Writer Julie Ferguson reports:
February 2010 is British Columbia Black History Awareness Month, an annual event that receives little attention. This year, the celebrations will gather even less media interest as they compete with the coverage of the Winter Olympics.
How many residents of the Pacific province know the establishment of British Columbia in the mid-1800s relied on a part-Black man? And that an identical statue to the one that commemorates him outside Fort Langley, BC, (above right, photo by J. Ferguson) also graces a village in Guyana (above left; photo by Kaieteur News).
The first governor of the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia was James Douglas. Born in 1803 in British Guiana (now Guyana), he was the love-child of a Scottish father and a mixed race, Guianese mother. His father sent Douglas to school in Scotland when he was nine and the boy never saw his mother again. His dark skin and Guyanese accent caused him difficult moments growing up.
At 15, Douglas sailed alone from Scotland to join the fur trade. As a lowly clerk, he endured isolation as he learned the business on the extreme edges of the frontier. With roads non-existent, Douglas travelled thousands of miles each year using the rivers and lakes as his highways. He paddled canoes, drove dogsleds, rode horses, and snowshoed to his destinations.
Later he became a hard-nosed fur trader, married a part-Cree wife, was accused of murder, and nearly provoked a war over the San Juan Islands. When he was in his prime, he established Victoria and secured the western region of British North America against land grabs by the Russian Empire to the north and the expansionist Americans to the south.
Douglas stickhandled the frenzied Fraser and Cariboo gold rushes and had the first roads carved into the Interior. He nagged the British government to establish the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia and became governor of both. Douglas's extraordinary vision and tenacity laid the foundation for Canada's Pacific province 151 years ago.
Julie H. Ferguson 2010