Sir James Douglas – born 15 August 1803 in Demerara [Guyana] – Governor of BC

Sir James Douglas – Governor of British Columbia (1858-64)

Sir James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island (1851–64) and British Columbia (1858–64), fur trader (born 15 August 1803 in Demerara [Guyana]; died 2 August 1877 in Victoria, BC). Remembered as “the Father of British Columbia,” Sir James Douglas helped establish colonial settlement, trade and industry on the West Coast. As Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company (1839–58), he helped the HBC become a trading monopoly in the Pacific Northwest.
As governor of the Crown colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, he initiated British rule west of the Rocky Mountains and negotiated land purchases with First Nations, which some argue were conducted in bad faith (see Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada).

He opposed representative government, discouraged American annexation, secured mineral rights and initiated the building of roads (see Cariboo Road). He also presided over the Fraser River Gold Rush, the Fraser Canyon War and the Cariboo Gold Rush. He was invested as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath after retiring in 1864.
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  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/04/2020 at 12:45 am

    Who Was The Real Sir James Douglas??!! by Clyde Duncan

    Guyanese Canadian Cultural Association of British Columbia executive members were invited by Langley Heritage Society to attend a presentation by the author of ‘James Douglas: Father of British Columbia’, Julie H. Ferguson in October 2014.

    The promotional material from the Society entitled “Who Was The Real James Douglas??!!” described Douglas as an illegitimate son of a Scottish merchant and a mixed race Guyanese mother. My aim is to update this information.

    The mother of James Douglas was Barbados-born, Martha Ann Telfer; she is described as mixed race, coloured, Creole, mulatto, among other things. She and her mother sailed to Demerara, British Guiana [Guyana] to work on the Douglas sugar plantations.

    She was also known as ‘Miss Ritchie’. Miss Ritchie was not a slave; she was a concubine of the father of James Douglas. In old English, all of the foregoing is true. TODAY, however, no one refers to their spouse as a concubine; and no one refers to their – or anyone else’s – child as illegitimate; Miss Ritchie would be a black woman from Barbados and the mother of Sir James Douglas.

    Furthermore, the relationship with John Douglas spanned a period of about 13-years and produced 3-children: Alexander, Sir James and Cecelia Douglas. TODAY, such a relationship would legally be classified as a marriage.

    In 1803, James Douglas was born in Demerara, British Guiana to a sugar plantation owner from Scotland and a mother from Barbados. Around 1812, his father took James and his older brother to attend school in Lanark, Scotland.

    James subsequently emigrated to Montreal in 1819 to work as a clerk at the North-West Company. After the merger of the North-West and Hudson’s Bay Companies, James continued his employ at HBC. In 1839, he was appointed HBC Chief Factor; and around 1851, while Chief Factor; he was appointed Governor of Vancouver Island.

    Around 1857, as the California Gold Rush was dying, word got out that gold was discovered up north in the Fraser Valley area in New Caledonia [British Columbia]. Around April 1858, as the first boatloads of miners were arriving, James Douglas was alarmed at the influx of miners from the USA and wrote to Queen Victoria expressing his concerns that the British and First Nations Peoples on Vancouver Island would be outnumbered by the miners coming up from California.

    Queen Victoria responded to the Governor that he was overly concerned and cautioned that we do not want to antagonize the Americans. However, the Governor witnessed the loss of Oregon and Washington States to the USA with the stroke of a pen from some disgruntled Chief Factors; and he was bound and determined that the same fate would not befall Vancouver Island and New Caledonia. Although Douglas would rather fight than switch, the British discouraged involvement in any hostilities because military engagements in other parts of the world taxed their resources.

    As you can imagine, those were the days of the ‘Wild West’ with miners disembarking from their ships firing their six-guns and shotguns; drinking, carousing and disrupting the community all hours of the day and night. There was no military presence on the island at the time, so James Douglas invited some disgruntled freed African-Americans to come north, he told them there were opportunities here; so they took him at his word and sailed to Vancouver Island.

    Douglas formed what is commonly called the ‘African Rifles’ and they brought civility back to the community, until the arrival of reinforcements in the form of the Royal Navy and Royal Engineers led by Barbados-born, Colonel Richard Moody.

