Thursday, June 4, 2020

Black History - James Douglas, the first Governor of British Columbia

I went to high school in the late 1990s, and what I learn about the history of people and their experiences in what is now called British Columbia and Canada was breezed through. We spent more time learning about ancient civilizations and European history than our own. This is likely why many people in my generation think that Canadian history is uneventful and boring.

This of course is not the case. This history of people who lived on this land is beautiful and messy. I learned more about Canadian history through “Heritage Minutes” that used to air between programs on TV than at school.

To be fair, my high school did offer a class on Indigenous history which was developed in cooperation with the Okanagan Indian Band, but it was an optional course, and I did not take it as a result.

What I’ve learned about the history of Langley and Metro Vancouver was from listening to old timers, reading books, and visiting websites.

For example, in Langley we have many references to James Douglas who was the first Governor of the Colony of British Columbia. Fort Langley briefly served as the capital of BC, before it was moved to New Westminster.

Sir James Douglas

Langley City and Township are some of the last places that celebrate “Douglas Day.” One of the streets in Downtown Langley is named after James Douglas.

One of the things that I was surprised to learn is that James Douglas was mixed-race. His father was Scottish, and mother was a “free woman of colour.” This might not seem important, but to someone like me it is. As I posted about earlier this week, I’m also of mixed descent similar to the first governor of BC.

Douglas encouraged people from the Black community in San Francisco to come and settle in BC. 800 Black people did come, and settled in Victoria.

To see people who look like you reflected in history sends a powerful message. It tells me that people like me have been a part of the story of Canada since the nation’s beginning.

You can learn more about James Douglas from the BC Black History Awareness Society.

Langley has a complex history between Indigenous people, French Voyageurs, settlers, and the Hudson’s Bay Company. I learned some of this when attending an event at Michaud House last summer.

As a nation, we are now talking about systemic racism. This is racism that is embedded into our institutions. One of the ways that we can break the cycle of racism is to teach the next generation more about our history, so they can both celebrate and be challenged by our collective past.

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