Mixed History: On Sir James Douglas

Long fore-running the days of all the major visitation spots in British Columbia, before the time of the founding of Canada on July 1, 1867, prior to the foundation of Fort Langley (though concomitant with it, later), definitively before the title of “Fort Langley National Historical Site of Canada,” or the places of art and the galleries[1], the accommodations[2], the restaurants[3], the businesses dealing in finance and real estate[4], the floral and bridal and antique shops[5], the gift and health & beauty shops[6], visitation spots and services[7], or any of the local community groups and activities and events and items[8], or the introduction of highly educated and well-to-do Evangelical Christians throughout the area from Trinity Western University, the fights at the Supreme Court of Canada for the Evangelical law school, the infamous artist and developer fights[9], or the civic debates of the Township of Langley Cllrs.[10], or such inane, and banal and almost pointless, meanderings as written by the current author on the subject(s) surrounding Fort Langley[11], there existed one individual by the name of Jim Douglas, or Sir James Douglas, KCB[12] (no known relation).*[13] A man whose life seems more titivating with nuance added to the story, small enhancements made clear, while learning more about him: Mr. Mix-A-Lot.

So many parties wish to lay claim to the titular ownership of “Fort Langley National Historic Site of Canada,” only a few wish to understand without claiming it. There’s a vast gulf between the former and the latter only learned through hard experience and conversations with the peoples of the area, settler or not. Douglas was the Governor of British Columbia 1858–1864 and of Vancouver Island 1851 to 1864. He did not start here. Born August 15th, 1803, in Demerara, Guyana (formerly British Guiana), his legacy between and death — on August 2nd, 1877 — remains the founding of British Columbia or, more colloquially, as “The Father of British Columbia.” Neither a minor figure in the community village nor in the provincial history, he set the tone and calibre of the attractiveness of the colonial outposts here. He assisted the Hudson Bay Company acquire a trade monopoly in the Pacific Northwest, as the Chief Factor of HBC from 1839 to 1858. He helped establish British rule west of the Rocky Mountains as the governor of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. A part of this had to do with the negotiation of land purchases with the First Nations. His career took him through the Fraser River Gold Rush, Cariboo Gold Rush, and the Fraser Canyon War.

Guyana, at the time of his birth, was a Dutch colony. His father, John Douglas, owned a cotton and sugar plantation in Demerara. John was a Scottish Merchant who came from the Earls of Angus. One of the oldest of the known mormaerdoms, regional/provincial rulers. His mother, Martha Ann Ritchie, was born in Bardados as a free woman of colour. ‘Person of colour’ referred to someone of mixed African and European heritage. In other words, a non-enslaved mixed ‘race’ woman. Martha met John while he was on the plantation business. They never married and had three children with John returning to Scotland, and who married in 1809 to begin anew with another family. Sir James Douglas — a man of mixed ‘race’ or ethnic heritage — and his brother, Alexander Douglas, were sent to Lanark, Scotland, to become educated. James never went back to Demerara and never saw his mother again — such were the times. They had three children together, though they never married. John Douglas returned to Scotland, where he married in 1809 and started a second family.

With the North West Company or the NWC, (Sir James) Douglas was 15 when he became a part of the working staff. He apprenticed with them, then sailed to Montreal, so was working in the fur trade learning its accounting practices. There was a period of intense competition between the NWC and the Hudson Bay Company or the HBC at the time. It was a mostly economic battle between trade giants. Douglas was caught in this as a teenager. Apparently, in 1820, he fought an HBC guide, Patrick Cunningham, in a bloodless duel. When the NWC merged with the HBC, Douglas became employed by the HBC. The HBC won the economic war. His first posting was in 1826 at Fort St. James in the mainland of modern British Columbia. Chief Factor, William Connolly, requested Douglas to become part of the overland fur brigade at Fort Alexandria to Fort Vancouver. Such as the times were, Douglas, in fact, married Connolly’s daughter, Amelia. Now, bearing in mind, Douglas comes from a mixed-race mother or free woman of colour and a Scottish father; Amelia’s mother was Cree. Ergo, a mixed ethnic background — First Nations and European — wife, Amelia, and mixed Guyanese and Scottish husband, James (Douglas), for a mixed ethnic coupling.

