BC Black History Timeline

BC Black History Timeline

July 1 1834

About This Timeline

BCBHAS Black History Timeline banner with the word timeline in graphics
This BC Black History Timeline covers events in British Columbia as well as some significant events in Canada, the United States and/or globally that had/is having an effect on Black settlement and the experiences of Blacks in BC. The first Black settlers arrived in BC in April 1858, 24 years after the Abolition of Slavery Act; however Black Canadian history dates back to the 1600s.
Some events occurred on a specific date and others took place over a period of time.    
Why Timelines Matter …
  • Make connections between individual events and people and their relation to an era as a whole
  • Grasp the overlapping or concurrency of seemingly unrelated events
  • Notice patterns played out in history
  • Identify cause and effect relationships surrounding historical events
  • Improve recollection of events, people and places and their relationship to each other
August 1 1834

1834-08-01 Abolition of Slavery Act in the British Empire/Canada

The Abolition of Slavery Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1833, came into force on August 1, 1834.
The fine print: As an imperial statute, the Slavery Abolition Act liberated less than 50 enslaved Africans in British North America. For most enslaved people in British North America, however, the Act resulted only in partial liberation, as it only emancipated children under the age of six, while others were to be retained for four to six years as apprentices. Emancipation Day in Canada: Past, Present, and Future

United Nations Remember Slavery banner
Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade at the United Nations. ©United Nations. This Permanent Memorial was unveiled on 25 March 2015 to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade; located on the United Nations Visitors Plaza in New York, the memorial invites people everywhere to contemplate the legacy of the slave trade and to fight against racism and prejudice today.

Legalized slavery continued in the United States until the 13th Amendment was passed on January 1, 1865.


March 11 1850

March 11, 1850: Vancouver Island becomes a British Colony

The Imperial Government of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island was created on March 11, 1850. Richard Blanshard formally assumed office as Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island.

January 1 1851

1851-1864: James Douglas was Governor of Vancouver Island (1851–64) and British Columbia (1858–64)

official professional portrait of older manwearing tuxedo, winged collar, medal on lapel

In 1851 Douglas was Chief Factor for the Hudson’s Bay Company operating from Fort Victoria and the  Governor of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island, succeeding Richard Blanshard.

This colony remained as a separate British Colony from the mainland until 1866. Meanwhile, the mainland functioned under the defacto administration of the HBC, whose chief executive was James Douglas.

In 1858 the mainland area became the Colony of British Columbia, Douglas was named Governor and he continued as Governor of Vancouver Island.  It was Douglas who invited the San Francisco Black community to settle here. Read more

January 1 1858

1851 – 1898: The BC gold rush period lasted for about 50 years

These dates and places of gold finds in BC, considered the most significant, have been compiled from various sources. The 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush, 1859 Cariboo Gold Rush and the 1864 Leech River Gold Rush are the ones that are most significant for the Black settlers.
1851 Haida Gwaii Gold Rush
1858 Fraser River Gold Rush
1859 Cariboo Gold Rush
1864 Leech River (Vancouver Island) Gold Rush
1865 Big Bend Gold Rush
1873 Cassiar Gold Rush
1885 Granite Creek Gold Rush
1898 Atlin Gold Rush

April 14 1858

April 14, 1858: Douglas’s “emissary” Captain Jeremiah Nagle meets with the San Francisco Black community

On the evening of April 14,1858 at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in San Francisco, the Black community were celebrating the release of fugitive slave Archy Lee.

In the midst of these celebrations Jeremiah Nagle, captain of the steamship Commodore which sailed regularly between San Francisco and Victoria, arrived at the meeting. It is said that Nagle came well-prepared to the meeting with maps of Vancouver Island and a letter from “a gentleman in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company of undoubted veracity” giving details about the colony and inviting the Black community to come to the Colony of Vancouver Island.

The Pioneer Committee arrived in Victoria on April 25, 1858.


April 25 1858

April 25, 1858: The Pioneer Committee from San Francisco arrives in Victoria

bronze plaque inlaid on top of concrete causeway wall

 “In commemoration of the arrival in 1858 of the first group of Black settlers to the Colony of Vancouver Island”  On April 25th,1858 the Steamship Commodore sailed into Victoria harbour from San Francisco. On board were 450 gold seekers; and 35 Black people, the Pioneer Committee to meet with Governor Douglas. The delegation of three that met with Douglas included Fortune Richard, Wellington Delaney Moses and Mr. Mercier.

