June 10th, 1862 and the Seizure of British Columbia from its First Nations

The route of smallpox in June 18622012 is the 150th anniversary of the smallpox epidemics which depopulated what is now the province of British Columbia in 1862. June 10 was a special day within that year.

Agents for the Bentinck Arm Company first imported smallpox to Victoria in the Colony of Vancouver Island on March 12. Depopulation, deposing the native regimes and seizing the land began that day. On April 28, the colonial police began evicting natives from Victoria and area, all the while forcing sick and healthy natives to mix creating an explosion of disease.

June 10 marked the beginning of a sustained assault on the neighboring Colony of British Columbia. Shortly afterward, settlers would add the Colony of Queen Charlotte Islands to this program as all three British Pacific colonies were depopulated simultaneously. Over 75 percent of all the Haida people would die within a few months, a sign of systematic disease introduction.

On June 10, after visiting Dr. Clerjon at the Ft. Rupert H.B.C. post on Vancouver Island, a party led by Francis Poole would begin introducing smallpox at Bella Coola and then along the route of the proposed Bentinck Arm road through Tsilhqot’in territory to the Fraser River. Within 30 days an eye-witness estimated 75% of the Nuxalk at Bella Coola were dead or dying from the disease. Over 75 percent of all the Tsilhqot’in people would be dead before year end, a sign of systematic introduction. The usual means of introduction in these cases was to have smallpox infected people circulate in villages to breathe on someone at each house.

About June 10, Dr. Henri Deschene was seen performing some procedure on Tahltan natives in the area of the Stikine gold rush. In his wake, over 75 percent of all the Tahltan died. Further down the coast, the Oweekeno would say, “The medicine they sold us started the disease.” Also about June 10, a “government doctor” would be seen performing some procedure on natives at Lytton. The disease would then explode in the Fraser Canyon, the Okanagan and along the South Thompson River.  Death rates over 75 percent in targeted communities were common.

Those ultimately behind this disease assault were descendants of Scotch Jacobite immigrants to the Canadian colonies. By some chance, June 10 is also the most celebrated day on the Jacobite calendar, White Rose Day: the birthday of the king which the Jacobites would have restored to the English throne. The genocide of Jacobite sympathizers in Scotland then led to the Scotch diaspora, with the first wave arriving at Nova Scotia in 1773.  It would continue with the creation of a Gaelic-language colony at Red River under the auspices of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1811 and a second H.B.C. colony under the control of its subsidiary the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company on Vancouver Island in 1849. So it was that Gaelic migrants, Scotch and Irish,  fleeing “progress” or conditions of genocide in their homelands, and seeking a new homeland, first came to the Pacific Shelf where the indigenous people were the sovereign powers…until 1862.

Want to learn the full story? Check out Tom Swanky’s book: “The True Story of Canada’s ‘War’ of Extermination on the Pacific.”

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About Shawn Swanky

Shawn Swanky is a Canadian filmmaker, storyteller and movie fan. Shawn is currently producing a documentary that investigates the horrific British Columbia smallpox epidemics of 1862 called, The Great Darkening. Join Shawn's network by becoming a fan on Facebook , following him on Twitter or subscribing to his newsletter.

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