    The proclamation was read at the birthplace of British Columbia, National Historic Site Fort Langley on Friday, 19 November 1858 establishing British Columbia; appointing Guyana-born, James Douglas, Governor and Barbados-born, Colonel Richard Moody, Lieutenant-Governor.

    It has been said that if there is one man that could be credited with keeping British Columbia in Canada, it would be Sir James Douglas.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/04/2020 at 1:05 am

    Stephen Hume (Vancouver Sun)

    Published: January 20, 2017

    Updated: January 21, 2017 3:01 AM

    CANADA 150: Fiery Tempered Sir James Douglas A Lucky Find for B.C.

    His flinty gaze framed by a starched collar and unruly mutton chop whiskers, Sir James Douglas is every bit the Father of British Columbia generations of schoolchildren have consigned to memory for history exams.

    To his rough-hewed contemporaries — strictly behind his back, for he was known for a fisticuffs and a fiery temper — he was “Old Square Toes”, forceful of character, formidable of intellect, and remarkably well-read for one who came to a wild, mostly-illiterate frontier as a 16-year-old fur trade apprentice.

    Douglas was born in 1803, in Demerara, British Guiana, one of the three children of sugar trader John Douglas and Martha Ann Ritchie, a Creole woman whose mother was described as a “free coloured” woman from Barbados. When his father returned to Glasgow, he took his two sons to be educated in Scotland, where James won acceptance with his fists.

    By 1820 he was in Western Canada in the fur trade, and is recorded as duelling with swords over an insult.

    Soon he was crossing the Rockies and stationed at Fort St. James, founded by Simon Fraser. He married Amelia Connolly, the daughter of a fur trader and a Cree woman.

    In 1828, he killed a Carrier man who himself had murdered some fur traders at what is now Prince George. When angry Carriers threatened to murder him in retaliation, Amelia interceded. Douglas was transferred to Fort Vancouver at the Columbia River mouth. He rose rapidly in the fur trade and when it seemed likely that the Oregon Territory would go to the United States by international agreement, he was sent in 1843 to found Fort Victoria.

    For Canada, the choice was fortuitous. When gold was discovered on the Fraser River in 1858 and American opportunists of all kinds flooded north from California, Douglas unilaterally asserted British control over the mainland. He imposed British regulatory controls, then surrendered his fur trade offices to become governor of the two colonies.

    Under Douglas, treaties were signed with First Nations on Vancouver Island, he faced-down American military threats, he authorized the building of a road to the Interior — B.C.’s first megaproject — and presided over the birth of democratic government and the rule of law.

    “A practical man, but yet a visionary, Sir James Douglas was also humanitarian,” historian Margaret Ormsby wrote for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.


  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/04/2020 at 11:30 am

    The aftermath of James Douglas’ service to the Province of British Columbia and Canada Is quite similar to what is happening to the Obama Legacy in the Trump era in the USA:

    Sir James and Lady Amelia were the first multi-cultural, chief administrators of any province or state in North America. They were appointed Governor and First Lady of British Columbia in November 1858; and Barack and Michelle were elected President and First Lady in the USA 150-Years later in November 2008.

    The African Rifles disbanded – [there is a proper regimental name] these courageous and honourable soldiers kept out of the new Governor’s Ball – Treaties ignored ….

    Sir James and Lady Douglas probably would be surprised that their name has almost become extinct and their family’s position in society has disappeared. After all, they were one of the wealthiest families in their day and owned vast tracts of property of what is now Greater Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

    As John Adams wrote in “Old Square Toes and His Lady”: Some people are amazed that James Bay House, the family home, was torn down in 1906 and the furniture sold at auction ….

    But there is Moody Park and the City of Port Moody to honour the Barbados-born, white Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/04/2020 at 11:44 am

    There is a statue of Sir James Douglas at the birthplace of British Columbia – National Historic Site Fort Langley, British Columbia and another at the birthplace of Sir James at Mahaica, Demerara, Guyana.

    Douglas is a Son of British Guiana and Father of British Columbia.

    Incidentally, the colours of the National Flag of Guyana are identical to the colours of the blanket of Hudson’s Bay Company. “The Bay”, is a Canadian department store chain, the oldest company in North America. As mentioned above, James Douglas was Chief Factor at the Bay and Governor of Vancouver Island before being appointed Governor of the Colony of British Columbia.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/04/2020 at 7:23 pm

    Recognition for Blacks Who Helped Develop British Columbia

    Ron Fanfair | Corporate Communications, Writer & Photographer

    Individuals making lasting contributions to Canadian history are eligible to be designated “Persons of National Historical Significance” by the federal government.

