Tag Archives: James Douglas

Colony of British Columbia Proclaimed November 19, 1858

Governor James Douglas

Governor James Douglas (creative commons image)

One hundred and fifty four years ago today, the colony of British Columbia was officially proclaimed at Fort Langley.

On July 1, 1858, Britain’s Colonial Secretary Edward B. Lytton introduced a bill in British Parliament to create a crown colony of the Hudson’s Bay Company territories west of the Rockies, referred to as New Caledonia.

One of the chief purposes of the bill was to force the Hudson’s Bay Company to relinquish its control over New Caledonia.

“The Hudson’s Bay Company have hitherto had an exclusive right to trade with the [First Nations] in the Fraser River territory but they have had no other right whatever. They have had no right to exclude strangers, no right of government, or of occupation of the soil.”

The land was re-named ‘British Columbia’ by Queen Victoria and she gave her royal assent on August 2, 1858.

On November 19, 1858, the Governor of Vancouver Island, James Douglas, was sworn in as the Governor of the colony of British Columbia by Judge Begbie at Fort Langley.

Here is a report of the event from the Victoria Gazette on November 25, 1858:

On Friday morning, the 19th instant, His Excellency [James Douglas], accompanied by the Captain Grant disembarked on the wet loamy bank of the Fort and the procession proceeded up the steep bank which leads to the palisade.  Arrived there, a salute of 18 guns commenced pealing from the [steamship] “Beaver” awakening all the echoes of the opposite mountains.  In another moment the flag of Britain was floating, or to speak the truth, dripped over the principal entrance.  Owing to the unpropitious state of the weather, the meeting which was intended to have been held in the open air was convened in the large room at the principal building.  About 100 persons were present.

“The ceremonies were commenced by His Excellency  addressing Mr. Begbie and delivering to him Her Majesty’s Commission as Judge in the Colony of British Columbia.  Mr. Begbie then took the oath of Allegiance and the usual oaths on taking office and then addressing His Excellency took up her Majesty’s Commission appointing him the Governor and proceeding to read it at length.  Mr. Begbie then administered to Governor Douglas the usual oaths of office, viz.: Allegiance, Abjuration, etc.  His Excellency being then duly appointed and sworn in, proceeded to issue the Proclamation of the same day, 19th instant, vis.: one (40) proclaiming the act; a second, indemnifying all the officers of the Government from any irregularities which may have been committed in the interval before this proclamation of the act; and a third, proclaiming English Law to be the Law of the Colony.  The reading of these was preceded by His Excellency’s Proclamation of the 3rd instant setting forth the Revocation of Her Majesty of all the exclusive privileges of the Hudson Bay Company.”

Edgar Dewdney’s Competing Agenda Part 2

Edgar Dewdney official portrait as Lieutenant Governor (Govt of BC)

Edgar Dewdney wouldn’t back down. He was the one with the contract he argued, they were there to do the work. No amount of reasoning or yelling would get the Sappers to budge. They stood there with their shovels and axes, waiting for word from their commander, Lieutenant McColl.

“We have a vast knowledge of building roads,” McColl said. “It’s far better to bring the route further away from the river, as I had previously suggested. You have chosen to ignore my good advice and the result is your own doing.”

“I will take this issue to the Governor.”

When he arrived at Fort Victoria, he outlined his story to Douglas’ clerk who gave him some advice on how to present his case to the Governor. “Emphasize the fact that the Royal Engineers won’t work with you at all.”

After modifying the events, Dewdney explained the dramatic story of his harrowing escape to Governor Douglas who sat impassively behind his desk.

“You’re still under a contract to finish the road. If you cannot complete the road, then you will have to forfeit all the monies plus interest.”

There was silence for a moment while the gravity of the situation hit home.  “I have every intention of fulfilling my obligations.”

“Good.  Then you will get back to work.”

Dewdney made his way to the Union Hotel and drank several glasses of spirits as he thought about a solution to his woes.  What was he to do? He couldn’t work with the Royal Engineers and yet what he really needed was enough money to be able to hire some men to work under him.  He could write home and ask his father to arrange for a bank draft, but it was a route he’d rather not take.  On the other hand he could see if he could find someone who would want to enter a partnership.

Just as the thought began to take shape in his mind, he heard a loud clattering noise. Someone had thrown some gold nuggets at the large mirror that hung behind the bar.

