The first large wave of Blacks to go to British Columbia were invited by James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island, in 1858. Douglas, the son of an African Creole mother from the Caribbean and a European father, was sensitive to the concerns of African-Americans in California. Due to growing legal restrictions on their ability to live and work as equals, Black Californians were alarmed when a runaway slave was allowed to be arrested in California, and when only Blacks were suddenly expected to register.
A small group set out to examine Canada’s west coast, and, assured there would be no legal discrimination against them, returned with a favourable report. About 400 Black Californian families moved primarily to Victoria or Salt Spring Island, establishing themselves before the start of the gold rush. Their presence helped to increase the number of those who could be counted upon to support this British territory if the Americans tried to claim the land.
As a further caution against a possible American onslaught, the Black men of the community formed the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company to defend Victoria in 1860. They tried to become a permanent force, but did not get approval from London; they were barred from public ceremonies although many also provided police services. Somehow it was acceptable to do the hard work but nothing else. They had left California due to the intensely racist climate there only to find another flavour of the same dish in Canada.
Black Communities in British Columbia 1858-2008
News article about the exhibit "Black Communities in British Columbia 1858-2008."
Black Historical and Cultural Society of British Columbia
This society is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Black British Columbians. Check out the “Historical Snapshots” for biographies of noteworthy individuals.
Stories of Immigrants
A brief illustrated history of the Stark family who settled in the Gulf Islands. From the British Columbia Archives.
Sylvia Estes Stark
The story of the family of Sylvia Estes Stark who moved to British Columbia in 1860 to escape racial intolerance in California.
One School 1860-1872
A brief account about pioneering Black families and an early local school established on Salt Spring Island. From the Salt Spring Island Archives.
Blacks Found Gold Couldn't Buy Freedom
This website focuses on the hardships faced by Black Americans who journeyed to BC in pursuit of gold and freedom. A University of Washington website.
Gibbs, Mifflin W.
A profile of former influential Victoria city councillor Mifflin Wistar Gibbs. From the ABCBookWorld website.
Mifflin Wistar Gibbs
A detailed biography of Black businessman and politician Mifflin Wistar Gibbs from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Who Killed William Robinson?
Investigate the death of Black American William Robinson, who was murdered on Salt Spring Island in 1868. From the University of Victoria.
Hogan's Alley Memorial Project
The Hogan's Alley Memorial Project was founded in 2002 with the goal of preserving the public memory of Vancouver's original Black neighbourhood.
Black Pioneers to British Columbia
A brief account of the Estes and Stark families, who emigrated to Vancouver Island in 1858. From Voices, the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society.