BC Black History Awareness Society (BCBHAS)

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” - Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr.

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Quick Facts

It is believed that the names
below were Black men who were part
of the Victoria Pioneer Rifle
W. Brown, Captain
R.H. Johnson, Captain
F. Richards, Captain
J.B. Johnson, 2nd Lieutenant
R. Ceasar, Sergeant
S.A. Stevens, Corporal
E.A. Booth, Paymaster
A.C. Richards, Secretary
P. Carter
A.H. Francis 

Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company

In 1858, thirteen years before British Columbia became the sixth province in the Dominion of Canada, a black man, Paris Carter, arrived in British Columbia. He is one of few known members of the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company and is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria.

Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company

In 1859, when the volunteer Fire Department was being created in Victoria, several blacks volunteered to serve but they were rejected by the white men organizing the committee. The blacks remained undaunted and went to Governor Sir James Douglas to offer their services as a volunteer militia unit. In view of a potential war between the United States and Canada over ownership of the San Juan Island, Douglas accepted. This “war” became known as The Pig War when an American settler shot a pig belonging to a British farmer.

By the Spring of 1860, 40 to 50 black men were enrolled in the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company. The corps was officially sworn in on July, 1861. The Royal Navy supplied drill sergeants and the volunteers built themselves a drill house on Yates Street which soon became a gathering place and social centre for the Black community. In the beginning, their weapons were antique flintlocks supplied by the Hudson's Bay Company. Sir James Douglas ordered better weapons from England but none reached the Black Militia.

Despite the early reception of the Black Militia, the corps seemed to have met less than enthusiastic recognition from Governor James Douglas. Appeals for rifles and funding were still unavailable to them and the unit was inactive during 1863.

In 1864 when Sir James Douglas retired as Governor, the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company was not allowed to officially attend his farewell banquet, causing a great outcry.

When the new Governor, Arthur Kennedy, was sworn in, the corps was refused entry to the ceremonies, ostensibly because the other volunteer fire brigades would not march behind them.

Shortly after the new governor's arrival, the Black volunteers marched to the Legislative Buildings to present an address of loyalty to the governor in which they made reference to the discrimination against them. Kennedy informed them he would try to breach the rift between whites and blacks, but nothing was done.

By the Spring of 1865, the unit had virtually disbanded in disgust. One of its former Captains, R.H. Johnson, wrote a letter to the Editor of the Colonist newspaper, stating, “...their enthusiasm and ardour as far as this colony is concerned have evaporated. This mean and scandalous manner in which they were treated upon the advent of Governor Kennedy is still fresh in their minds. Having as much human nature under their dark skins as others of a paler hue, they cannot forget the snubbing they received on that occasion...”