This plaque was installed by the City of Victoria on August 18, 1978.

August 2 1858

The Colony of British Columbia is established on August 2, 1858

This colony is the territory referred to today as “The Mainland” It was named by Queen Victoria, is separate from the Colony of Vancouver Island. It is said that Douglas agreed to sever his ties to the Hudson’s Bay Company when he became Governor of both the Colony of Vancouver Island and the Colony of British Columbia. New Westminster is named as the Capital.

September 30 1858

Applications for Citizenship

In September 1858, 52 Black men applied for Citizenship. (The Victoria Gazette). Their occupations were also reported.  Baker, Barber, Blacksmith, Carman, Carpenter, Carrier, Contractor, Cook, Cooper, Drayman, Farmer, Fruiterer, Gardener, Grocer, Hairdresser, Laundryman, Merchant, Messenger, Miner, Painter, Plasterer, Porter, Restaurant keeper, Saloon keeper, Ships carpenter, Ships caulker, Tailor, Teamster, Water carrier.



June 21 1859

Salt Spring Island settlers beginning in the summer 1859

The first pre-empters on Salt Spring from California arrived in the summer of 1859. They included E.A. Booth, Armstead Buckner, William Isaacs, and Fielding Spotts.

Later in the year settlers included Abraham Copeland, Levi Davis, W.L. Harrison, William Isaacs, the Jones brothers (John Craven, William, and Elias), William Robinson, and Hiram Whims. Daniel Fredison, a Black man from Hawaii, also settled on the island.

On this map the Salt Spring Island Archives has documented 26 Black homesteads

September 1 1859

John Craven Jones: first Black teacher in the Province and the only teacher on Salt Spring Island circa 1859 to 1875

Black & white portrait of older male in suit with full white beard

John Craven Jones graduated from Oberlin College in 1856 and taught for two years in a one-room school for Black students in Xenia, Ohio. When he moved to Salt Spring Island in 1859, he pre-empted 100 acres for his home; and with the support of the community, he resumed teaching.

There were 2 schools in rough buildings, hardly more than sheds, 1 in Vesuvius and 1 in Fernwood.

In total John had 25 students.  In 1869 when public funding began, Jones’ salary was $40.00 per month.
Read more

October 21 1859

The Religious Feud and the “Negro’s Corner”

This is an excerpt from an editorial published by the Daily Colonist on October 21,1859.

“We have received a circular addressed to all Impartial Men and Lovers of Right. It is issued by the Rev. W.F. Clarke. It appears a serious difference of opinion exists between him and his religious colleague the Rev. M. MacFie, respecting the propriety of mixing, promiscuously, colored with white Christians in church during Divine service.

Both gentlemen were sent here as missionaries by the English Congregational Missionary Society. Mr. Clark holds that Christianity knows no difference between the white and colored man; and therefore he will not suit the prejudices of anyone by creating a “negro’s corner” in his church. As a matter of ‘taste’ Mr. MacFie prefers separating them.”

  • The issue was finally settled about 10 months later at a meeting on August 14,1860 when The Colonial Missionary Society, based in England passed a resolution “That this committee never have sanctioned and never will sanction in Churches wholly or in part sustained by the funds of the Colonial Missionary Society, the compulsory separation, in places of worship, of the colored races from the white population.
March 21 1860

1860-1864 Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps

By the spring of 1860, 40 to 50 Black men were enrolled in the VPRC and were officially sworn in July, 1861. The Royal Navy supplied drill sergeants and the Corps financed and built a drill house.

Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps standing in ranks with band members
About 20 members of the Victoria Pioneer Rifles Corps stand in their ranks with the British flag in the background. A brass band formed part of the unit: a few musicians can be seen on the left. Written in the bottom border “Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps. Also known as Sir James Douglas Colored Regiment” Image F-00641. Courtesy of Royal BC Museum and Archives

March 31 1860

“First Victoria Directory” is published, based on recognized names 27 Black men named in the directory of citizens

The “First Victoria Directory” was first published in March 1860.

