Douglas, Amelia
b. 1812-01-01
d. 1890-01-08
Amelia Douglas, née Connolly, was a prominent Indigenous woman in colonial Victoria. She was born on 1 January 1812 to HBC Chief Factor William Connolly and Cree Miyo Nipiy.1 In her childhood, Amelia Connolly was referred to by the Cree as ápihtawikosán (“mixed-blood”) and by the Europeans and British as “half-breed;” however her skin was much lighter than other “mixed-blood” children, thus meriting her the nickname of “little snowbird.”2
In 1828, Amelia Connolly married James Douglas, later governor of the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, at Fort James in what was known as a marriage au façon du pays (custom of the country). In 1839, they had a church marriage at Fort Vancouver before finally settling at Fort Victoria in 1849 with their four daughters. Once in Victoria, Connolly-Douglas had two other children.3 When James Douglas was knighted in 1863, Amelia Douglas became known to the public as “Lady Douglas.” Although she originally kept to the social background, she became increasingly comfortable in her role as the governor's wife, winning the hearts of many guests who visited the Douglas's home. One of Connolly-Douglas's contemporaries, Lady Franklin, described her as having a gentle, simple & kindly matter.4
In their home in James Bay, Connolly-Douglas took on a large role in managing the household — more so than what is known in public discourse. John S. Helmcken described her as a very active woman, energetic, and industrious, as she actively performed her role of maintaining the house and producing food.5 She continued in this role, and further grew in her “public persona,” after the death of her husband. Widowhood, as historian Adele Perry describes, was a time of relative independence and engagement in society for women. Conolly-Douglas's good standing within society is clearly shown in her obituary upon her death on 8 January 1890; the Daily Colonist described her as having unvarying kindness and unostentatious Christian charity.6
Historian Sylvia Van Kirk argues that, due to the acculturation and assimilation of Indigenous cultures within the five founding families of Victoria, Amelia Connolly-Douglas's history and memory went unnoted for many years. The husbands of these women supported the process of acculturation, by educating their children and wives in “British” culture. The intensifying racism in Victoria by incoming settlers further influenced this process. New settlers saw the colony as deficient for having leading officials who were married to Indigenous women; and they further expressed their own unhappiness that Indigenous Peoples would rank higher than them in the social hierarchy, such as Connolly-Douglas who held the position of the governor's wife.7
The history of Amelia Connolly-Douglas has been largely forgotten in modern discourse due to the acculturation of Métis children into white society and in writings by historians, like Hubert H. Bancroft, who disregarded these women, their cultures, and their influence in early Victoria society.8 However, recent scholars such as Van Kirk and Perry have shown that Connolly-Douglas was held in high regard by her contemporaries and made her mark on society.
  • 1. Sylvia Van Kirk, Tracing the Fortunes of the Five Founding Families of Victoria, BC Studies, no.115/116, (Winter 1997/98), p.152.
  • 2. John D. Adams, Sugar Cane and Beaver Pelts, in Old Square Toes and His Lady: The Life of James and Amelia Douglas, (Horsdal and Schubert, 2001), p.5; Adams, Honeymoon, in Old Square Toes, p.28.
  • 3. Van Kirk, Tracing the Fortunes, p.152.
  • 4. Ibid. 162-162.
  • 5. Adele Perry, Governors, wives, daughters, and sons, in Colonial Relations: The Douglas-Connolly Family and the Nineteenth-Century Imperial World, (Cambridge University Press, 2015), p.146-147.
  • 6. Ibid. 160; Death of Lady Douglas: Another of Victoria's Earliest Pioneers Passes Away, The Daily Colonist, January 9 1890, p.4.
  • 7. Van Kirk, Tracing the Fortunes, p.150 and p.160.
  • 8. Ibid. 176.
Mentions of this person in the documents
    People in this document

    Conolly, William

    Douglas, James

    Helmcken, John S.

    Organizations in this document

    Hudson's Bay Company

    Places in this document

    British Columbia

    Fort Vancouver

    James Bay

    Vancouver Island