The role and place of Sir James Douglas in the development of British Columbia
Dylan Koltz Hale
HIST-1390-A01 – History of Colonial Canada: 1500-1885
Sir James Douglas was a born a world away from the west coast of Canada, but over the course of his life he had irrevocably altered the area we know today as British Columbia. Born in British Guyana he was one of three children of Martha Ann Ritchie; a mixed race women known as a “free coloured”. His father John Douglas was a son of a wealthy Scottish family. The couple did not marry and thus Sir James Douglas was an illegitimate and mixed race child. His father, knowing he could not bring his son back to Scotland, decided he would give his son the best chance possible to succeed and sent him to work as a clerk in a trading post in Canada. Douglas quickly rose through the ranks, impressing his superiors with intelligence and persistence. He rose to become the highest rank in the Hudson’s Bay Company and became the Governor of two frontier colonies. Sir James Douglas’ place in British Columbia during the first half of the 17th century was the founding of and development of two Colonies and the promotion and success of Hudson’s Bay Company in Western Canada. In this essay I will argue and defend these statements in respective order. Sir James Douglas left his old post at Fort Saint James when he was promoted to Accountant of Fort Vancouver and arrived there in the year 1830.1 He came in amazement at the scale of the fort, it was the largest settlement west of the Great Plains and he was the head of operations there. As the accountant of Fort Vancouver he implemented a successful social and political agenda.2 He invited priests and encouraged Britain to supply him with teachers for new schools for both boys and girls.3 In addition, he established a charity group of the Fort’s wealthier citizens, founded an orphanage, and improved the fort’s hospital.4 Nine years after Douglas took up the position of Accountant at Fort Vancouver he had heard of an influx of migrants coming to Oregon territory. He was ever aware of the American threat of annexation and that a growing population would hurt HBC’s control over the region because a government would have to be formed limiting the company’s absolute rule.5 Douglas and other senior HBC officials decided on a plan to spread and solidify interest and also establish a fallback position should the Americans successful annex the Oregon territory. After two years of travel Douglas returned home to Fort Vancouver, he was met by an American surveyor by the name of Charles Wilkes came to examine the land for scientific purposes.6 He expected a fort with loose morals and lax behavior, but to his astonishment he found the opposite.7 Among many amenities and a large variety of food he found the trade school for the orphans and offspring of company servants to be most impressive.8 Douglas was well suited and took pride in the fort he worked tireless to improve both for the HBC, the residents, and the local natives with whom he traded with fairly and with high frequency.9 He thought he might spend the rest of his days here with his beloved wife Amelia and two children who had lived at the fort all their lives, but growing tensions between Americans and the British would force HBC to move invaluable Douglas to a new area to further establish British reign over the region.10 “I want you, and only you, to undertake a detailed survey of the potential site. Our plan is of such strategic importance that you must do it in the next year”.11 Governor Simpson of HBC tasked Douglas with the founding and creation of a new HBC post on Vancouver Island. To Douglas and his family this meant leaving the relatively comfortable lifestyle and friends they had made over nine years for an unknown frontier. In the summer of 1841 Douglas stood beside the Governor of HBC on the SS Beaver on a...
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