Proto-British Columbia

Before British Columbia, there was just “Columbia”, governed by the Hudson Bay Company, and excluding European settlement for other purposes. When Canada-US border was settled the 49th parallel, what was left became “British” Columbia.

For 150 years the Nation State has been the dominant for of government. People today can hardly imagine anything else. But for most of history a host of other forms have thrived. The Company State was both fully business and fully government. The Hudson Bay Company and East India Company were the largest. Between them they governed ten percent of the Earth’s surface and population. As governments they held the title “Honorable”. Their headquarters were next to each other in London. They shared both people and ideas. These Company States protected their interests from the Nation State. They occasionally turned their guns on the Royal Navy and had different foreign policies. The HBC government was neutral toward Russia in Alaska while Britain fought it in the Crimea. Company States were not just state-like or quasi-governmental nor “imitations” or ”extensions” of the Nation State. They should be understood as governments on their own terms. The Honorable Hudson Bay Company was the legal government in the Hudson Bay watershed and it governed Columbia to the Pacific Ocean through 21-year agreements. In proto-British Columbia it created and defended settlements, managed the economy and administered transportation, communication and legal systems. It was not a Nation State with total sovereignty over bound territory. It shared overlapping heteronomy with First Nations and it respected their legitimacy. Its economic success depended on healthy Native communities and cultures. Many Aboriginal people embraced the global economy, welcomed manufactured products and provided export goods. Some became the Home Guard around each trading community, acting as middlemen for trade and providing defence. The Hudson Bay Company state was secular Banned missionaries, encouraged mixed-race marriages and restricted European settlement. It practised harm reduction over prohibition and it managed resources to protect the environment, refusing to purchase endangered… Read More »Government in Proto-British Columbia

Government in Proto-British Columbia

In the late 1800s, the Parliaments of British Columbia and Canada voted in racist laws against the Chinese minority. One institution that stood against them was the Canadian Senate. In the late 1800s, the Parliaments of British Columbia and Canada voted in racist laws against the Chinese minority. One institution that stood against them was the Canadian Senate. Few elected politicians at that time were willing to oppose the racist views of the white majority. When British Columbia was governed by the Honorable Hudson Bay Company, institutional racism was not tolerated. But in 1871 British Columbia became a full democracy in which the majority could make the rules for the minority. In the very first Parliament, the BC Legislature made it illegal for Chinese and native people to vote. When the Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Head Tax the Canadian Senate revolted. Senator William Macdonald, former Hudson Bay Company man, called it ‘a diabolical Bill with not a shadow of justice or right on its side’. Senator Willliam Almon said, ‘how will we say there is a dividing line between Canada and the United States? Can we any longer point with pride to our flag and say that under that emblem all men… are equally free?’ When the legislation was sent to the Senate, Robert Haythorne said ‘it is difficult to amend a Bill based on a wrong principle, and the principle is a bad and cruel one.’ Senator James Dever contrasted Canada with the United States and said he could not understand how Canada could ‘prohibit strangers from our hospitable shore because they are a different colour and have a different language’. Senator Richard Scott said ‘it is so repugnant… one can hardly discuss it in a proper frame of mind’. The Parliaments ultimately… Read More »First Nations Architecture, Building, & Culture

First Nations Architecture, Building, & Culture

This video is about the formative time before we were officially named British Columbia. Columbia, or Proto British Columbia, was the direct precursor of our province and its tragic story haunted the important figures of our early history. Its story contains important lessons and inspiration for our future. The North West Company established the first long-term presence on the West Coast. It created two administrative districts called New Caledonia in the north, run from Fort St. James and Columbia in the south, run from Fort George (now called Astoria). When the North West Company was taken over by the Honorable Hudson Bay Company these territories were amalgamated into one called Columbia. Because the HBC was given the powers of government it created its new capital in Vancouver (now in Washington State). This form of government is called a Company State, exactly like the East India Company that governed India. For over two decades the HBC created a multicultural society living in peace with First Peoples. Its working languages were French and Chinook Wawa, a hybrid language made originally mostly from Chinook and French. Columbia was the original area that is sometimes called Cascadia, which comes from the French word used for the mountains ‘Les Cascades’. After the 1846 Border Treaty (also called the Oregon Treaty) was implemented in 1849, many of the people from Columbia went north to the new Columbia, British Columbia — especially since the new US regime did not allow black people or Hawaiians to live in their newly acquired territory. In the north, political governance was from Victoria, Langley and New Westminster, although many settled in what is now Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby, Coquitlam and some around Burrard Inlet and False Creek. You can learn how more about how ‘British’ Columbia lost… Read More »Columbia: the Forgotten History of British Columbia

Columbia: the Forgotten History of British Columbia