    Since the inaugural selections of fur trader and explorer Pierre Gaultier de la Verendrye and poet Archibald Lampman in 1920, a total of 671 Canadians have joined the distinguished rank.

    They include Guyana-born Sir James Douglas who is considered the founding father of British Columbia.

    Born to a Barbados mother and Scottish father in 1803, Douglas spent his first nine years in what was then British Guiana – a British colony in South America that gained its independence in 1966 – before his father took him to Scotland.

    After just six years of formal education, Douglas signed on as an apprentice with the North West Company which was a fur trading business with headquarters in Montreal.

    When rivals North West and Hudson Bay merged in 1821, Douglas retained his job with the organization as a clerk at Fort James in northern British Columbia where he met his wife – Amelia Connolly — whose mother was Cree. Residing at Hudson Bay Company posts at Fort Vancouver – it is now an American city in Washington State – for nearly a decade, the couple and their children settled in Victoria, Vancouver Island in 1849 where Douglas was the Chief Factor and Governor.

    After setting up a trading post on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and founding Fort Victoria, Douglas faced his biggest challenge when gold was discovered in Thompson River in 1856 and, a year later, in Fraser River. With no military presence on Vancouver Island at the time to stave off the gold rush seekers and possible violent clashes with the First Nations People, Douglas enlisted the help of Blacks who had moved from California to Vancouver Island in pursuit of a better life and had formed a volunteer militia – The Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps also known as the African Rifles – for protection.

    Many of its members had been denied the opportunity to volunteer for the All-White Fire Department. While the corps was disbanded by 1865 after only a few years of existence, it was the first officially-authorized militia unit in the West Coast colony.

    Black American Saltspring settlers also protected the colony from the American’s territorial imperative drive to own the Pacific Coast during the period when the United States had divested California from the Republic of Mexico, legally swindled British Columbia out of the Columbia River delta and was negotiating with Russia for Alaska.

    With British sovereignty threatened, its parliament passed an act in August 1858 to establish a crown colony on the Pacific mainland. The official ceremony proclaiming the Crown Colony of British Columbia took place on November 19, 1858 at Fort Langley.

    Credited with establishing British law and order during the gold rush and ensuring that British Columbia remained as part of Canada, Douglas died in 1877 at age 73 in Victoria.

    “He made an incredible contribution to this province,” said Dr. Grant Rawstron who is a Fort Langley Legacy Foundation board member. “He was an amazing man who brought law and order to British Columbia at a time when there could have been a lot of instability.”

    A decade ago, a statute of Douglas was unveiled outside the Fort Langley National Historic Site.

    Businesswoman and Fort Langley Legacy Foundation board member Bays Blackhall, whose grandmother knew the Douglas family, made the suggestion.

    “Though Sir James never lived here, he visited many times and wrote letters to James Yale, Hudson Bay Company’s chief trader at Fort Langley,” said Mike Starr, the visitor services manager at Fort Langley National Historic Site. “He was quite important to Fort Langley’s history even before he came to proclaim the colony in 1858. It just made sense that we should have something here for him.”

    In 2008, during Carifesta X, a duplicate of the statue made from the same mould was unveiled at Mahaica – the birthplace of Sir James Douglas – by Prime Minister of Guyana, Samuel Hinds and Canadian High Commissioner, His Excellency Charles Court with Danny Doobay, Guyana Counsel General in Toronto, Clyde Duncan and others visiting Guyana for Carifesta present.

    Clyde Duncan, the former president of the Guyanese Canadian Cultural Association of British Columbia, played a key role in organizing for the statue to be taken to Douglas’ birth country. He used his own funds to help pay for the moulded statue which was transported from Vancouver to Toronto free of charge by his then employer, Canadian National Railway.

    Laparkan Trading and Dr. Jerald LaRose took up the cost of shipping the statue from Toronto to Guyana.

