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Columbia: The forgotten history of early British Columbia

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 what is now Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of Montana through the Kumtuks videos Losing Columbia and Keeping New Caledonia on YouTube.

This old territory is full of place names from the old Columbia and it maintains a cultural connection to this day which leads people to refer to the whole area as a single cultural region which they call Cascadia.

N.B. Please note there is an error in this video. There was extensive metal working but no actual foundry in Old Vancouver.