“I can’t hawk this gold for nuthin’” the miner yelled out to nobody in particular.

“Why not?” Dewdney asked.  He was curious despite the man being obviously drunk.

“Why? They’re charging four lousy percent to get a dollar.”

“I’m sure someone could do better than that, do you have any more gold dust?”

The miner leaned away from him and laughed.  “You can get some yourself at Rock Creek, that’s where I’ve just been.”

“Rock Creek?  I have the contract to build a road from Fort Hope to Rock Creek,” Dewdney said proudly.

“Could’ve used a good road when I first came, I don’t know if it makes too much of a difference now that most of us are heading out.”

The miner’s words affected him over the course of the next few days and his appetite diminished with worry.  He placed an advertisement in the newspaper but there was no response from anybody.

“Most of the folks are coming here to find gold,” the bartender said sympathetically.

As the days wore on, Dewdney realized that the Royal Engineers had withheld his payment and he went to see James Douglas.

“I can’t finish the project until I receive the money,” he said.  He was expecting Douglas to go into a tirade but he was preoccupied with a report to E.B. Lytton concerning his shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company that he had yet to relinquish.

“I’ll grant you some time off from completing this road if you can be of some assistance to me in this matter,” Douglas said.

Dewdney was more than glad for the opportunity and over the course over the next few months he made use of his father’s political contacts while earning enough money to keep him at a comfortable lodging.

Almost a year to the day he had abandoned the trail, he received a message from Douglas’ clerk that there was a railroad engineer who had stopped by looking for a government job.  His name was Walter Moberly.

Dewdney went over the plans and talked about his contract while Moberly listened with intense interest.  He didn’t tell him about the Royal Engineers and how they had taken over; he didn’t know himself how far they had developed the road.

It was the end of May by the time everything was arranged and a work crew was hired.  The Royal Engineers had built the trail as far as Princeton and beyond that a large valley spread out ahead of them.  Eventually a routine was settled on and everyone was ready to start grading and shovelling five o’clock every morning.

By the end of July, all was well until they encountered the first large mountain that rose abruptly from the lake below.  A couple of the workers decided they’d had enough and abruptly left. When the other workers were out of earshot, Moberly said to Dewdney, “let’s forget wasting time with making sure the road is wide enough, we’ve got to finish this thing before everyone else quits and heads to the Cariboo.”

Dewdney thought about this.  James Douglas had already made a trip to Rock Creek; how likely was it that he would come again? On the other hand, if all the workers left to go to the gold diggings then the trail wouldn’t get finished and he would be on the hook.

They encountered few miners as they headed eastward but Dewdney was so preoccupied with mapping the trail and getting the coordinates just right that he didn’t put it into perspective.  Moberly was becoming more and more restless as the trail wore on and the others in the work crew were becoming dissatisfied with the same fare of hard tack and canned beef.  Dewdney himself reminisced about wearing a clean shirt that hadn’t been boiled to the texture of tough canvas.

At the end of August, they came along the Kettle Valley to Rock Creek and they walked past one empty cabin and then another. There was nobody in sight. The rush was indeed over.

“Here’s the end of the road,” Moberly said and fired his shotgun in the air.

Edgar Dewdney’s Competing Agenda

“How did you come to know Mr. Lytton?”

“My father is a close friend of Charles Kerneys-Tynte, who as you know is a respected Member of Parliament. Subsequently, he introduced me to the Colonial Secretary E.B. Lytton. So here I am,” Dewdney gave a half smile.

“We are a new colony and there is much to do in the way of town planning which the Royal Engineers are busying themselves with,” Douglas scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps you could be the Colonial contribution to the planning of our newest settlement at New Westminster.  It would be good to have someone who could report to me what those Royal Engineers are up to.”

Pleased with himself, Dewdney went back to his hotel and with the help of one of Douglas’ staff, he procured an outfit similar to the one worn by the Sappers consisting of serge trousers and a serge shirt with pockets.

The next day, Douglas brought him to the wharf where Colonel Moody was about to board the steamship for the Fraser River.   Moody barely looked at Douglas while he introduced Dewdney.  On the ship, Moody told Dewdney to meet him after supper.

