British Columbia

B.C.'s 150th anniversary in Canada comes and goes with little attention

The gap between funding announcements and concrete plans reflects the ongoing transition in many governments in Canada in talking about colonial history.  

Province says $30 million will be spent on reconciliation events later this year

A view of the interior of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in Victoria, taken in December 2017. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of British Columbia joining Canada — but if you missed the occasion, you weren't alone. 

After promising $30 million in this year's budget to mark the 1871 anniversary, the B.C. government has yet to announce details of who the money will go to, or any events or initiatives scheduled. 

"We are consulting with stakeholders on the best way to deliver this program, and expect to have more to say about this in the coming weeks," wrote the Ministry of Municipal Affairs in a statement when asked about their plans.

"While the history of our province includes many moments of progress, it also has dark chapters and a colonial legacy that continue to inflict pain upon communities to this day. That's why we are providing $30 million in funding to help local governments and First Nations bring programs to light that educate people about our past, advance reconciliation, and promote inclusivity and diversity for our future."

No minister was available for an interview on how the B.C. government wanted to acknowledge the anniversary. 

'Complicated and discomforting'

The gap at this point between funding announcements and concrete plans reflects the ongoing transition in many governments in Canada in talking about colonial history.    

"Celebrating B.C. joining confederation is a complicated and discomforting feeling for a lot of people, including a lot of Indigneous people," said Squamish Nation Councillor Khelsilem, who agreed that any anniversary events should be rooted in education rather than celebration. 

"There were still a lot of discriminatory laws and policies that were targeting Indigenous people, and Indigenous people were never meaningfully involved in B.C. joining Confederation."

Another reason for the lack of activity could lie in the fact there were already events and funding for events celebrating the 150th anniversary — back in 2008, to mark the founding of the Colony of B.C.

"[1858] was perceived to matter more because it was a fundamental change in the status of what is today British Columbia. It became a real place, so to speak, a real separate [political] place on its own," said historian Jean Barman, author of the pre-eminent book on general B.C. history, West Beyond The West

Implications of choosing Canada 

At the same time, historians agree that Confederation was an important event in B.C.'s history in a variety of ways, including ending the debate over whether the colony would remain independent or join the United States, giving the government financial stability due to Canada taking over debts, providing the railway, which led to a population boom, and ceding control over Indigenous issues to a different level of government. 

"This wasn't kind of a given that B.C. would join Canada," said Dr. Kelly Black, a historian and executive director of the Point Ellice House Museum in Victoria. 

"The particulars around how the province is structured and the jurisdiction that the province has over certain matters is all connected to the 1871 terms of Union and we should be thinking about that as we think about what the future of British Columbia looks like."

Black believes that B.C.'s lack of discussion so far about its 150th year in Canada is a "missed opportunity," and believes more funding for museums and conversations about the province's past are essential.  

"I don't like to use the word celebrate in connection with this anniversary but I think we definitely, definitely need to reflect on it," he said. 

"If the province is not willing to recognize that it's time for an investment in these kinds of institutions and this kind of history work, then we're going to just continue to have a deficit of knowledge and understanding about the past."