‘Father of B.C.’ Douglas was strengthened by scripture
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This is the second in a series marking the 150th anniversary of B.C.’s founding. Taken from Ed Hird’s Battle for the Soul of Canada.

HOW OFTEN do we give thanks for Governor James Douglas, Father of B.C.?

The province still bears the mark of his vision; but he had little to work with in terms of men, money and materials. But he had determination, and the strength he derived from being steeped in scripture.

Douglas prophetically said:  “It is the bold, resolute, strong, self-reliant man who fights his own way through every obstacle, and wins the confidence and respect of his fellows.  As with men, so it is with nations.”

This man had a vision of a great highway of commerce down the centre of the mainland colony.  In just over two years, he was to achieve what seems almost a miracle: a wagon road, 18 feet wide and 400 miles long, connecting the wealthy new gold fields of the Cariboo to the older coastal settlements.  

Douglas was born in Guyana. His mother Martha Ann Ritchie, originally from Barbados, was a free Creole whose family moved to Guyana for better employment in the late 1790s.  

His father John Douglas, a Scottish merchant planter, took James and his brother to Scotland at age nine. James never returned to Guyana, and never saw his mother again.

At age 16, Douglas moved to Canada and apprenticed with the Northwest Company – which eventually merged with its rival, the Hudson’s Bay Company. He spoke French  so well that he led Prayer Book worship services in French with the other voyageurs.    

At Fort St. James, he married Amelia Connolly; her father was an Irish-French fur trader, and her mother was a Cree chief’s daughter. They moved to Fort Vancouver, Washington, where James quickly became the Hudson’s Bay Company chief factor.

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While at Fort Vancouver, he set down in a notebook four tasks he hoped to achieve:

“Moral renovation of this place; abolition of slavery within our limits; lay down a principle, and act upon it with confidence; the building of a church of Christ in this place.”

As it became obvious that everything below the 49th parallel would become American territory, Douglas was sent to Vancouver Island to relocate the Hudson’s Bay Fort.

On March 14, 1843 Douglas founded the new capital, Fort Victoria.  

In 1851, Douglas was appointed the second governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island.   When the 1858 Gold Rush struck, Douglas noted with alarm the sudden increase in visitors. With tens of thousands of American gold miners descending on B.C., Douglas took measures to hold back an avalanche which would have irrevocably swept the province out of any Canadian orbit.  

Douglas had an exterior of implacability; but in his private family life, he showed great depths of feeling. Upon the death of his daughter Cecilia,  he lamented:

“She was the joy of my eyes, the light of my life; her ear was ever open to the calls of distress; the poor and afflicted never appealed to her in vain; they will miss her sympathizing heart and helping hand.”  

Douglas deeply loved nature, as seen in a letter to his daughter Martha:

“The sweet little robin is pouring out his heart in melody, making the welkin ring with his morning song of praise and thanksgiving.  Would that we were equally grateful to the Author of all good.”  

In giving advice to his son James,  Douglas commented: “We are all poor, frail creatures when left to ourselves; our sufficiency is of the Lord. We must look to him for strength and guidance in the hour of trial.  His power is sufficient for us.”

June 2008