“I understand that Mr. Douglas wants you to help with the town’s layout,” Moody said without preamble. “This is all very good you understand, but seeing as you’re a civilian, you will be paid as such. Furthermore, you will report to me as your commander, not Mr. Douglas.”

“What salary will that be?”

Moody’s eyes flickered for an instant. “It depends on many factors, our budget for one.  I will let you know soon enough.”

He didn’t see Moody for the next three days so Dewdney took it upon himself to start surveying.  He didn’t have any equipment with him other than his sextant so he borrowed a telescope from one of the Royal Engineers.

He was hammering a wooden post into the ground when one of the engineers came around with Moody.

“I see you’re keeping yourself busy,” Moody said.

Dewdney stood up. “This would make a great road, don’t you agree?”

Moody looked around. “It’s too close to the Fraser River at this point. The river is known to rise precipitously with the summer freshets.  If you care to look at this draft, I believe this would make an excellent seaside park.”

Dewdney looked the two soldiers up and down.

“I believe the Governor’s instructions were to plan roads and that is what I intend to do. Look at this mess!” He gestured with his arm at the jagged stumps and fallen trees lying as far as the eye could see.    The first opportunity he had, he wrote a note to Governor Douglas, requesting to have better accommodation.

Within a couple of days, he received an encouraging reply asking for more information.  Over the course of the next few weeks,   Dewdney proceeded with his own plans and submitted them to the governor’s office for approval.

Several letters were exchanged back and forth and he noticed that Moody and his men left him to do his own planning without any further interference.  One morning, in the middle of June when the sun was shining after several days of rain, Dewdney was summoned to the main house for a meeting with the colonel and his lieutenants.

They were all silent when Dewdney arrived and none of them offered any greeting of any sort. Moody looked like he hadn’t slept in a while.

Moody surprised him by being conciliatory and commending him for his work so far.  “The governor has been so pleased with your plans that he has officially approved them.”

Dewdney smiled, “I’m very pleased to hear that sir.”

“I’m also offering you a proposition.  As you know we are in need of hay for the horses and I understand that there is excellent hay to be had from the valley east of here. We are quite willing to increase your salary substantially.”

Dewdney nodded as he listened to the terms of this offer.  The pay was substantially more than what he was currently earning as an engineer and he couldn’t help wondering if this was just a scheme to get him out of the way.

At the end of August, Dewdney was told the contract for hay had finished and he was no longer needed.  He took the next steamer to Victoria and asked to speak with the Governor.  He was told the Governor was busy and after walking around the house several times, he spotted Douglas puffing on his pipe in the garden, with his brows firmly crossed.

Normally, he would have waited for a more opportune moment, but Dewdney hadn’t heard from the Governor and he was getting anxious.

Unlike Moody, Douglas didn’t mind small talk and he wasn’t immune to flattery so Dewdney used both.

“I’ve just come back from Rock Creek,” Douglas said after a time.  “We can’t be having all these gold seekers travelling back to the American side of the border with all that gold dust. There’s a need for a good road there from Fort Hope. Do you think you could commit to it? I’m considering putting it out to tender.”

“Yes! I would be very eager to embark on such a project, your Excellency.”

“The Royal Engineers will be doing the bulk of the work of course. I don’t have much use for them but at least England is paying for them.  Everybody keeps saying there is so much gold out there but we’re not collecting revenues like we should.”

“If I were granted the tender, could I hire my own workers?”

“There is no guarantee that you will receive it, but if you think you can afford to do so, go ahead.”

The conversation left him doubtful, and on the advice of one of Douglas’ clerks, Dewdney submitted a proposal with the lowest possible bid.

He had pictured in his mind a road 12 feet wide, bridged and graded to allow wagon travel.  He didn’t know then that it would be the worst months of his life.

Not all the money was forthcoming as he had hoped; instead he was given a much smaller portion that would hardly cover his own needs rather than the supplies for a project of this scope. At Fort Hope he met some of the Sappers he was assigned to oversee.  Several of them had been with the border commission and brought along various types of astrological equipment.

Beyond Fort Hope was a river that cut through the mountains.  Dewdney proposed they follow this river. The idea seemed straight forward enough until it was realized the plateau above the river soon became a series of ledges.

“We’ll have to blast this out,” Dewdney said.

Immediately, the response was negative.

