On a Sunday late in April of 1858, the governor of Vancouver Island stepped out of church in Fort Victoria and learned that the gold rush was on. The U.S. steamer Commodore had just arrived in the harbour from San Francisco, delivering 450 passengers bound for the Fraser Canyon.
The miners were driven by a “mania for gold” and soon would find themselves at war with local native populations, and confronting the will of a scheming politician with great ambitions for the wild and lawless territory that is now the mainland of British Columbia.
“It will require I fear the nicest tact to avoid a disastrous Indian war,” the governor, James Douglas, warned his political masters in London in a June 15 dispatch. By the time the letter arrived, U.S.-based militias were already charging through the Fraser Canyon, intent on killing every Indian they could find.
Tomorrow, B.C. marks its 150th anniversary as a political entity, and today’s politicians will cavort with actors in period costumes at Fort Langley, where the proclamation establishing the colony was signed.
Meanwhile, historians at the University of Victoria have offered a virtual gift: A new window on the tumultuous year that led to the creation of the Crown colony has been made available on the Internet for the first time. “It’s remarkable, what a slender thread British authority hung by,” UVIC history professor John Lutz, who helped give birth to the new website, bcgenesis.uvic.ca, said in an interview.
With 30,000 mostly U.S. miners flooding across the 49th parallel and up the Fraser River, Governor Douglas found himself with no legal or military force against “the present danger of a collision between the settlers and the natives” that would soon ripen into a deadly war.
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