The Father of BC Was a Good Father

Posted by Howard on Jun 15, 2013

Since it's Father's Day, it might be appropriate to cast a glance backward at the father of British Columbia, Sir James Douglas. When I learned about Old Squaretoes in school the curriculum of the day made him seem like the most boring, stuffiest old stuffed shirt imaginable. He was invariably described as a Scot in those days and nothing was said to indicate there was anything more interesting about his ancestry than that of any of the other sturdy but humourless Scots who populated our history books. How much more fun it would have made him if we'd been told the truth! Because it turns out this man who became father to all British Columbians himself had no father--at least not one he could call his own. James Douglas was actually born in South America, the illegitimate product of an alliance between a Scots planter named John Douglas and Martha Tefler a bi-racial Surinamese woman. Although John Douglas didn't bother to legalize his colonial offspring, he wasn't an entirely negligent father because he saw to it that the boy was taken to Scotland and given a proper British education. But that was about as far as fatherly indulgence went, and at the tender age of 16 young James was dispatched to the wilds of British North America where in 1819 he was indentured to the Northwest Company, a low-budget startup in the fur trade that filled its ranks Scottish lads of poor prospects. After attempting an end-run around the more established Hudsons Bay Company by beating it to the fur-bearing lands of the far west, the Northwest Company gave up and merged with its larger rival in 1821. James Douglas became an HBC man, assiduously working his way up the corporate ladder. Following the example of his father, he formed an alliance with a bi-racial woman of the country, Amelia Connolly, but unlike his father and unlike other prominent fur traders such as HBC Governor George Simpson, who kept his "country wife" out of sight, Douglas and Amelia were formally married and Douglas proudly stood by her, even later when he became Governor of British Columbia. Their union produced thirteen children, of whom six survived, and Douglas was by all accounts a great father, maintaining a close relationship with his family and sparing no effort to see his children well educated and provided for. Happy Father's day, Sir James!