Black Pioneers Were Welcomed On Vancouver Island

• 1846 The Oregon Treaty created the border between British North America and the United States along the 49th parallel. When Britain proved unwilling to give up Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island, the negotiators compromised on one exception to the 49th degree line: Britain would get all of Vancouver Island.

• For the first three years, the American government didn’t have the wherewithal to send anyone to govern the area that is now Washington and Oregon so Sir James Douglas, BC’s first governor retained control. But when U.S. officials arrived, the situation became untenable.

• The Oregon Territory quickly posed exclusion laws that were unacceptable to Douglas, whose mother was black. Neither blacks nor Hawaiians, who comprised 30 per cent of the population, were allowed to live there. There was even a short-lived law that said any black person who came into the Oregon territory would be lashed.

• In 1858, Douglas invited nearly 800 free black people to leave the oppressive racial conditions of California for a new life on Vancouver Island.

• These African-Americans settlers were necessary to dissuade American expansionists from coming farther north to the 54th Parallel, after annexing the Oregon territory.

• Though still faced with discrimination, these black pioneers were given the rights of British citizens and enriched the political, religious and economic life of the colony.

One example Mifflin Gibbs, one of the black émigrés, was elected to Victoria City Council in 1867 and served in that body until 1869 He helped work out the terms that brought B.C. into Confederation.