Sweet & sour

Short history of B.C.

From colony to Centennial and back again, with irreverent asides on Captain Vancouver, why the War of 1812 went east and how Victoria got that way

ERIC NICOL’S May 10 1958
Sweet & sour

Short history of B.C.

From colony to Centennial and back again, with irreverent asides on Captain Vancouver, why the War of 1812 went east and how Victoria got that way

ERIC NICOL’S May 10 1958

Short history of B.C.

Sweet & sour

From colony to Centennial and back again, with irreverent asides on Captain Vancouver, why the War of 1812 went east and how Victoria got that way


British Columbians like to think of their province as a large hotly of land entirely surrounded

by envy.

When we are told that Ontario and Quebec are larger than B. C., we accept the statement good-naturedly as just another eastern lie, or “mountain differential" as it's usually called.

What we natives of B. C. have not known, however, was that in addition to size, natural resources and Miss Grey Cup, British Columbia has had a history.

The B. C. Centennial has. in effect, wakened first awareness of the province's history, much as the French Romantic movement of the nineteenth century revived interest in the Middle Ages and led eventually to the rediscovery of Ed Wynn.

Our Victor Hugo, Lister Sinclair, has written a Centennial play about the B. C. Indians, a play that may well put some Haida or Kwakiutl right up there with Quasimodo.

But until the Centennial came along, the inhabitants of the coast had assumed that unless your province had a piece of Sir John A. Macdonald you were pretty well out of it, as far as Canadian history was concerned.

The CBC, for instance, has managed to chop the eastern historical character Radisson into something like seventy-eight parts without disturbing that vital organ, the sponsor. No B. C. character has rated so much as a fifteen-minute skit. Macdonald. Howe, Laurier, Cliff McKay —all of these personages have been widely celebrated. But who has heard or seen anything of Douglas, Captain George Vancouver, or Queen Charlotte?

One might well ask how half a million people could live in the immediate vicinity of an island called Lulu, patently named after a public benefactor whose endowments were by no means posthumous, without a general alerting of historical curiosity.

However, as has been pointed out by the distinguished British historians W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, “history is what you can remember. All other history defeats itself.” The people of B. C. have remembered no history of their province. Ergo, their province has had no history.

It is also a truism in historical circles that a country is like a woman, in that no matter how beautiful it is. unless it has some memorable dates it will never have a past. B. C. has been badly off for dates worth remembering.

In 1793, for instance, Alexander Mackenzie burst out of the bush, found he had reached the Pacific and noted the date on a rock. But the date has never caught on. To survive, a date needs to be jingled, as with, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” If we’d had something like “In 1793, Mackenzie reached the coast of B. C.” — who knows? we probably still wouldn’t remember it.

But now, at last, B. C. has a genuine date: 1958. This year B.C. is a hundred years old. Thus we are led inexorably to a second date: 1858. No other event in B. C.’s history has brought forth such a profusion of chronology.

In view of this greatly heightened interest in the history of British Columbia, now may be a good time to review the major events of the province’s saga, as generally remembered by the average B. C. citizen with high-school graduation (or better).

The Discovery of British Columbia, If Any

British Columbia was discovered by the Spanish and the English, who were taking turns looking for the Northwest Passage. In fact for the first three hundred years of its history B. C.’s main distinction was that of blocking the exit.

The first explorer to consider the coast as something more than a menace to navigation was Captain George Vancouver. From his ship

Captain Vancouver pointed out the site of the future city of Vancouver, but nobody offered to disembark so nothing was done about it.

Off Point Grey, Captain Vancouver’s ship encountered that of the Spanish captain Juan de Fuca, who had just come from naming a strait after himself. The two ships made no attempt to engage each other in battle, a severe blow to the history of the province.

The Fur Traders, or The End of the Indians

The next event was the coming of the fur traders, who were of two kinds—Hudson’s Bay Company and Northwest Mounted Police (later known as the Royal Canadian Musical Ride).

These two groups of fur traders competed strongly for the gullibility of the Indians, building forts at such places as St. John, Langley and Victoria. These trading posts have long since rotted away, but Victoria won’t admit it.

This aggressive spirit of B. C.’s early fur traders angered the Americans, who started shouting. “Fifty-four forty or fight!” The result was the War of 1812, which was held in the east that year because it drew a larger crowd.

Fraser’s Folly

While the fur traders were busy bilking the Indians, Simon Fraser paddled down the Fraser River. This accomplishment would have been even more memorable if he hadn’t been under

the impression he was paddling down the Columbia River. The two rivers have never fully recovered from this initial confusion, as is shown by recent proposals in parliament to turn the Columbia into the Fraser, and vice versa.

Such drawbacks to river travel in B. C. led to the building of the CPR to the coast. This event is remembered for The Driving of the Last Spike, memorable because it was the last time

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Eric Nicol’s

short history of B. C.

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a Canadian railway has been able to make both ends meet. (See “mountain differential,” above.)

The Colony, or Whatever It Was

During this period B. C. was colonized by waves of. immigrants from China, India and Scotland. The Chinese and the Hindus sent their money home. This is why today B. C. is run by Scotsmen.

The only other notable event in B. C.’s history was the gold rush. This gold rush helped to fill the gap between the California gold rush and the Klondike gold rush and would have been quite memorable if the gold hadn’t run out.

This caused the miners to turn ugly and resulted in the emergence of B. C.’s only historical character, Sir James Douglas. Douglas restored law and order by boldly stepping forth and proclaiming the supremacy of the crown and British law. The miners collapsed on the spot.

In 1858 (B. C.’s first date) the British Parliament backed up Douglas by making British Columbia an official colony.

This brought B. C. under Queen Victoria, with a pacifying effect second only to being buried by lava.

Unfortunately, in return for being joined by rail with the east, British Columbia had promised to join Confederation, thus making possible the national motto, “A Mare Usque Ad Nauseam.”

It was also noticed about this time that British Columbia had access to the sea. As a result several large ports sprang up, the largest being Vancouver. Victoria, Vancouver’s rival as a B. C. port, swore that Vancouver would become a city over her dead body. And, sure enough, that was how it worked out.

This brings us up to date, in fact B. C.’s second date—1958. This is expected to be the year the province became a colony under Princess Margaret. Who has any use for that old railway, anyhow? it


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