Douglas, Chief Factor Governor Vice-Admiral Sir James
b. 1803
d. 1877
James Douglas was born in Demerara, now known as Guyana, in the summer of 1803, and raised in Scotland.1 Douglas was born to Martha Ann Richie, a woman of mixed African and European ancestry, and John Douglas, a Scottish merchant.2 In April 1828, Douglas married Amelia Connolly, whose mother was a Cree woman from northwestern Canada, and her father was Douglas's boss at the North West Company.3 They conducted their marriage à la façon du pays and the Anglican Church legitimized it in the eyes of the Church 10 years later.4 One of their daughters, Jane, was thought of as Douglas's apprentice of sorts.5
At the age of 15, Douglas apprenticed with the North West Company and sent to what is now known as Canada.6 In 1821, when the company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company, he became a clerk second class.7 He passed through several posts and quickly rose in the ranks, and oversaw the founding of Fort Victoria in 1843.8
In 1851, the Colonial Office appointed Douglas governor and vice-admiral of Vancouver Island and, in 1858, made him the first governor of the united colony of British Columbia.9 His connections with the HBC and disdain for responsible government aroused resentment amongst the settlers, but when he retired, in 1864, British Columbia was an established and expanding colony.10 Upon his retirement, the Queen granted him a knightship.11
Douglas was responsible for instituting the Douglas Treaties, otherwise known as the Fort Victoria Treaties, concerning the Indigenous Peoples surrounding Victoria, Nanaimo, and Fort Rupert.12 Between 1850-54, 14 treaties were signed on Vancouver Island.13 As with many treaties between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples across Canada, there was no mutual understanding of what the treaties truly meant. According to many oral histories of the Indigenous constituents, these treaties were seen as a peace treaty rather than a purchase of the land.14 While the treaties were meant to extinguish Indigenous title to the land, Douglas included a section stating that Indigenous Peoples would be at liberty to hunt over unoccupied lands, and to carry on [their] fisheries as formerly.15 These rights continue to be violated today.16
  • 1. Margaret A. Ormsby, Douglas, Sir James, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online,, 2008.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Todd Lamirande, Amelia Connolly (Douglas), Louis Riel Institute.
  • 4. Adele Perry, Colonial Relations: The Douglas-Connolly Family and the Nineteenth-Century Imperial World (University Printing House, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 97.
  • 5. Ibid. 8.
  • 6. Margaret A. Ormsby, Douglas, Sir James, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online,, 2008.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. George Manuel and Michael Posluns, The Fourth World: An Indian Reality (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2019), 28.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Nick Claxton, Douglas Treaty, Tsawout First Nation, 2007.
  • 15. Teechamitsa Agreement 1850, The Fort Victoria and Other Vancouver Island Treaties, 1850-1854, BC Archives MS-0772, transcribed by Frederike Verspoor, 2012.
  • 16. Nicholas Xumthoult Claxton, To Fish as Formerly: The Douglas Treaties and the WSANEC Reef-Net Fisheries, in Lighting the Eighth Fire: The Liberation, Resurgence, and Protection of Indigenous Nations, edited by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2008), 48-51.
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