BCBHAS Event History

BC Black History Timeline

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs named “Person of National Historic Significance”
bronze plaque on concrete base
Designation Date: April 20,2009  “Our government is proud to honor a man who worked tirelessly for the local Black Community as a politician, businessman, and defender of human rights”.

On February 19, 2017, the plaque was presented to the BC Black History Awareness Society and the City of Victoria. On May 4, 2019 the plaque was unveiled at a ceremony at Irving Park, Victoria, B.C. where Gibbs home was situated. A reception followed at the sxʷeŋ’xʷəŋ taŋ’exw James Bay Library Branch. This library branch also houses the “Mifflin Wistar Gibbs Community Room” opened a year earlier in 2018. Dr. Verna Gibbs, great-great grandniece of Gibbs attended the ceremonies dedicating the room and the unveiling of the plaque.

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs 1823-1915 After helping lead the exodus of 800 Black residents from San Francisco in 1858, Gibbs became the recognized leader of their community on Vancouver Island. He strove to make these newcomers a force in colonial politics and, as a member of Victoria City Council; he became the first Black person to hold elected office in British Columbia. This innovative entrepreneur, who invested in mining and trade, also encouraged the integration of Black settlers and advocated for their rights. Though he returned to the United States in 1870, Gibbs remains a revered historical figure in the province’s African-Canadian community.

Image: Shayli Robinson, Photographer; BCBHAS Collection
Grave marker for Peter and Nancy Lester
grave marker standing white marker with black type face

Nancy and Peter Lester, with their two sons and one daughter joined the migration to Vancouver Island in 1858. They were both respected and active community members.  In 1890 they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Nancy passed away on February 10,1892. Peter Lester was a business man, invested in real-estate, well known and respected by everyone who met him; but after Nancy’s death he returned to the US; we have found no records of his death.

A similar grave marker was erected many years previous for Rebecca Gibbs by the Victoria Black Peoples Society (a forerunner of BCBHAS), in partnership with the Old Cemeteries Society.  Rebecca is considered one of Canada’s first Black female poets; she spent most of her life here in Barkerville. The reverse side of her grave marker cites her most famous poem “The Old Red Shirt” . This is Rebecca’s story.

white standing gravemaker with black lettering
Grave marker for Rebecca Gibbs. One of Canada’s first Black female poets.


Plaque unveiling “Black Pioneers in BC”
bronze plaque

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board plaque (designation date: 1997-09-22) commemorating the arrival of the Black settlers in 1858 as “an event of national historic significance” is located at the Central Saanich United Church, 7180 East Saanich Road, Vancouver Island,  formerly The Shady Creek Church. Society and church members, families and friends gathered for the plaque unveiling ceremony at the church on February 20, 2000.  

In 1858, nearly 800 free Blacks left the oppressive racial conditions of San Francisco for a new life on Vancouver Island. Governor James Douglas had invited them here as promising settlers. Though still faced with intense discrimination, these pioneers enriched the political, religious and economic life of the colony. For example, Mifflin Gibbs became a prominent politician; Charles and Nancy Alexander initiated the Shady Creek Methodist Church; John Deas established a salmon cannery; and the group formed one of the earliest colonial militia units, the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps.

The BC Black History Special Event Advisory Committee

The BC Black History Special Event Advisory Committee was formed to work in partnership with the Royal BC Museum to produce a Black History Special Event for February 1994 “in hopes of leading to a permanent and/or travelling Black History Exhibit”.

There were thirteen committee members and seven committee supporters. They held their first meeting on June 30, 1993. The 1994 event took place Friday, Feb 4 to Sunday, Feb 6. It included an historical exhibit, sports exhibit, fashion show, concert, films, and food. The committee reported that over 5,000 people attended.