A history of British Columbia Day


“Wheras, divers of Her Majesty’s Subjects and others have, by the Licence and Consent of Her Majesty, resorted to and settled on certain wild and unoccupied Territories on the North-West Coast of North America, commonly known by the Designation of New Caledonia, and from and after the passing of this act to be named British Columbia, and the Islands adjacent, for Mining and other purposes; it is it is desirable to make some temporary Provision for the Civil Government of such Territories, until permanent Settlements shall be thereupon established, and the Number of Colonists increased…”

An Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia August 2, 1858

Today is British Columbia Day – BC’s incidentally named civic holiday which is observed on the first Monday of August. Unlike Canada Day or Fête nationale in Quebec which are highly visible celebrations, B.C. Day seems to be little more than an Administrative afterthought that was intended to bring British Columbia into line with the rest of Canada.

John Innes' 1925 painting "James Douglas Taking The Oath As First Governor of BC, A.D. 1858" on display at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.
John Innes’ 1925 painting “James Douglas Taking The Oath As First Governor of BC, A.D. 1858” on display at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.

The August holiday came about as a result of the British Columbia Day Act which was introduced in 1974 by Ernie Hall who then served as Provincial Secretary in Premier Dave Barrett’s cabinet.

“August 1, or the closest working day to it, is a statutory holiday in every other province in Canada,” he said. “By coincidence, an Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia, which changed us from the Colony of British Columbia, was passed by the parliament in the United Kingdom on August 2, 1858. That was before Social Credit, I think, but only just.”

Since the proposed holiday closely aligned with the anniversary of the passing of “An Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia” the Barrett government dedicated it to the memory of “the pioneers who built the colony of British Columbia into the great province it is today”.

Other members, including, Vancouver South MLA Daisy Webster, praised the proposed holiday for its practical benefits.

“Mr. Speaker, I, too, am very much in favour of having a holiday on August 1,” she said. “I was brought up in Manitoba, and there we used to have a civic holiday on August 1. When I went to Ontario, they had a civic holiday there on August 1. I came to British Columbia and I felt I was deprived.”

The Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia.
The Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia.

Langley MLA Bob McLelland, however, stressed the historic importance of the summer observance and reminded his fellow members of Douglas Day, British Columbia’s other provincial holiday.

“Mr. Speaker, I certainly don’t intend to oppose this bill, but I want to recognize that the drafters of the bill have correctly included a tribute to James Douglas who, on the 19th day of November, in Fort Langley, British Columbia, proclaimed the Act setting up the Government of British Columbia,” he said. “I want again to get in an annual plea that the cabinet continue its regular cabinet meeting in Fort Langley on the 19th day of December. Perhaps, while it’s in a holiday mood, it might think about extending the celebration of Douglas Day to the rest of the province instead of isolating it at Fort Langley, recognize that famous day for what it is as well, and recognize, of course, that Fort Langley was the first capital of British Columbia.”

That proclamation took place over three months after the Act received Royal Assent in London.

In delivering the speech of the Lord Commissioners to the House of Lords Frederic Thesiger, 1st Baron Chelmsford as Lord Chancellor expressed a vision of British Columbia, not as a distinct society or nation, but the westernmost extent of British North America. The establishment of British jurisdiction, he argued, was an urgent matter.

Statue of Sir James Douglas at Fort Langley
Statue of Sir James Douglas at Fort Langley

“The Act to which Her Majesty has assented for the Establishment of the Colony of British Columbia was urgently required in consequence of the recent discoveries of Gold in that District; but Her Majesty hopes that this new Colony on the Pacific may be but one Step in the Career of steady Progress, by which Her Majesty’s Dominions in North America may ultimately be peopled, in an unbroken Chain, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, by a loyal and industrious Population of Subjects of the British Crown,” said Lord Chelmsford on August 2, 1858.

The name of the colony, one of the most remote and least populated in the British Empire, was selected by Queen Victoria.

“If the name of New Caledonia is objected to as being already borne by another colony or Island claimed by the French, it may be better to give the new colony West of the Rocky Mountains an other name,” wrote the Queen in In a letter to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the English novelist, poet, playwright, and politician who served as Secretary of State for the Colonies on July 24, 1858. “New Hanover, New Cornwall and New Georgia, appear from the maps to be the names of subdivisions of that country, but do not appear on all maps, the only name which is given to the whole territory in every map the Queen has consulted is ‘Columbia’ but as there exists also a ‘Columbia’ in South America and the Citizens of the United States call their country also Columbia at least in poetry ‘British Columbia’ might be in the Queen’s opinion the best name.”

Letter from Queen Victoria in which she recommends the name "British Columbia" for this land.
Letter from Queen Victoria in which she recommends the name “British Columbia” for this land.

During the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Lords Henry Pelham-Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle, who felt the name “British Columbia” was neither very original nor very felicitous, stressed the importance of establishing a permanent colony on the Pacific.

“Steps should be taken to lay out a town, and to adapt the lands to agricultural pursuits, and prevent the colony from becoming the receptacle for ruffians; steps should be taken to introduce habits of decency and order, to establish a certain amount of force, such as would keep the inhabitants in decency and good order, and thereby obviate the difficulties that attached to the first days of a colony of this description,” he said.

Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon was a more sentimental about the new colony and expressed his hope that British Columbia would prove to be “one of the most loyal and devoted of those which paid allegiance to Her Most gracious Majesty”.

Fort Langley today
Fort Langley today

“A complete revolution had recently taken place in that country, which was bounded on the west by the Pacific, on the east by the Rocky Mountains, on the south by the territory of the United States, and on the north by a chain of hills, lakes, and rivers, and which embraced an extent of about 400,000 square miles,” said Lord Carnarvon. “That district, but a short time since tenanted only by wild beasts and still wilder savages, with here and there a hunter, had suddenly become the scene of gold discoveries, and was already the theatre of action, enterprise, and adventure.”

My treasured teacups from the B.C. Centennial in 1958
My treasured teacups from the B.C. Centennial in 1958

A a fifth-generation British Columbian I view this province, especially the coast, as not only my home but my homeland. It is no Canuck hinterland or Imperial link for me. It is the centre of my world and while I am Canadian I can’t deny the deep affinity, connection, and synergy I feel with certain wild and occupied Territories on the North-west coast of North America, commonly known by the Designation British Columbia.

I am a resident of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada who has blogged here for 20 years. I like to share my thoughts and feelings on my own online space. From 1998 until 2017 I worked as a journalist and I hope to use this website as an archive for all of my stories.


  1. I just recently found a certificate from the BC centennial that was given to the small lumber company by grandfather partially owned. It has W.A.C. Bennett’s signature on it and I think it was signed by hand.

  2. Interesting read Nathaniel. Our family were pioneers here before there was a B.C.,among the first inhabitants, with the exception of the Aboriginals, who were considered savages by the British. Times have changed, thankfully. Cheers!

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