and Heritage Tours in British Columbia|
Events in the History of British Columbia
History of Vancouver Island
in the History of Vancouver Island
The modern history of British Columbia begins with
the First Nations people who have lived and flourished on the lush natural resources
of these lands for over ten thousand years, since some time after the end of the
last Ice Age.
are three prominent First Nations groups of the Pacific Northwest who have divided
the land between themselves for thousands of years: the Nootka, the Coast
Salish, and the Kwak'wala Speaking Peoples. The rich land and marine
resources enabled them to develop complex societies and the intricate aboriginal
art forms that are now internationally acclaimed. To the east, in the region now
known as the British Columbia Rockies, the Kootenay were the original keepers
of the land, having fought fiercely for possession of the precious hot springs
found in these mountains. The Carrier nation roamed the interior valleys,
the Tsimshians ranged the northern coast, and the Tlingits occupied
southern Alaska and northern British Columbia. The Sekani and Beaver
occupied the eastern region of the north while the Haida lived on Haida
Gwaii, formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands.
As recently as 220
years ago the northwest coast of North America was one of the least explored areas
in the world. The geography of the land presented many formidable natural barriers
to European explorers. To the east the soaring Rocky Mountains blocked the way,
and the huge Pacific Ocean separated distant land masses off the west coast. The
desire to explore and discover new land and natural resources prevailed in the
second half of the 18th century, with expeditions mounted by the Russians, American,
Spanish and British explorers and traders.
peaceful existence of the aboriginal people was to change soon after the first
contact by Europeans in 1778, when Captain James Cook set foot on Nootka
Island on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. The Spanish later arrived and
set up a base at Nootka under the command of Don Juan Fransisco de la Bodega
y Quadra, who had claimed the coast of Alaska for Spain. In 1792, Captain
George Vancouver, with his ships Discovery and Chatham, arrived
at Nootka Sound to take regain control under the terms of the Nootka Convention.
Both explorers made the trip to Tahsis to resolve years of Spanish/English
rivalry that had played out on this Island, and commenced working together at
the task of mapping and exploring the coast. A Treaty in 1793 gave the
two countries joint ownership of Nootka, but it was not long after the signing
that Spain's dominance in North America began to wane. The last Spanish ship was
ordered out of the area in 1795, marking the end of the Spanish influence In British
British Columbia's history centres around the discovery of the mighty Fraser
River. Ironically, the early European explorers roaming the coast missed the
mouth of the Fraser River due to the dense fog. The Fraser was discovered in 1791
by Spaniard Jose Maria Narvaez, a pilot in the Spanish Navy.
explorers and fur traders of the Northwest Company were heading west across the
Rockies. Michael Phillips was the first white man to blaze a trail across the
Canadian Rockies from west to east through an unexplored pass, although routes
were long known by the First Nations people.
The Peace River, the only
British Columbia River that drains into the Arctic Ocean, was navigated by explorer
Alexander Mackenzie in 1793. Mackenzie was the first European to navigate
the Peace River, which was named for a treaty between the Cree and Beaver First
nations in 1790. In the Dean Channel near Bella Coola on the west coast, you can
still see the rock where he inscribed Alexander Mackenzie from Canada by land
22nd July 1793.
1794 the first white settlement in British Columbia was established at what is
now Fort St, John. In 1805, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) opened their
first trading post in the region at Hudson's Hope in the north. In 1808, when
Simon Fraser visited the communities along the mouth of the Fraser River, he thought
he had found the Columbia River. After Simon Fraser came the equally famous explorer
David Thompson, who followed the Columbia River through British Columbia,
into Washington and on to its mouth at Astoria, Oregon. The names of these two
explorers are indelibly printed in the history of British Columbia, adorning hotels,
rivers and street signs. The two major fur trading companies, the Hudson's Bay
Company and the North West Company amalgamated under the HBC in 1821.
The Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Victoria in 1843, and the colony of Vancouver
Island was established in 1849 when the entire island was leased to the HBC. In
1858, over 20,000 determined prospectors (many from California, where the gold
rush of 1849 had petered out) came from the HBC stockade of Fort Victoria and
up the Fraser River in search of recently discovered gold on the Fraser
River. Soon, instant towns sprang up and grew to become flourishing boomtowns.
The legacy of these prospectors can be found in the many Ghost Towns that dot
the Interior today.
response to the frenzied discovery and mining of gold, the British Government
quickly created the mainland colony of British Columbia in 1858. Governor James
Douglas, chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company and governor of Vancouver Island,
became the new governor of British Columbia. In 1866 the colony of Vancouver Island
was combined with the colony of British Columbia, with Victoria becoming the provincial
capital of British Columbia on April 2 1868. In 1871, with the promise of completing
the Canadian Pacific Railway by 1885, British Columbia was lead into confederation,
rather than join the United States to the south, with Victoria as the seat of
Gold discoveries continued, with gold being found in the
Peace River in 1861. The Cariboo Wagon Road was constructed from the town
of Yale to the boomtown of Barkerville, which in in its heyday was the largest
city west of Chicago and north of San Fransisco. Completed in 1865, the Cariboo
Wagon Road opened up the British Columbia Interior, with mule trains and stagecoaches
plying the route, and roadhouses and boomtowns dotting the roadside. Gold was
discovered further north, placing Dawson Creek on the brink of the huge Klondike
Gold Rush of 1898.
mining industry, the railway, and the geology of the land have all contributed
to the history and development of British Columbia. The rise and fall of many
settlements can be attributed to the route of the railway, while natural features,
such as the abundance of hot springs in the BC Rockies, have been responsible
for the eventual growth of resort towns.
fur and salmon trade brought great prosperity to the First Nations people, whose
society was organized around wealth, possessions and potlatches. The HBC generally
treated the natives fairly, and their communities thrived. However, the commerce
caused the indigenous people to abandon their traditional homesites in favour
of settlements closer to the forts for improved trading and protection. The settlers
introduced muskets, alcohol and smallpox, all of which had a devastating effect
on the native people. Christian missionaries arrived and set about banning the
natives' traditional potlatches and suppressing their languages and culture. Colonization
and land ownership conflicts soon followed, continuing to this day.