Which is to say, taking a moment to opine, even for today, this retains a character of the revolutionary to it. In that, even within the modern discourse of inter-ethnic couples, striving new paths and creating bridges in Afro-Canadian and Indigenous lives, Douglas simply did it. He did more, talked less. Amelia and James married on April 27th, 1828, and, again, at an Anglican ceremony in Fort Vancouver (1837). Something of a renewal of vows, presumably, and a sacralization of the union under the auspices of the Anglican Church. Within Fort Vancouver, Chief Factor John McLoughlin was the boss of Douglas, while Douglas was the superintendent of Columbia District fur trade for two decades. Douglas went to Alaska in 1840 to negotiate trade/boundary deals with the Russian American Company. Much of Douglas’s efforts vis-à-vis trade and boundary building appears part of a local effort against international efforts, including the Russians, though more acutely the Americans, with an increase in the American influence on the Pacific Northwest, Douglas started the construction of Fort Victoria (1843). Circa 1846, British North America in the West and the United States had a border set at the 49th parallel based on the Oregon Treaty (June 15th, 1846). Originally, the land was jointly held by the Americans and the British through the 1818 Treaty. This was monumental to British-American relations. The HBC moved from Fort Vancouver, presumably as a response. Douglas began a new fur brigade from Fort Langley to New Caledonia, then Fort Victoria became the place for furs shipped from the interior for the HBC.

With the continued threat of American expansionism, Vancouver Island was made a Crown colony (January 13th, 1849). Douglas was appointed an agent for the HBC on the island. Interestingly, in a twist of finance and trade overruling political power, Richard Blanshard was chosen by the British government as the governor; however, as it turns out, Blanshard found most of the associations were held in the hands of the HBC with the individual British colonists mostly associated with the HBC and power invested in the chief factor of the HBC — by that time, James Douglas, himself. In short, he chose to resign and leave Vancouver Island (August, 1851). ‘Why bother?,’ in other words. On October 30th, 1851, Sir James Douglas was selected as governor. In association with the HBC and while the governor, he was criticized for a conflict of interest. Even further, and not to his credit, Douglas appointed his brother-in-law as the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the time. Circa 1856, Douglas was — by definition — elitist in considering people wanting the rule classes to make the decisions for them. Sort of, ‘Get them, the fray, out of our hair, and let us get one with making the important decisions,’ as the attitude, that’s astonishing for someone of mixed ethnic heritage from Demerara. When making a legislative assembly — based on a request from the Colonial Office, Douglas put property qualifications on the right to vote. In other words, only a few could count for membership in the assembly: land-owners versus the rest, in short. Sir James Douglas was not democratic; he was anti-democracy, or a timocratist erring more on land-ownership side rather than the inherent sense of honour. In ironic fashion, we, in modern democratic Canada, honour Sir James Douglas, the timocrat who opposed universal suffrage.[14]

Between 1850 and 1854, Douglas negotiated land treaties with First Nations on Vancouver Island. 14 in total. The Fort Victoria Treaties or Douglas Treaties were cash, clothing, blankets, hunting and fishing rights, etc., in barter for land. In traditional colonial fashion, Douglas left the terms of the agreements blank at the time of the signing. So, the clauses were added at a later time. Is anyone else seeing a problem here? Douglas, in this wrinkle, too, was not a saint; he was through-and-through a settler in mind. Some oral history from the Indigenous claim the signatories — the Indigenous signatories — thought the signings were land sharing deals or peace signings, so sharing and not ceding land. Do you see the issue? The X signed looked like the Christian symbol of the cross, so a spiritual gesture — not the proverbial John Handcock, and so on and so forth. With the coming of Americans from California, too, during the Fraser River Gold Rush, the numbers of Americans to British subjects began to swell. So as to protect the land for the Crown (the British rulers), Douglas claimed the land and minerals for them. Licenses were given to miners to prevent invasion. This was seen as an attempt to keep HBC monopolization. He was reprimanded by the Colonial Office.