This Directory is “comprised of a general directory of citizens, also, an Officials list, list of voters, postal arrangements and notices of trades and professions; preceded by a preface and synopsis of the commercial progress of the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Illustrated”

In the general directory of citizens’ an estimated 27 Black men (based on name recognition) are listed.

sepia toned, water-stained page with rectangular business advertisement
Advertisement for Edwards & Fox, Barbers on page 40.


September 25 1860

On British Soil He was Free: The case of Charles Mitchell

Charles Mitchell, enslaved since boyhood, on September 1860 was a stowaway aboard the SS Eliza Anderson sailing from Olympia Washington to Victoria. When the steamer arrived in Victoria word soon spread that a slave was being detained on board. “As many as 700 people gathered dockside on September 25th, 1860 calling for his release.” Royal BC Museum and Archives. The case was taken immediately to the BC Supreme Court; who declared Charles Mitchell a free man because he was on British soil. Watch the video produced by the Royal BC Museum in a seriesThis Week in History: Charles Mitchell, from slavery to freedom.

April 12 1861

April 12, 1861 the American Civil War begins

On April 12, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln declared war between the Union and Confederate states.

At the start of the war it is estimated there were four million enslaved in 15 states and territories, “owned” by 52,128 slaveholders.
Estimates in some states of enslaved persons: Virginia: 490,865; Maryland: 87,189; Washington: 3,181; Delaware: 1,798; Nebraska: 15; Kansas: 2.

It is also estimated there were about 400,000 free African Americans.

The War ended on April 9, 1865.

September 25 1861

Victoria, BC: Black patrons only permitted in theatre gallery seating

Reported incidents of discrimination in Victoria’s theatres date back to 1860.  In all the incidents, the newspapers received numerous letters from readers both supporting and condemning the Black community. The most noted incident occurred on Wednesday evening, September 25, 1861.

  •  Mifflin Gibbs, his wife Maria and family friend Nathan Pointer and Pointer’s daughter attended a hospital benefit at the Victoria Theatre.  Maria was due to give birth to their first child in October. Both families were seated in the dress circle. At the end of the performance they were doused with flour.
  • A melee broke out; charges were filed against all involved but at the trial the judge acquitted the four whites charged in the incident, Gibbs admitted assaulting one man, Ryckman, and was fined five pounds, the charge of assault against Nathan Pointer was dropped for lack of evidence.

Theatres now began publicly stating Black patrons could only be seated in the gallery. Black residents petitioned both Douglas and later Kennedy but no remedy was made.


November 15 1861

Jacob Francis nominated for a seat in the Legislative Assembly

In 1861 there was a by-election in Victoria for two vacant seats in the Legislative Assembly.

On November 15, 1861 Jacob Francis was nominated by James Thorne and J.D. Carroll as a candidate.
One other nominee, Joseph Trutch who was not in the colony at the time; and an objection to his nomination was raised on the grounds that he was not present to swear the oath of allegiance required of all candidates. Nevertheless, his nomination was accepted.

There were four candidates for the two vacant seats and the results of the voting were: Trimble – 38, Trutch – 36, Francis – 11, and Young – 4.  Trimble and Trutch were sworn into office.

Despite Francis’ 3rd place, there was public debate and support for Francis’ claim to the seat because of Trutch’s earlier absence. Francis’s petition failed; Trutch’s election stood.

June 1 1862

Dandridge House is constructed

sepia toned taken from side angle of 2 story shingled and gabled house with porch, fence and trees at front house

John and Charlotte Dandridge arrived in Victoria in 1858. John Dandridge is one of the men who applied for citizenship in 1858.

In 1860 they were joined by their daughter, Sydna Edmonia Robella, her husband Abner Hunt Francis and their daughter Theodosia, age about 16.

John, with most of the financing from his daughter and son-in-law built this house. Original location was on Johnson Street; then circa 1897-98 moved to Rudlin Street.

Following a major restoration project, the home received heritage designation in 2003. More about “The House That John Built” and what the current owners have to say.

Image: Dandrige House, circa 1872, courtesy of current owners   

July 4 1862

“Shall a Coloured Man drink in a white man’s bar?”

Jacob Francis fought discrimination by suing two bar owners who refused to serve him. He was not successful in April 1860, but in July 1862 the outcome of his second case affected liquor service establishments and practices generally.

