Monday, February 7, 2022

Celebrating the History of Black people in BC

I went to primary and secondary school in the 1990s. One of the most significant gaps in my education was the history of what is now called British Columbia. Our history was dismissed as “boring,” and we spent a lot of time learning about US and European history.

What I did learn about BC, growing up, I picked up from shows like CHBC’s Gold Trails and Ghost Towns, Heritage Minutes, or the Vernon Museum.

We had an Indigenous history program that the Okanagan Indian Band developed in my high school. It was optional, so I did not take it.

My completely wrong high school understanding of BC would have been that there was no one here until the railways from the east came with European settlers and Americans from the south came seeking gold. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Indigenous people have been on these lands since time immemorial, with rich histories and societies.

It wasn’t really until the last decade that I’ve started to learn the history of this place. It is complex, both beautiful and ugly.

Growing up in the Okanagan and being likely one of four biracial Black people in Vernon, it didn’t even cross my mind that Black people were also early settlers, but they were. Our current Cloverdale-Langley MP, John Aldag, informed me that James Douglas, the first Governor of the Colony of British Columbia, was biracial himself. This piece of history was news to me as an adult.

In Langley City, we have a street and a park named after James Douglas, the first Governor of the Colony of British Columbia.

James Douglas encouraged Black people to immigrate to BC from the US, and some Black folks settled on Salt Spring Island. A story that highlights systemic racism is the 1868 murder of William Robinson, a Black American. His murder resulted in the speedy trial and execution of Ich-yst-a-tis (also known as Tshuanahusset), a Hul’qumi’num-speaking Indigenous man. The problem was that Ich-yst-a-tis couldn’t have killed Robinson. Learn more about this murder on the site “Who Killed William Robinson?

Books like The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver highlight famous local Black people, such as Joe Fortes, the City of Vancouver’s first official lifeguard.

You can learn more in the Digital Museum “BC’s Black Pioneers: Their Industry and Character Influenced the Vision of Canada.

You can also learn more on the BC Black History Awareness Society website.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I agree I think we spend too much time learning more about the USA than our own Country or even Province. It’s time for a shake up in our educational learning in this Province and Country.