Douglas was a completely sympathetic individual to the British. He was a loyalist. Even so far as to go to the San Francisco Black community to find migrants sympathetic to the Crown, the issue was the increasing numbers of American migrants coming to the areas around Douglas without necessary identity links to Britain. Since the United States Supreme Court declared free and enslaved Black Americans unable to acquire citizenship in 1857, Douglas, ever the man looking for opportunities, offered citizenship after 5 years of land ownership. A few hundred Black American families moved to the colony in Victoria. In some ways, one can ask, “Is this good or bad?” It was politically opportunistic in service to the British; it was socially beneficial in giving the disenfranchisemed some modicum of enfranchisement. It depends on the aperture and the angle of the lighting.

Nlaka’pamux communities were the Indigenous communities along the Fraser River. Douglas worried of bloodshed between the Nlaka’pamux and the American miners, and warned the British who could not respond in time. American miners came and reached the lower Fraser River. Sexual violence was reported to happen against the Nlaka’pamux women. Gold was mined without Nlaka’pamux communities’ consultation. Nlaka’pamux fishing was interrupted. Nlaka’pamux communities armed to protect themselves, some of them. Douglas ordered one gunboat on the Fraser River and wanted licenses from miners who went to find gold. Having no army, so no force, and asking for help from the British, the British responded to the plea for help: Staking a claim to the Fraser River as part of the Crown. Alas, August, 1858 found Nlaka’pamux communities and the miners at war. Some 36 people (5 chiefs) were murdered, 3 were imprisoned, and unknown others were wounded. 5 Nlaka’pamux communities were burned down by the miners. By August 22nd, a truce was set. Comically, Douglas arrived with 35 armed men from the British government, though the fighting had ended by that point — fruitless pursuit of peace when a truce has been brokered.

Gold changes everything. Britain chose to remove the HBC privileges during March of 1859 with the discovery of gold. Douglas was made governor of British Columbia while on condition of no more ties to the fur trade industry. Although, governor of Vancouver Island at the time. He was inaugurated as governor of British Columbia in — of all places — Fort Langley, then made Companion of the Order of the Bath for work as governor on Vancouver Island. Fort Langley almost became the first capital of British Columbia. On January 6th, 1859, Royal Engineer Commanding Officer Colonel Richard Clement Moody went by Fort Langley en route to Yale. After visitation of the site, he decided a better place would be New Westminster, which became the first capital of British Columbia. With 1866 came the merger of the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, thereafter, Victoria became the capital of British Columbia. Douglas focused on the welfare of miners and setting reserves, via gold commissioners, for the Indigenous peoples. He, probably, didn’t want a repeat of war, as before, and worked on a land policy inclusive of mineral rights. In 1860, British Columbians wanted a form of popular government. He had to be confronted by the citizens, in other words. Whatever the response, the citizens were not happy with Douglas’s response to them. They petitioned the London Colonial Office in 1863. Douglas, subsequently, retired in 1864; these petitioners may or may not have influenced the decision. He was given the title of “Sir” as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, thusly came to be known — to the plains-folk of the land of Fort Langley — as Sir James Douglas of Douglas Day fame. He died of a heart attack on August 2nd, 1877, incidentally the informal birth date of In-Sight Publishing (2012). All information above is publicly available on the “Father of British Columbia.” A governor, a chief factor, a British loyalist or someone tied deeply to the Crown, a latecomer to war needs, a diplomat knowing the influence of material goods to keep communities at peace, a mixed-ethnicity man (European and Guyanese) married to a mixed-ethnicity woman (First Nations and European) in an inter-ethnic union, someone opposed to popular democracy in favour of a form of ‘democracy’ more closely resembling timocracy or rulership by those who own land. Neither entirely evil nor wholly good, a mixed man of mixed heritage with mixed morals leaving a mixed legacy as “The Father of British Columbia.”

[1] Gallery 204, Kube Gallery, Berga Gallery, Barbara Boldt Studio, Jelly Digital Marketing, Fort Photo Images, Photography Elements, Fort Gallery Artists Collective, Fort Langley Artists Group, Elaine Brewer White Studio, The Neighborhood Art School, FREE iWork PAGES Templates, Old Dog Dons ~ Fort Sketches, Van Gogh Painting & Restoration, K’wy’i’y’e Spring Salmon Studio, Susan Galick Fine Art Studio, The Pencil Studio, Artist Linda Muttitt, and Susan Falk — Artist.

