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Early governor left his mark

Province's founder never wavered from his principles

Herbert Sandham Graves was editor of the Daily Colonist for 17 years. He first joined the newspaper staff in 1919, after returning from fighting in the First World War in France, Belgium and Palestine.

In 1921, Graves went to the Victoria Times, and in 1929 was assigned the legislature beat. In 1931 he returned to the Colonist as legislature reporter, and remained in that position until 1942, when he became editor.

During the Second World War, Graves wrote Lost Diary, an eyewitness account of the First World War.

This column appeared in the Daily Colonist on July 16, 1958.

Founder of British Columbia Had a Face Full of Character

H. Sandham Graves

The Daily Colonist

Men rake among the dry bones of history, stirring a little dust, but as often missing the living essence of the spirit which brought the human family out of its caves in the evolutionary sequences of time.

Yet, history is essentially what we do in response to the circumstances as they may be at this point or that on the long road of destiny; it is the sum of many lives, lived passionately, sometimes desperately, under every conceivable onslaught of fate.

Happy is the world when a doer, a builder, a fighter swells the record, for he will leave his mark in time. Such a man was the founder of British Columbia, Gov. Sir James Douglas.

Since colonial times, many a visitor has lingered before the picture of the grizzled old warrior, with the proud, erect head and those fighting eyes, which hangs in the ante-room of the legislative chamber. It is a face full of character, from the deeply chiselled lines on the forehead to the defiant cast of a firm, strong mouth. It is the indomitable eyes, however, which hold attention, and they are the index to the man.

In the little that he said and the much that he did in the face of instant, urgent crisis, Douglas was supported by a valiant spirit, a courage which never wavered.

He had need of it, too, for his role was in the sphere of action in changing, unpredictable times.

James Douglas was born 1803 in what is now Guyana and was educated at Lanark, Scotland. He most likely received the painstaking schooling of the times, under dominies who expected to be obeyed. Early on he would have been taught the stern principles of duty and given a thorough preparation in the essentials of what was predominantly a classical introduction to education.

When at the age of 16 he took service in the North West Company, there must have been mingled feelings under the family roof. The menfolk would stand assured that his fortune was made; the women would be proud, but perhaps convinced he was on his way to being scalped in the far-off wilderness.

Be that as it may, Douglas came to Canada in the service of the company in 1819, more mature at 16 than a lad 10 years his senior might be today. The transition from the old world to the new, the inexpressibly vast sweep of rivers, plains and forests which had to be travelled in the rough mode of the day must have been for him a vivid introduction to manhood.

The North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company merged in 1821, and young Douglas did well. Step by step he rose in the estimation of the company; was sent westward to the frontier posts; emerged as a leader of men, to be put in charge of ever more responsible and exacting duties.

He first arrived on the West Coast in 1826, and two years later married Amelia Connolly, the half-Indian daughter of the chief factor of the region. In 1835, he became chief trader and in 1839 rose to the position of chief factor.

In 1842, at the age of 39, Douglas was ordered to select the site of what was to become Fort Victoria. That was a prophetic decision on the part of the company. It also opened the period during which James Douglas was to be the leading figure in British Columbia's beginning.

He spent the next year in a first-hand examination of possible sites for the company's new quarters on what is now Vancouver Island.

Douglas chose "Camosack," the Indian name for Victoria harbour, and there in 1843 he supervised the cutting down of masking trees, sited the fort with open water on two sides, and ordered the construction of the palisades.

It was there, within the walls of the fort for the first few years, that began the little settlement as a frontier British outpost which gave birth to British Columbia.

At the age of 40 when Fort Victoria was founded, Douglas had been 24 years in the service of the Hudson's Bay Co., in the ranks of which he had worked his way up from the bottom. It was as a chief factor of the company, in charge of the whole of its western division, that he now entered upon the stormiest period of his career.

Historians have dwelt at length on the creation of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island in 1849; the arrival of its first nominal governor, Richard Blanshard; the setting up of the initial colonial assembly with Dr. John Helmcken as its Speaker; Blanshard's withdrawal and its cause; and the emergence of the chief factor as a duly chosen successor. But how did Douglas himself view these events?

It is on record that for the first few years of its existence the Legislative Assembly at Vancouver Island was often the scene of spirited debates. When in 1851 Douglas received his formal appointment as governor, the pro-company and anti-company factions were practically at each others' throats.

It must have been something of a shock to Douglas when a few years later, in 1857, gold was discovered on the Fraser and Thompson rivers, followed in 1860 by further discoveries on Keithley, Antler and Williams creeks, the beginning of the Barkerville camp.

The company had not reckoned on incoming settlement, and, least of all, on gold rushes fed from San Francisco and from every available mining camp in a still "wild" West. At its peak, Victorians had the uneasy experience of being outnumbered by the newcomers by nearly five to one.

In the meantime, it had been arranged that a detachment of 400 Royal Engineers would be sent out from Great Britain, and in 1858 the advance guard arrived, under Col. Richard Moody. It was a timely and fitting choice. The engineers were certainly garrison protection for the settlers, both on the mainland and on the Island.

They were quartered at Langley and made an immense contribution in road-building and otherwise, particularly in the budding new colony of British Columbia, which was officially proclaimed on Nov. 19, 1858, with Douglas as its governor.

One can imagine the insistent nature of the pressures on Douglas during these events. Victoria boomed mightily as the outfitting centre of the upstream gold rush, and at one period had 10,000 miners quartered in tents in its environs. They included the boisterous elements which had to be held in check, and here again Douglas's firm action served the young colonies well.

He controlled the stampede to the gold diggings. He imposed and collected a head tax on each visiting miner heading up the Fraser, which automatically settled the issue of sovereignty, even if the legal basis for the impost was less visible. Douglas was improvising on the spot for regulatory devices that simply did not exist, and because he did it firmly his orders prevailed.

From the establishment of the British Colonist on Dec. 11, 1858 onward, British Columbia's history moved into the realm of daily recorded events. The union of the Crown Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, with Victoria as capital, followed in 1866. Next year, 1867, witnessed Confederation and creation of the Dominion of Canada, which British Columbia joined as a province in 1871, after acceptance of new terms of union and the disposition of some final doubts.

So developed from "Camosack" the roots which have grown into such a sturdy tree. The central figure at key points and in the decisive moments of B.C.'s history was Gov. Sir James Douglas. It is good to recall that he lived out his sunset years here in peace and quiet, a highly respected figure in the capital city.