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British Columbia
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In 1858, a London Times correspondent revealed the secrets of a hidden part of the British Empire.
British Columbia had few women settlers in the early days of the colony. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
British Columbia had few women settlers in the early days of the colony. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

"The soil and climate are good, healthy and genial: timber, coal, and fish abound without limit... and as the country becomes better known to the world, there can be no doubt that its advantages will be better availed of," wrote Donald Fraser about the British territory west of the Rocky Mountains.

That same year, Queen Victoria declared the region a new colony and called it British Columbia. Soon the isolated but resource-rich colony would start attracting waves of settlers, putting it on the road to Canadian Confederation.

By the 1860s, white settlers were putting down roots in British Columbia after the transient days of the gold rush. The young colony attracted people seeking a fresh start and they joined about 75,000 Indians who already lived in the region.

In the early days, settlement on the West Coast faced a major obstacle. There were almost no white women and the church frowned on marriages to native women. One settler complained of his loneliness.

"There is probably no country where the paucity of women in comparison with men is so injuriously felt... Oh! If 50 or a hundred should arrive from England every month until the supply equaled the demand, what a blessing it would be to us."

Women were sent for, and in 1862, the first boatload of women arrived from England. Commander Edmund Hope Verney watched the women as they left the ship.

"One female was carried up helplessly intoxicated, and two or three more were evidently the worse for liquor..." noted Verney. "There is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind... (t)hat at least one or two of the women are thoroughly bad and must have been so before leaving England."

In the years to come, more boatloads of women arrived and many married local men.

As the young colony strove to develop, it hoped to attract other settlers with generous land grants. The colony offered 160 acres to European settlers while Indian families were expected to make do with ten.

Some settlers had no qualms about displacing the Indian population. Amor de Cosmos, editor of the British Colonist newspaper, wrote:

"Shall we allow a few vagrants to prevent forever industrious settlers from settling on unoccupied lands? Not at all... Locate reservations for them on which to earn their own living, and if they trespass on white settlers, punish them severely."

Fourteen Indian bands had signed treaties with the British - giving them some protection from encroachment by settlers. But Joseph Trutch, British Columbia's new land commissioner, wanted these rights rolled back. He called the previous agreements purely symbolic.

"These presents were, as I understand, made for the purpose of securing friendly relations between those Indians and the settlement of Victoria, then in its infancy, and certainly not in acknowledgement of any general title of the Indians to the lands."

During the 1860s, Trutch refused to recognize Indian land titles and often usurped Indian land and gave it to speculators and settlers.

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