[2] Wisteria House in the Fort, Cranberry Country Inn B&B, Princess & the Pea B&B Langley, Fort Langley Camping, Vacation rental management, Lifty Life Hospitality.

[3] Trading Post Brewing Taphouse & Eatery, The Fort Pub & Grill, Wendel’s Books and Cafe, Mangia E Scappa Italian Foods, Seasons Fine Supplements & Juice Bar, lelem’ Arts & Cultural Cafe, Little Donkey Food & Drink, Rail and River Bistro, Saba Café & Bistro, Republica Roasters, Blacksmith Bakery, Beatniks Bistro, Planet 50’s Cafe, Into Chocolate, The Fort Wine Co., Bobs Growcery (Veggie Bob’s Kitchen Café), Lee’s Market, and Subway.

[4] RE/MAX Award Winning Service, Royal LePage Sterling, RE/MAX — Dean Hooseman, RE/MAX — Gloria McGalliard, Royale LePage- Lisa Bakx, Mortgage Professional Nadia Causley, Ivory Accounting and Advisory Services (formerly de Verteuil & Company), Coast Capital Savings — Fort Langley, Ivory Planning Group, Stocking & Cumming, CA, The Paper Clip Bookkeeping, and Nadia ~ Mortgage Services, Stocking & Cumming — CPA, Business Accounting Langley.

[5] Floralista Flower Studio, Niche Boutique Florals, Ivory Bridal — Dresses, Fort Lang Foto, Country Lane Antiques, and Rempel Mercantile.

[6] The Fort Finery, Gallery Beads and Gifts, Chuckling Duckling Farm, Peridot Decorative Homewear, Floralista Flower Design Studio, Blueberry Meadows Interiors, Sxwimela Boutique and Giftstore, Watermelon Tree Baby & Kids, Kizmit Gift Gallery, Bella & Wren Design, Treasure Landing, Fort Langley Cyclery, The Fort Finery, Cranberries Naturally, Floralista Flower Studio, The Happy Kitchen, Aimee B Clothing And Accessories, Pacific Bottleworks Company, DDBooski Clothing, Dove Coterie, A Quilted Stitch, Bagheera Boutique, Roxanns Hats, Diana’s Sheepskins & Gifts, Roxanns of Fort Langley, Aimee B Clothing, I.D. Salon, SuCasa Spa & Laser Hair Removal, ThriveLife Counselling & Wellness, Pharmasave Fort Langley, Incrediball — The Core Store, Fort Langley Dental Office, Fort Family Chiropractic, Evergreen Chiropractic, Fort Physio Clinic, Fort Sport and Family Physio, Health Roots & Reflexology, Hardman Acupuncturist & TCM, Fort Langley Massage Therapy, TAP True Aromatherapy Products, Integrated Health Clinic, Fort Langley Colonics, Rees Personal Training, ID Hair Salon, TinyKittens Society, and Fort Langley Colonics.

