LETTER – A better understanding of B.C.’s history might negate the need for a name change

Dear editor,

In response to Ben Pires (Victoria) July 15 letter (Sincere reconciliation efforts would include changing our province’s ‘colonial’ name), I summarize the history of British Columbia with the hope all citizens might celebrate the Aug. 1 provincial holiday with more understanding of how it evolved.

Territorial disputes are as old as the Garden of Eden.

The BC colonial period was only eight years (1858-1866). Prior to that era, territorial disputes between Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the U.S. for control of the Pacific Coast had continued for decades, characterized by commercial (not military) forts. After the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the British and the defeat of the Americans in the War of 1812 (Ontario area), British naval and commercial power along the Columbia River ascended. Russia sold its territory (now Alaska) to prevent the British from obtaining a stronghold.

In 1793, a private American seagoing trading vessel arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River, in what is now Oregon, six weeks before the overland journey of HBS surveyor David Thompson was concluded. The ship was named Columbia Rediviva and the river takes its name from that event.

It was an epic moment in American expansionist history, still celebrated at Disneyland and in the Apollo 11 spaceship.

The major issue in the 1844 U.S. election was the extension of the U.S. border to the 54:40 parallel. Eventually, the British ceded the mouth of the Columbia to the U.S. but insisted on keeping all of Vancouver Island (the southern tip of which is below the 49th Parallel).

Captain Courtenay was sent from the major Pacific naval base in Chile to establish a UK naval base on the Island. It became Esquimalt. And, yes, that is the person after whom the City of Courtenay is named. Kaiser Wilhelm (Germany) settled the final border dispute by declaring that it would be along the deepest channel within the San Juan Islands.

The name British Columbia refers to the part of the huge river highway that was retained by the Brits and which became the westernmost province of Canada. A new nation that extended “from sea to sea.” There is no way Indigenous Peoples could escape colonization, but perhaps many might agree that given the possibilities (Russian, Spanish, American) they got the best of a bad draw. Perhaps true reconciliation might be built upon a more fair analysis that includes the consequences of territorial disputes. And possibly we could celebrate Aug. 1 with love in our hearts for Canada and a determination to build a more inclusive future.

Betty Donaldson,


Letter to the Editor

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