(to be continued)

Racetrack in the Wilderness

July 1861

The last finishing touches were made to the grassy field that had been measured and cut as evenly as possible with men using hand scythes.  It was four furlongs long and there were three high-strung race horses watching from the stable at the sidelines, steam rising from their flared nostrils.  Also watching from the sidelines was I.B. Nason, owner of the local sawmill and Chester Cootes, one half of Cootes and Company and one of the most prosperous gold miners on Antler Creek.

“I wish we had some proper jockeys to ride them,” Nason said.

Cootes chuckled at the thought. “At least we have the horses.  When you consider what a time we had getting them up here.”

Jake Brown eavesdropped on the conversation as the two strolled about inspecting the freshly cut bunch grass.  Every stump, twig and rock had been carefully moved or rolled out of the way, even so Nason called Brown over to move a small handful of rocks he’d noticed.

Brown picked them up one by one until they all rested in the palm of his meaty hand and then disposed of them in the same manner under Nason’s watchful eye.

As one of Nason’s sawmill employees, Brown was one of the few who volunteered to spend the time to prepare the racetrack for the event.

Cootes was about to put some chewing tobacco in his mouth and thought better of it.

“If it weren’t for that British Colonist newspaper, the governor wouldn’t have found out how well we’re doing up here. Why in that last edition, they claimed that my company is prospering 400 dollars a day. ”

“They’re bound to have found out soon enough. Mr. Barnard always gets his word out to the paper,” Nason said as he kicked a pebble with his foot.

“Who’s this person ‘Argus’?  Why hide behind a stump and report on gossip anonymously? I don’t like it.”

“Did you hear if Cameron got his money?” Nason asked.

“I doubt it. Whoever robbed him has gone for good.  I told him not to mention anything to the Governor when he arrives.”

Later that evening, Brown sat down on a log behind the stable and wrote out all the details he could remember about the racetrack. He was used to keeping numbers and details in his head for such a long time that he never felt the need to write anything down.  As a result, most people figured he couldn’t write. In fact he had taught himself to write in a plain, blocky style; not the cursive writing like the sawmill’s accountant. As a side note he also wrote about the robbery at Cameron’s Golden Age Saloon.  He hadn’t heard that two of Cameron’s prized pistols had been taken along with $130 worth of gold dust, but if Nason said it, Brown took it to be fact.  He took the letter and folded it into thirds pressing hard on each crease before inserting it into the paid envelope in the box for Barnard’s Express bound for the British Colonist newspaper in Victoria.

The next couple of days saw an increase of activity. Several shopkeepers were sweeping the dirt from the entrances and card games which were normally held around an empty barrel were moved elsewhere.   If someone had never been to Antler, they would be surprised at the little town in the wilderness.  Just a year before the town didn’t even exist.  George Weaver and W.R. “Doc” Keithley discovered gold in Antler Creek barely a year before. They never told anyone that they had discovered gold but when you start purchasing enough provisions to last a couple of months, rumours start to fly on their own.  By the time they had built a rough lean-to cabin, gold seekers were darting out from between the trees, fanning all along the distance between Quesnel Forks and Antler Creek.

Now there were shops and businesses with goods you couldn’t get anywhere else except in New Westminster.

The next day after his shift was finished at the sawmill Brown got the gossip from J.C. Beedy who ran the general store.  Beedy was pulling weeds from his vegetable patch out the back when Brown sauntered around.  There was a strong smell of manure coming from a wheelbarrow.

“How’s the racetrack coming along?” Beedy asked.

“There are no rocks to be found. I swept it again today and couldn’t find one.”

Beedy chuckled, “I don’t know which is more excited, Nason or the horses.”

Brown pulled a young carrot out of the ground. “Did you hear Cameron is planning to talk with the Governor about the crime here?”

“Cameron?  Of all the topics, I doubt he would mention that. Don’t forget he’s bringing all that liquor in without paying a cent in customs.  He’s got an order for a dozen bottles of champagne at $12 a bottle for champagne plus he’s got more kegs of beer coming up in the next day or so. “

“What’s the story with the pistols?”


“I heard he was robbed of two of his pistols,” Brown said as he bit down on the carrot.

“Nah, never heard of it. Where’d you hear of that?”

Brown felt his neck flush.  “Must be a rumour.” He stood up.

