Trutch, Sir Joseph William
b. 1826-01-18
d. 1904-03-04
Joseph Trutch made a series of key political connections while working as an engineer and surveyor on the west coast of North America, that would lead to him being appointed the first Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia from 1871 to 1876.1 He had an active role in the dispossession of Indigenous Peoples land in Canada. Most notably, he created the Indian Land Policy of 1864 and falsified records from the former Governor Douglas, to radically decrease the amount of land for reserves.2 He left a lasting political legacy of land negotiations that are only beginning to be resolved in the twenty-first century.
Joseph Trutch was born on 18 January 1826 in Ashcott, England, to William Trutch and Charlotte Hannah Barnes.3 He remained a British loyalist his entire life, returning to Somerset at age 64 until his death in 1904.4 He spent the majority of his professional career in North America, arriving in British Columbia June 1859, after completing extensive survey work in California, Oregon, and Illinois.5
As a loyalist he sought a position in the colonies of British Columbia. His father aided in securing a recommendation from Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton to then-Governor of British Columbia James Douglas commending Trutch's character, and he quickly establish himself in the colonies.6 The colonial government awarded Trutch considerable contracts in road construction and more survey contracts; his most notable engineering achievement of the Alexandira Suspension Bridge was during this time.7
Following the Alexandria Bridge construction, Trutch was appointed to Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works for British Columbia.8 Controversy currently surrounds Trutch's political legacy, beginning with his views on Indigenous Peoples. Trutch justified reducing reserves from 100 acres of land to 10 acres without any form of compensation, stating that the land, much of which is either rich pasture, or available for cultivation and greatly desired for immediate settlement, remains in an unproductive condition, is of no real value to the Indians and utterly unprofitable to the public interests- I am therefore of the opinion that these reserves should be in almost every case be very materially reduced.9 With the help of Governor Frederick Seymour, Trutch's goal of re-allocating land promised to Indigenous communities for reserves to white settlers without any form of compensation was achieved. As Fisher notes Native objections were ignored and Trutch deliberately falsified the record of Douglas's dealings in an effort to justify the change in policy.10 Due to his legacy of dismissing Indigenous rights and title, Trutch has become one of British Columbia's most controversial historical figures.
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