British Columbia: Just a Little Different

I lived in British Columbia for six years.  The province is flat out awesome!  It is, however, a little different than the rest of Canada.  Growing up in Saskatchewan, we used to have one or maybe two television channels on a good day.  Everything seemed to happen outside of Saskatchewan in places like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.   Furthermore, our roads and railways always seemed to me to be taking everything outside of Saskatchewan to far off destinations. As a result, I, like many other residents of Saskatchewan, saw myself as Canadian first, and a Saskatchewanian second. I learned very quickly that this was not the case in British Columbia.  People from British Columbia are British Columbian first.

Even just a quick glance at the province shows that British Columbia is a bit different than its provincial brothers to the east. For one, it is separated from the rest of Canada by the mountains. It has more geographic features and climate variation than perhaps the rest of Canada combined.  Its economy and trade patterns are different.  British Columbia also has differences when it comes to history.

First Nations people inhabited British Columbia first.  That is no different. There is, however, this Spanish element to British Columbia that the rest of Canada does not have. Spanish explorers explored the coast of British Columbia well before Alexander Mackenzie got scared off by the Heiltsuk Nation and painted his name on a rock in 1793.  Even the fur trade was based on sea otter pelts and not beaver like the rest of Canada.

British Columbia is very much like the rest of Canada, in that it came from what was left over from the United States.  At first part of British North America left after the American Revolution, British Columbia and the rest of the great North-West became of interest to American president James Polk in 1844.  Basically, the United States became really good at expanding.  The 1800s was a great time to be an American and there was this view that it was just simply a natural progression that all of North America would eventually be the United States. This was known as Manifest Destiny and it is an idea that a few historians and economists would suggest has never really died.  In 1844, however, it wasn’t just an idea, it was a belief that many Americans, including Polk, felt should be acted upon. He was even willing to go to war over it.  His battle cry was “54’40 or fight”.  This meant that James Polk wanted the United States to extend to the 54th parallel, not the present day 49th parallel. If this were to happen in present day Canada, the border would be north of places like Edmonton, Prince George and Saskatoon and about where Smithers, Slave Lake and La Ronge are located.  Essentially 98% of Canada’s population would be American.

Needless to say, this never happened.  Great Britain worked out a deal with the United States that established the 49th parallel as the border between the United States and Canada.  A few years later in 1858, a gold rush in the Fraser Valley brought many people to British Columbia (it wasn’t known as British Columbia yet)  and it would later join Canada as a full province in 1871.

Here is a brief video summary:

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The Pemmican War of 1811-1816

We have seen that while the eastern part of North America was involved in wars and rebellions from a period of 1756 to 1837 (Seven Years War, American Revolution, War of 1812, 1837 Rebellions), the northwestern part of North America was still very much in the thick of the fur trade.

Two fur trading companies, the Hudson`s Bay Company and the North-West Company were battling it out to see who could make the most money buying and selling furs in North America. It wasn`t much of a battle.  The Hudson`s Bay Company had a massive geographical advantage in that it could take ocean-going ships half-way across the continent, whereas the North-West Company had to rely on an elaborate system of lakes and rivers that old French fur traders had established during the days of New France. The North-West company remained competitive as long there was new territory to find and exploit.  This ended in July of 1793 when Alexander Mackenzie reached the Pacific Ocean by land. This meant that there was simply no more fur trading areas to reach.  The Hudson`s Bay Company`s competitive advantage eventually started to wear on its failing competitor.

To further pressure the North-West Company, the HBC began opening up areas for agricultural settlement.  Agriculture and settlement meant the end of the fur trade and when the HBC started the Selkirk settlement in southern Manitoba, the demise of the fur trade soon followed.

The problem with the Selkirk settlement was that is was strategically located where the Metis had set up shop trading and supplying Pemmican to the North-West company voyageurs.  The Metis owed their livelihood (not to mention their origin)to the fur trade.  The Selkirk settlement was a clear and direct threat to their way of life. When the Metis mentioned to the HBC that they maybe could have moved their settlement somewhere that wouldn`t bring about the ruin of the Metis way of life, arguments started.  These arguments led to armed battles, which for a five-year period between 1811 and 1816 became known as the Pemmican War.  The last and most violent of these battles was at Seven Oaks in 1816.  Here is a summary:

By the way, pemmican seems like really cool stuff.It is a mixture of powdered dried meat, berries, and sugar or honey.  Apparently,  it can last for years and is highly nutritious and calorie dense.  It could sustain voyageurs for months at a time. Here is a recipe that I found and that we will try in class.

Pemmican

Recipe # 1

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups lean meat (deer, beef, caribou or moose)
  • 3 cups dried fruit
  • 2 cups rendered fat
  • Unsalted nuts and about 1 shot of honey

Instructions:

Meat should be as lean as possible and double ground from your butcher if you do not have you own meat grinder. Spread it out very thin on a cookie sheet and dry at 180 degrees F for at least 8 hours or until sinewy and crispy. Pound the meat into nearly a powder consistency using a blender or other tool. Grind the dried fruit, but leave a little bit lumpy for fun texture. Heat rendered fat on the stove at medium until liquid. Add liquid fat to dried meat and dried fruit, and mix in nuts and honey. Mix everything by hand. Let cool and store. Can keep and be consumed for several years.

The Durham Report and Responsible Government in Canada.

So we know that Great Britain messed up.  They taxed the United States into rebellion in 1776 and blamed it on too much freedom. Determined not to mess up again, Great Britain forced an oligarchy on what remained of its British North American colonies (Canada).  To no one’s surprise, this led yet again to rebellion in 1837 in Upper and Lower Canada.  Still unsure of why their colonies had this nasty habit of rebelling, Great Britain appointed Lord  “Radical Jack” Durham to both govern its North American colonies and also find out the causes of the rebellions.

Durham told of his findings in the now famous (guess what?) Durham Report.  Basically, he reported what the United States knew decades earlier: People generally like a say in how they are governed (i.e. responsible government).  The thing is, Great Britain rejected the Durham report! Instead, they opted for a kind of hybrid between Durham’s recommendations and what they had already established for government in the colonies. This led to among other things, the Act of Union in 1841, separation of English and French speaking Canadians, separate schools and overall a unique (or weird) political system that would be a forerunner of Canadian Politics.  Here is how it went down:

Rebellions in Canada?

It has often been suggested that one of the fundamental differences between the United States and Canada is that the United States was born out of a revolution while Canada was created by an Act of the British Parliament.  While this is true, it is an understatement.

In fact, some of the same sentiment that led to the American Revolution also led to rebellions in Canada in 1837 and this, in turn, led us down the road towards nationhood.

You see, one of the causes (and I stress one) of the American Revolution was “taxation without representation.”  Great Britain was taxing its  13 colonies, but those colonies did not have any political power or really any say in British government at all.

After the American Revolution, Great Britain’s response to its colonies’ desire for representative democracy was to further restrict democracy in its remaining North American colonies!  Basically, they set up an oligarchy where a few appointed officials made all of the key decisions in Upper and Lower Canada while elected assemblies had very little political power.

Two separate failed rebellions (really, they were more like riots) ensued and the road to Confederation began.