (San Francisco: The History Company, 1887), 606.
  • 14. Ibid., 616.
  • 15. Ibid., 638.
  • 16. Hayes, Historical Atlas of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, 150.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. International Boundary Commission, Joint Report upon the Survey and Demarcation of the Boundary Between the United States and Canada (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1921), 9.
Mentions of this place in the documents