[7] Fort Langley Community Hall, Fort Langley Spirit Square, B.C. Farm Machinery Museum, Langley Centennial Museum, Heritage C.N. Rail Station, Fort Langley Firehall #2, Fort Langley Golf Course, Redwoods Golf Course, Pagoda Ridge Golf Course, Double Header Sport Fishing, Fort Langley Air Floatplane Tours, Mountain View Conservation Centre, Park Lane ~ Bedford Landing, Dogwood Christmas Tree Farm, Trinity Western University, Fort Langley Evangelical Free Church, Living Waters Church, Fraser Point Church — Meeting Place, St George’s Anglican Church, United Churches of Langley — St. Andrew’s Chapel, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Fraser Point Church Offices, Jubilee Church, and Fellowship Pacific, Brae Island Regional Park, Fort Langley Cemetery, Fort Langley Veterinary Clinic, Waldo & Tubbs Pet Supplies, Strands Bead Company, Spacial Effects Design Inc., Thunderbird Show Park, Dogwood Christmas Tree Farm, Devry Greenhouses, Cedar Rim Nursery, Krause Berry Farms, Driediger Farms, Fort Langley Dental Office, Fort Langley Locksmith, Expedia Cruise Ship Center, Goretti Faria — Family Therapy, Fort Langley Childcare, Fort Langley Web Design, Paper Clip Bookeeping, Stirling Noyes | Design and Marketing, Maven Fort Langley, Fort Horseless Carriage Service Ltd., Spacial Effects Design Inc., Custom Line Homes, Coast Pro Contracting, Site Lines Architecture, Special Effects Interior Design, Fort Fabrication and Welding Ltd., Fort Langley Lumber, Cassian Contracting, B&D Excavating, Local Musician John Gilliat, Heritage Music School, Red Stone Alley Blues Band, Cascades Casino, and Krazy Bobs Music Emporium.

[8] Seyem’ Qwantlen Business Group, Fort Langley Youth Rowing Society, Fort Langley Community Rowing Club, Fort Langley Canoe Club, History of Fort Langley, History of the Albion Ferry, Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild, Biodegradeables ~ Organic Recycling, Eric Woodward Foundation, The Fort Langley Project, Fort Langley Community Association, Langley Heritage Association, Fort Langley BIA (Dissolved), Fort Langley Canoe Club, Fort Langley Canoe Club Paddle Pushers, Fort Langley Canoe Club Sun Dragons, Fort Langley Canoe Club Fraser Dragons, Fort Langley Canoe Club Spirit of a Renegade, Fort Langley Canoe Club Dragon Spirit, Fort Langley Canoe Club Dragon Alliance, Fort Langley Canoe Club Women on Water, Fort Langley Canoe Club Chicks Ahoy, Fort Langley Canoe Club Kindred Spirits, Fort Langley Canoe Club Fort Fusion, Fort Langley Canoe Club Fortified, Fort Langley Canoe Club Vikings, Fort Langley Canoe Club Fort Fury, and Fort Langley Canoe Club Abreast with Fortitude, Fort Langley Canoe Club Dragonflies, Fort Langley Canoe Club — Kayak, Cranberry Festival, Bloom Designer Market, Fort Langley Mayday Parade, Historic Fort Half Marathon, St. George’s British Motoring Show, Fort Langley Celebration of the Arts, Chief Sepass Theatre, Fort Langley Farmer’s Market, The Fort Wine Company, Circle Farm Self Guided Tours, Double Header Sport Fishing, and, formerly, the Albion Ferry (before 2010).

[9] In the recent years, the infamous fights happened between prominent Kwelexwelsten, Kwantlen First Nation artist, Brandon Gabriel (Brandon Gabriel-Kwelexwecten) — and owner of Well Seasoned gourmet foods inc. (2004-) and former Township of Langley Cllr. (2014–2018), Angie Quaale — and developer and Cllr. Eric Woodward.

[10] Mayor Jack Froese, Councillor Petrina Arnason, Councillor David Davis, Councillor Steve Ferguson, Councillor Margaret Kunst, Councillor Bob Long, Councillor Kim Richter, Councillor Blair Whitmarsh, and Councillor Eric Woodward.

[11]Addendum on Wagner Hills Farm Society/Ministries,” “Municipal Case Study: British Columbia and Permissive Tax Exemptions,” “Suffering’s Fortress — Not Bad or Lost People, But Bad and Lost Theology,” “The Fantastic Capacity for Believing the Incredible,” “The Message of William Marrion Branham: Responses Commentary,” “Freethought for the Small Towns: Case Study,” and “Canadians’ and Others’ Convictions to Divine Interventionism in the Matters of the Origins and Evolution.”

[12] Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.

[13] All hyperlinks and publicly acquired information availablehere.

[14] Fort Langley celebrates Douglas Day in honour of Sir James Douglas.

Photo by Robbie Down on Unsplash

Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Assistant Editor, News Intervention, Human Rights Activist. Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He focuses on North America for News Intervention. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere. You can contact Scott via email.

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