    “That year was the 150th anniversary since BC was proclaimed a crown colony and I was determined to let the world know that a Guyanese-born man kept this piece of real estate as part of Canada,” said Duncan who has resided in the province for more than 45 years. “This is something every person of Guyanese heritage should be proud of.”

    Blacks have been an integral part of British Columbia’s history since Douglas invited African-Americans to become pioneers in the province just over 150 years ago.

    America’s first elected Black judge and abolitionist Mifflin Gibbs was Canada’s first Black politician, having being elected to Victoria City Council in 1866. He also built BC’s first railway, served as Victoria’s deputy mayor and played a pivotal role in the then colony’s entrance into the Canadian Confederation.

    Midwife and Salt Spring Island resident, Sylvia Stark, delivered hundreds of babies and saw the island pass through its frontier stage to the modern era before passing away in 1944 at the age of 105.

    Born in 1850 in the Danish West Indies which is now the U.S Virgin Islands, John Freemont Smith lived in Victoria for a few years before moving to Kamloops in 1884. He owned a shoemaking business, served as an Indian agent, postmaster, secretary of the local board of trade and city assessor, wrote articles for mining and agriculture publications and was elected British Columbia’s first Black alderman in 1903.

    Jamaica-born Rosemary Brown was the first Black woman elected to a Canadian provincial legislature when she served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly in B.C from 1972 to 1986; Trinidad-born Selwyn Romilly was the first Black appointed to a B.C provincial court and the Supreme Court; the late Lance Morgan who migrated from Jamaica to Prince George in 1962, launched The First Baptist Church in B.C’s northern capital city in 1964; Emery Barnes, who passed away in July 1998, was the first Black speaker of a Canadian legislature and the late Harry Jerome – who moved to North Vancouver from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan at age 12 — set seven world records in track and field and helped create Canada’s sports ministry.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/04/2020 at 7:29 pm

    To this day, people still walk by the statue of Sir James Douglas at the National Historic Site Fort Langley, the birthplace of British Columbia, and ask, Who is he?

    No doubt, they are asking the same question at Mahaica, Demerara ….

    • Mike Persaud  On 07/04/2020 at 9:13 pm

      Regarding the above comment:

      It is no surprise. Only a handful of people know the full history of a given region, a country or a people, etc.

      I’d guess, the main reason Clyde Duncan would be interested in James Douglas is because they have something in common- they were both born in British Guiana. The other reason would be they both lived and worked in British Columbia.

      Clyde wants us to know that he was instrumental in getting Douglas’ statue shipped from British Columbia to Mahaica, B.G. I’d guess that the vast majority of British Columbians and Guyanese wouldn’t know a thing about James Douglas or Clyde Duncan. And that’s the way the cookie crumbles,


  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/09/2020 at 1:31 pm

    —Thomas Berger wrote, 1 November 1966:

    “The history of the Indian people for the last century has been the history of the impingement of white civilization upon the Indian: The Indian was virtually powerless to resist the white civilization; the white community of B.C. adopted a policy of apartheid. This, of course, has already been done in eastern Canada and on the Prairies, but the apartheid policy adopted in B.C. was of a particularly cruel and degrading kind. They began by taking the Indians’ land without any surrender and without their consent. Then they herded the Indian people onto Indian reserves. This was nothing more nor less than apartheid, and that is what it still is today.”

    Later, in a statement made in 1909 by the seventh Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in response to comments by Member of Parliament and succeeding Prime Minister, Robert L. Borden, in the House of Commons:

    “Sir, in British Columbia, the problem of Asiatic immigration is the one question that interests all sections of public opinion; and all classes of the people in British Columbia, to whatever party they may belong, unite in the opinion which is expressed in the words now current in the politics of that province. ‘A white British Columbia; a white Canada,’ meaning that British Columbia should be preserved as a home of the white race. … And now I ask: What is the policy that is conducive to the best interests of Canada and of the British empire to which we belong? Sir, to put the question is to answer it: Our policy is the policy which ought to impress everybody who pretends to be a Canadian or pretends to be British as the one best calculated for the weal of both Canada and the empire. But, before I go further, let me say that I find no fault with the view maintained in British Columbia that that Province should be maintained as for the white race.”


    Pierre Bélanger & Kate Yoon | LapsusLima

    November 27, 2018

  • Clyde Duncan  On 08/04/2020 at 5:11 pm

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