In the year 1864, a form a representative government was established in British Columbia. 86 years prior to that, James Cook discovered the land that Aboriginal Peoples had been living on for over 8,000 years. And in 1867, Canadian confederation took place without British Columbia. As a Canadian, born and raised in the western-most province, I’m interested to discover BC’s involvement (or lack thereof) in confederation and I believe that the answers of my questions will prove to be interesting.
- For what reasons did Confederation happen without BC, and why did BC not appear to make to big of an effort to be a part of this?
- Why did British Columbia ultimately decide to join the Confederation of Canada?
British Columbia, Pre – Confederation
British Columbia was populated after the last Ice Age, with records of human habitation dating back at least 8,000 years. On the coast, several First Nations emerged, including the Tagish, Tsimshian, Haida, Tlingit, Kwakiutl and Nootka, while inland lived the Carrier, Interior Salish and Kootenay.
Europeans didn’t arrive on the Pacific coast in significant numbers until after the voyage of James Cook in 1778 and the mapping expedition of George Vancouver in the 1790s.
– Canadian Encyclopedia
1849 saw that over 50,000 indigenous peoples resided in the place we call BC, as well as a handful of european settlers who, the same year, established the colony of Vancouver Island. Up until 1858, the general location of BC was comprised of two fur trading districts, under the watchful eye of the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, that year, it all changed. Gold was discovered and hundreds upon hundreds of people came with every rise of the sun to try their luck and test their abilities in the hopes of striking gold. About 30,000 people rushed to the Fraser River and prompted Britain to establish to create a separate colony which they named British Columbia. This establishment of BC was one year after Galt, Cartier, and Ross proposed confederation with 33 articles in the Courier to Canada.
In 1984, word of Confederation had reached the west coast, and that got some of the people talking. Naturally, that year, the British made sure a form of representative government was formed in BC, and they were still a British Colony. Three years later, Confederation took place, and British Columbia was not a part of this new Dominion of Canada.
A journalist named Amor de Cosmos began a movement to confederation, which turned out to be quite popular. Forming the Confederation league in 1868, and in the spring of 1870, it was debated at legislation. The next year, terms were discussed between Canada and British Columbia, and so on July 20, 1871, British Columbia was a part of Confederation.
So now the question remains, why?
By making BC a part of Canada, that would make the economy more stable for BC, as the economy was slipping. It would also protect BC from potential attacks from both Alaska and the states below them. For Canada, it would build the transcontinental railroad, which was a huge factor for them. It would also allow Canada to have a vast hold on an enormous amount of land.
Now Canada was a nation that reached from sea to sea. Ahead was the monumental task of building a railway that ran across the continent.
Naturally, the Aboriginals were left out of this entire process.
My findings show that the reasons for confederation for BC is greatly similar to the Confederation that happened on the East Coast. It also shows just how quickly things came to be for the Province of British Columbia, and how swiftly the political, geographic, and population landscapes changed. My remaining questions revolve around exactly who was involved in making BC a reality, and how that might have effected how efficiently things got done.