British Columbia History

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

You will need some understanding of the historical events that affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. Records of these events, such as land and military documents, may mention your family.

Your ancestors’ lives will be more interesting if you learn about the history they may have been part of. For example, in a history you might learn about the events that occurred the year your great-grandparents were married.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Some of the significant events for British Columbia include:

  • 1579: Vancouver Island was probably sighted by Sir Francis Drake.
  • 1741: Vitus Bering, sailing for Russia, reached the coast.
  • 1774-75: Two Spaniards, Juan Perez and Bodega y Quadra, explored the shore line.
  • 1778: Captain James Cook claimed the coastal region for the British Isles.
  • 1788: East India Company built a trading post at Nootka.
  • 1789: A Spanish party settled in Nootka. The Nootka Convention gave Spain and Britain equal  trading rights.
  • 1792-94: Captain George Vancouver surveyed the coast from San Francisco north to the Bering Sea.
  • 1793: Alexander Mackenzie reached the Pacific near Bella Coola.
  • 1795: Spain renounced claims to the area.
  • 1807: David Thompson crossed the Rockies by the Howse Pass and explored the upper Columbia.
  • 1808: Simon Fraser followed the Fraser River to the sea.
  • 1811: Thompson descended the Columbia to its mouth.
  • 1821: By merger with the North West Company, the Hudson's Bay Company secured a monopoly of trade west of the Rockies.
  • 1827: British and Americans began moving into the disputed Oregon Territory north and west of the Columbia.  
  • 1843: The Hudson’s Bay Company founded Fort Victoria.
  • 1846: The 49th Parallel Treaty was created.
  • 1849: Vancouver Island became a Crown colony, with Victoria as the capital.
  • 1856: The first legislature met on the island.
  • 1858: The mainland became a Crown colony, with New Westminster as the capital.
  • 1860: The Cariboo gold rush began.
  • 1862: The Cariboo Road was cut through to the gold fields.
  • 1863:The first salmon fishery on the Fraser was established.
  • 1866: The colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia were united.
  • 1869: Victoria became the capital of both former colonies.
  • 1871: The Province of British Columbia was formed on 20 July 1871, joining Confederation.
  • 1885: The Canadian Pacific Railway line was completed to the coast.
  • 1892: The Sullivan lead-zinc-silver deposits were discovered at Kimberly.
  • 1903: The Alaska Boundary Dispute was arbitrated.
  • 1930: British Columbia acquired control over its natural resources.
  • 1942: The Alaska Highway was constructed.
  • 1951: Kitimat project was begun by the Aluminum Company of Canada.
  • 1953: The Trans-Mountain oil pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver was begun.
  • 1956: Construction of the Westcoast Transmission natural gas pipeline to Vancouver was begun.

Historical Sources[edit | edit source]

The Family History Library has some published national, provincial, and local histories. See the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog Surnames Search under:

  • A Short History of Canada [1]
  • The Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society, 1712–1857 [2]

Canadian Sources[edit | edit source]

Encyclopedias also include excellent articles on the history of Canada. Many books and articles on Canadian history are listed in these annotated bibliographies:

  • A Reader's Guide to Canadian History. I. Beginnings to Confederation. [3]
  • A Reader's Guide to Canadian History. II. Confederation to the Present. [4]

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Local histories are some of the most valuable sources for family history research. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of early settlers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may provide important clues for locating your ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search.

Published histories of towns, counties, districts or other municipalities, and provinces often contain accounts of families. Many district, county, and town histories include sections or volumes of biographical information. These may give information on as many as half of the families in the area. A county history is also the best source of information about a county’s origin.

The Family History Library has about 300 district histories from the Prairie Provinces and fewer township and county histories from the rest of Canada. Similar histories are often at major Canadian public and university libraries and archives.

Bibliographies that list histories for some provinces are in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. Morton, Desmond. A Short History of Canada. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1983. FHL book 971 H2md.)
  2. MacNutt, W. S. The Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society, 1712–1857. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1965. (FHL book 971.5 H2mws.)
  3. Muise, D. A., ed. A Reader's Guide to Canadian History. I. Beginnings to Confederation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. (FHL book 971 H23r v. 1)
  4. Granatstein, J. L., and Paul Stevens, eds. A Reader's Guide to Canadian History. II. Confederation to the Present. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. (FHL book 971 H23r v. 2)