James Douglas began his career in the fur trading industry, working for the ‘North West Company’ and the ‘Hudson’s Bay Company’. He quickly ascended to the rank of Chief Factor. He oversaw the construction of numerous forts and developed a favorable attitude toward Native Americans. However, his personal views frequently clashed with the company’s and later with the Crown’s interests. He was an outspoken opponent of slavery. He rose to the position of Governor of Vancouver Island. During his tenure, he established the Victoria Voltigeurs, Vancouver Island’s first private army, to guard the territory against the United States. He ruled the Island with firmness and efficiency. He recognized that if the uncontrolled rush of Americans to the Fraser River region continued in the aftermath of the discovery of gold, the Americans would lose control of British Columbia. As a result, he stationed a warship at the river’s mouth and granted licenses to prospectors and merchants. He was also appointed Governor of the colony of British Columbia upon its establishment. His accomplishments include the construction of the Colony of Vancouver Island’s Legislative Buildings, the Cariboo Road, improvements to the Esquimalt harbor, and land acquisition from Native Indians. Queen Victoria knighted him for his services. He is widely considered to be the “Father of British Columbia.”
Childhood & Adolescence
John Douglas, a Scottish planter, and Martha Ann Tefler, a free person of mixed European and African ancestry, had a son named James Douglas. They had numerous children together but were not married in the traditional sense.
James was sent to Lanark, Scotland, for education in 1812. He later attended school in Chester, England, where he learned to communicate fluently in French.
Career Development and Later Life
James Douglas, 16, joined the North West Company’s fur trade in 1819 and relocated from Liverpool to Lachine, Lower Canada. He spent a year as a clerk at Fort William, Ontario.
In 1820, he was transferred to le-la-Crosse, a community on the Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan. There, a powerful competitor, ‘The Hudson’s Bay Company’ (HBC), was also active, and minor armed skirmishes were common.
He began his education by reading books brought over from the United Kingdom. He established cordial relations with Canada’s various Aboriginal peoples, or First Nations peoples who were not Inuit or M tis.
The rivalry between the companies came to an end in 1821, when the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company merged. Douglas joined the HBC as an employee and was quickly promoted within the company.
He established Fort Connolly on Bear Lake in 1827. He made a favorable impression on his superior, William Connolly, with his abilities, and the two got along well.
In 1828, his relationship with the First Nations suffered a setback when he shot and killed a native in retaliation for the murder of two Hudson’s Bay traders. Connolly transferred him to Fort Vancouver out of fear for his life.
He was Chief Accountant for the Company’s Columbia District for 19 years in Fort Vancouver. He was promoted to the critical position of Chief Trader in 1834.
In 1840, he was appointed Chief Factor, the HBC’s highest rank for field service. He visited California and obtained permission from the Mexican administrator to establish a trading post in San Francisco.
Douglas established Fort Victoria, which proved invaluable when the Oregon Treaty extended the border between British North America and the United States along the 49th parallel, from the Rocky Mountains to the Strait of Georgia, in 1846.
Douglas relocated the headquarters from Fort Vancouver to Fort Victoria in 1849, when Britain leased Vancouver Island to the HBC on the condition that a colony be established.
Douglas was appointed Governor of Vancouver Island by the British government in 1851. To counter the United States of America’s expansionist pressures, he founded the Victoria Voltigeurs, Vancouver Island’s first private army.
During his governorship, he oversaw the establishment of public elementary schools, the implementation of alcohol control measures, and the construction of the Victoria District Church. Additionally, he established an elected Legislative Assembly that would later oppose him on a number of issues.
Gold was discovered in the Fraser River in 1856. To establish British jurisdiction over the territory, he stationed a warship at the river’s mouth and issued mining and merchant licenses.
British Parliament established the Colony of British Columbia in 1858 and appointed him Governor. He retained his Governorship of Vancouver Island. He resigned from the HBC.
The Legislative Buildings for the Colony of Vancouver Island were officially opened in 1860 and were dubbed ‘The Birdcages’ due to their period style. H.O. Tiedemann was their architect.
James Douglas was tasked by the British government with the responsibility of constructing a hospital at Esquimalt harbor and enhancing harbor capacity. The area gained significance in 1865, when the North Pacific Squadron established its headquarters on Vancouver Island.
Significant Works of James
Between 1850 and 1854, James Douglas negotiated treaties with Native American tribes and obtained for the Crown fourteen parcels of land totaling 570 square kilometers in exchange for pitiful compensation.
When the Cariboo Gold Rush began in 1862, he directed the construction of the Cariboo Road, which would run 400 miles from Fort Yale to the Barkerville gold fields in three years.
Awards and Accomplishments
In recognition of his service as Governor of Vancouver Island, James Douglas was appointed ‘Commander of the Order of the Bath’ in 1858. Queen Victoria promoted him to ‘Knight Commander’ upon his retirement.
Personal History and Legacies
In 1828, James Douglas married Amelia Connolly, the daughter of William Connolly, New Caledonia’s Chief Factor. The couple had thirteen children, but only seven reached adulthood.
He died at the age of 73 in Victoria. His funeral procession was perhaps the largest in British Columbia’s history, and he was laid to rest in the Ross Bay Cemetery.
Numerous roads, schools, and natural landmarks bear his name. Sir James Douglas Elementary School was built in 1910 in Victoria on the site of Sir James Douglas’ former farm.
Estimated Net Worth
The net worth of James is unknown.
He became the second Governor of Vancouver Island, succeeding Richard Blanshard. He was succeeded as Governor of British Columbia by Frederick Seymour.