British Columbia And Confederation

Until the last thirty years the Province of British Columbia has occupied a detached position, and it may be well to recall some of the facts of her history.

In 1849, Vancouver Island was constituted a Crown Colony, and in 1858 what was formerly called New Caledonia was created a second Crown Colony, under the name of British Columbia, and included all that is now known as British Columbia, excepting Vancouver Island.

Prior to its entry into Confederation, and indeed for some years after that event, the means of transportation in the province were altogether bad. Railways were conspicuous by their absence, roads not good, and certainly not plentiful, and there was no postal or telegraphic communication with the country to the east. Vancouver and British Columbia were colonies merely in name, for although in the former there existed a legislative assembly its vote could not remove the executive officials, the power to do this being vested in the Governor and his officers. A legislative council was organised in British Columbia in 1863, consisting of thirteen members, but only three of these were elected by the people, five being government officials, and the other five magistrates appointed by the government. The first meeting of this council was held in 1864, when the expenditure was given as £192,860 and the revenue as £110,000. At this time, the whole white population of the colony of British Columbia was but small, probably under 8,000, and the taxes were very high. In Vancouver Island in 1864, the white population was estimated at about 7,500, but as expenditure was much less, the taxes were correspondingly lower. But, taking the two colonies together, it has been estimated that the tax per capita amounted to L19. The excess of expenditure over revenue, and the constantly increasing debt, made loans for the colony of British Columbia difficult to float in the London market, and also made the rate of interest payable on such loans very high. The sister colony of Vancouver Island was, at the same time, passing through a period of severe financial depression, and it was decided by its legislature that expenditure must be curtailed. This was done, and when Captain Kennedy, a newly-appointed Governor of the province, landed at Victoria in 1864, he was met by the intelligence that his salary, and that of his officials, had been struck off the estimates. In this juncture, after several expedients to relieve the financial position had been suggested, it was decided, by the Government of Great Britain, to unite the two colonies, and this measure was passed in 1866.

Although the British North America Act was passed by the home government in 1867, British Columbia did not join the Union until 1871. At the conference held in Quebec in 1864 the province was not represented in any way, and, as its admission seemed a remote contingency, all matters relative to it were deferred for future consideration. A resolution was, however, passed, providing that British Columbia and Vancouver Island should be admitted into the Union on such terms as were considered equitable by the Parliament of the federated provinces, and as might be agreed to by the legislature of the province. After the passage of the Act, the people of British Columbia were eager to be admitted into the Confederation, and the subject was brought up at a sitting of the legislature in 1868. This came to nothing. The matter, however, progressed, and in 1871 an address to Her Majesty the Queen was passed, praying for admission into the Union under the terms of the British North America Act. So in that year British Columbia became a portion of the Dominion of Canada.

Some badly needed means of communication by sea were provided for, but undoubtedly the most important of the terms was the undertaking, by the Dominion Government, to construct a railway from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains, to connect the seaboard of British Columbia with the railway system of Canada. This undertaking was naturally all-important to the province and its development ; which, in the past, owing to the want of facilities of the kind, had been exceedingly slow. But little could be done to utilise its immense natural resources, and great tracts of a country abounding in mineral and forest wealth, together with agricultural lands of the first order, were practically untrodden.

The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, of which the projected line formed a part, was first authorised in 1870. Under the charter, the time for beginning expired in 1873 ; but in 1878 nothing had been done in British Columbia beyond exploratory surveys. The people of the province were much discontented at the non-realisation of the chief hope with which they entered the union, and roundly charged the Federal Government with breach of faith. This discontent had been growing for some time, for in 1874 a delegate was sent to London for the purpose of laying the matter before the home government. A compromise was, however, arrived at, which was known as the ” Carnarvon terms.” The long and continued delay had caused a feeling of strong resentment in the province, and it was stated that, if the Canadian Government failed to carry into effect the terms accepted by them, withdrawal from the Confederation would be the result. At last, in 1885, land was broken for the railway, and construction was then continued practically without interruption, until completion in 1888. Much railway building has taken place in the province since then, but there can be no doubt that the opening of that first railway communication was the means of raising it out of the slough of despond into which it had fallen, and of bringing it to the high level of prosperity it enjoys to-day.