“That’s right. You can’t rely on rumours or gossip.  I could use some help spreading this manure though,” Beedy said with a smile.

Gold Bar in the Fraser Canyon (Part 2)

(In part 1 of “Gold Bar in the Fraser Canyon” assistant gold commissioner McLennan realizes that Ned McGowan and his criminal gang have gained influence and control over gold commissioner Hicks based in Yale, British Columbia)

Steamboat Heading to Yale

The captain of S.S. Watertown was relieved to see the town of Yale, but not nearly as relieved as the passengers.  It had been a long and arduous trip up the Fraser River as the boat slowly made its way against the waters that were pushing their way in the opposite direction to the coast.

McLennan was relieved to finally catch sight of the steamboat and looked around for the James Douglas representative, the one whose job it was to oversee Hicks.  It was starting to drizzle, a Scotch mist, he would have called it.  Nobody on the wharf seemed to be paying attention to it; the rain never lasted in the interior up here, unlike the coast.

McLennan could have waited elsewhere but he was determined to speak to someone in higher authority about his horrible boss. He thought about what he would say and he went over and over in his mind exactly the points he would bring up and in what order.

After a time, the steamboat came to a rest and the passengers disembarked, some more quickly than others.

Where was he? McLennan’s hand went to his snuff box by habit, his fingers cold from anxious waiting, but this wasn’t the time to indulge himself.  For a brief moment he thought of his wife; the silver box had been a gift from her father.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of McGowan’s goons leaning against a hitching post.  McLennan looked back at the dispersed crowd and all the people walking on unsteady legs carrying their belongings, some in carts, others on their backs.

Representatives of the Colony always had an assistant with them to help carry their belongings. Looking around he didn’t see anyone that he recognized.  The goon was still there, if he was waiting for someone he didn’t let on.  Finally McLennan spotted James Douglas talking to the captain who was carrying Douglas’ baggage.  McLennan was so relieved he nearly cried.

Chief Spintlum and about six hundred of his best riders and warriors had made the trip from Lytton to Yale without any events along the way.  There were a few surprised looks from some of the miners they encountered, but most kept out of the way.  Spintlum organized a camp to be set up about fifteen minutes ride outside of Yale, far enough away that they didn’t have to listen to the gunshots.

Hicks woke up with a severe headache.  He’d drunk too much the night before and all he could hear was hoofbeats.  He put his hands to his head in the hopes the sound would stop but it didn’t.  His door was shaking.  Squinting his eyes, he thought he could see it moving from side to side.  With one hand he felt around on the floor for his glasses.  He couldn’t see a damn thing without them, but just moving his arm gave him a sharp pain in the head.

McLennan and Douglas were heading along the road in an open carriage when they heard the murmurs on the street that a group of natives was about to arrive.  McLennan heard their horses coming down the main street, several of them side by side with their riders standing straight and tall. What were they doing here? He wondered.

Douglas ordered the carriage driver to halt and by habit, McLennan tipped his hat at the riders in acknowledgement.  None of them recognized Douglas, but they stopped and one of them asked “where is Hicks?”

McLennan stalled for a moment as he looked to Douglas.  “I’m afraid I don’t know at this present moment, but allow me to introduce myself, Archie McLennan, assistant gold commissioner.”  McLennan offered his hand and the man looked at him for a moment then he proceeded to dismount slowly and carefully as if suffering from some injury.

“I am Cexpe’nthlam, head chief of the Nlaka’pamux.  I came here because my people have been falsely accused of a massacre.”

“Chief Spintlum?”

The chief nodded, evidently he had heard many pronunciations of his name.

James Douglas rose from the carriage and removed his hat, introducing himself.  It was precisely at that moment something happened which McLennan would never forget.

With one suspender holding up his pants and his shirt on backwards, Hicks came running out of the gold commissioner’s office with a pistol extended from a shaking hand in the direction of McLennan, “he stole my gold dust!” he screamed.

Before McLennan had a chance to open his jaw, a gunshot rang out and Hicks flopped forward in a pile of mud.  Nobody moved.  McLennan glanced around but he couldn’t see who had shot Hicks.  He saw people dipping into the recesses and shadows of the buildings. It was eerily quiet.

After a couple of minutes, Douglas put a handkerchief to his forehead and said to McLennan, “we have much to discuss, but first let us have some tea.”