Smallpox did not arrive at Port Douglas on the south end of the Douglas road at Harrison Lake until January. Then two merchants travelling down the Cariboo Wagon Road brought the disease to Lillooet. Tradition has it that the disease arrived in blankets that had been infected with smallpox and then repackaged as new for trade. As in other documented cases, such as that of John McLain who admitted taking smallpox-infected blankets to Tatla, those traders were also disease carriers.
Since no Colonial official had even contacted any Tsilhqot’in official before July 20, 1864, let alone begun treaty negotiations, it is impossible for any Colonial law to have become extended before then to Tsilhqot’in territory. What, then, led British Columbia to martyr these Tsilhqot’in officials before a crowd estimated at 250 in one of the largest and most dramatic mass hangings in Canadian history?
On Aug. 18, 1862, taking advantage of the Cowichan having fled “in the wildest state of alarm” as smallpox swept through the fertile land coveted by settlers, Governor James Douglas invaded Cowichan territory with gunboats, men at arms, surveyors and 100 settlers. Douglas had been trying since 1852 to subjugate the Cowichan so that he could give their land to speculators who would, in turn, flip it to settlers wishing to farm
It was my honor yesterday to meet Cecil Planedin. Cecil identifies himself as a Doukhobor wood-block printer. Doukhobors have hands on experience with religious persecution in Canada, with promises to minority communities made and broken, and with enforced assimilation. Like me, he was amazed to learn that a one acre mass grave of several hundred northern native smallpox victims in Victoria could go without being generally known.
This is the annual B.C. Day holiday weekend. However, before Canadians can celebrate B.C. Day with a good conscience, we have work to do. 150 years ago this year, perhaps 100,000 B.C. natives all died within a few months. Among some indigenous Peoples, such as the Haida, Tsilhqot’in, St’at’imc and others, the death toll was as high as 80 percent or more of their whole number. By way of comparison, the death toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki is commonly estimated at less than 40 percent of those cities.
August 2 is the 150th anniversary of Victoria’s incorporation. In the weeks before, all natives had been expelled from Victoria and their houses burned. The colonial regime of James Douglas had decided natives would be allowed to remain in the European settlement only if a settler certified that they had employment.