Gazette, April 23, 1860. “Refusing Drinks to Colored Men – Jacob Francis vs. Milotich”. In this case involving the refusal of Milotich to serve Jacob Francis a drink, Judge Cameron classified the saloon as an inn and ruled that since Mr. Francis was not a guest, he was not entitled to be served. Therefore, “no injuries were sustained” by Francis nor could “damages be given”.

Colonist, June 26, 1862. “Wouldn’t Let Him Drink”. Notice is given that Jacob Francis had a summons served on the proprietor of the Bank Exchange, Mr. Lovett, who refused to give Francis a drink in his saloon. Evidence is heard in court over the next few weeks.

Colonist, July 5, 1862. “Shall a Colored Man Drink at a White Man’s Bar” In the conclusion of the case Francis v. Lovett, the magistrate ruled that any barkeeper refusing service to Black men would not be given a license or would be find five pounds sterling and their license would not be renewed.

November 1 1862

John Giscome and Henry McDame begin their northern B.C. exploration

Giscome Portage Trail sign hanging from timber arch

In the fall of 1862 John Robert Giscome and Henry McDame begin their trek to explore northern BC, and the provinces we know today as Alberta and Saskatchewan.

On December 14,1863 the Daily Colonist published a detailed account from Giscome of their explorations.  They had spent about a year trekking and travelled about 330 miles.

In 1898 one of the creeks they had explored was named McDame Creek in the 1st Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, previous to this the locals referred this creek as Nigger Creek.

The origin of what is today called Giscome Portage Trail is with the Lheidli T’enneh peoples who used this trail as one of their trade routes. They named this trail Lhdesti or “the shortcut”. The “Giscome Portage Trail Protected Area” was designated an official Heritage Site July 17th, 1997. BC Parks took over management of the trail when it was designated a Protected Area in the year 2000.

Image Courtesy of Kevin Creamore, Prince George 

January 1 1863

January 1, 1863: United States Emancipation Proclamation

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln went into effect, however it did not abolish slavery. The Proclamation, written the previous September, declared free all enslaved people in the Confederate States (or portions of those states) who resided in territory still in rebellion against the United States. As the Union Army captured more Confederate territory it would also liberate enslaved people living in that territory.

It was only through the Thirteenth Amendment that emancipation/abolishment of slavery in the United States become national policy. It was passed by the US Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865.

July 1 1863

July 1, 1863: Business Tax Assessments for 22 Black businesses

newspaper business advertisement

Government Gazette lists “Persons liable to pay taxes under the provision of the ‘Trade Licenses Amendment Act, 1862’ for the half-year commencing July 1, 1863”. Based on recognized names, 22 Black businesses are listed. Most were assessed between $300 and $600.00. Nathan Pointer’s clothing store had the highest assessment of the Black businesses at $2,600.00.


April 13 1864

“Committee of Colored Ladies of the British Colony of Victoria (V.I.)” support Black soldiers fighting in the American civil war

hand-written letter on faded writing paper

These colored forces were called “contrabands”.
Early in the war, enslaved men and women began offering to fight for the Union forces. In August (1861), the US Congress passed the Confiscation Act of 1861 making legal the status of runaway slaves. It declared that any “property” used by the Confederate military, which included enslaved people, could be confiscated by Union forces. To further strengthen this Act, Congress passed a law in March 1862 prohibiting the return of slaves.

On April 13, 1864 this Vancouver Island committee sent a donation with a letter to the then vice-president of the United States, Hannibal Hamlin.

”… and though many miles divide us from those who have the burden to bear in this great struggle for human liberty, our hearts are with you unto death.” 

Read the letter

August 4 1864

August 1864: Gold Discovery at Leech River on Vancouver Island

newspaper advertisement about the gold find

The Industry Company: In the summer of 1864, four men, Samuel Booth, George Munro, John Tyrel and William Dyer discovered gold on the Leech River, about 40 miles west of Victoria. On August 4, 1864 the local newspaper reported “This splendid specimen of gold appears to be entirely pure. On being weighed it was declared to contain 4 ounces, 6 dwts, or $73.20!!”  The 4 men formed the Industry Company.
Unlike the distant Fraser and Caribou gold finds, prospectors could travel from Victoria overland by trail or by steamer within a day. Stores, hotels and other mining-related businesses were quickly established but within 18 months were abandoned.