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Annexation Movement in British Columbia

In the late 1860s, British Columbia was the focus of a pro-American annexation movement. Its supporters were primarily Americans, and immigrants of non-British ethnicity who lived in the colony but had no special ties to the British Crown. During this period British Columbia was in the middle of a long recession. The union of the Vancouver Island and British Columbia colonies in 1866 had not eased the situation. There were two obvious alternatives: American annexation or union with Canada.

Just how close British Columbia ever came to annexation is uncertain. Nevertheless, the debate was fuelled by two important events in 1867: Canadian Confederation, which took place on July 1, and the American purchase of Alaska. Some believed that the Americans would attempt to link their territories along the west coast by claiming British Columbia. There were rumors, apparently false, that negotiations to do so were already underway between the Americans and the British. Newspapers pointed out that the British could have ceded the colony to the United States as payment for the Alabama claim.

In 1867, the first annexation petition was circulated in Victoria. It was addressed to the Queen and asked either that the British government assume the colony's expenses and debts, and establish a steamer link between the colony and Britain, or that the colony be permitted to join the United States. It is unknown how many signatures the petition gathered, or if indeed the Queen ever received it. Nevertheless, it caught the attention of Governor Frederick Seymour and the Colonial Office, which resolved to promote union with Canada more vigorously.

In 1869, with the colony's fate still unresolved, a second petition, this one more strongly worded and addressed to the President of the United States, was circulated in Victoria. It was actually circulated twice, gaining just 43 signatures on the first circulation, and another 61 on the second. It was taken to San Francisco by Vincent Collyer, the special Indian Commissioner for Alaska, and presented to President Ulysses S. Grant on December 29, 1869. Although the signatures represented a small fraction of the 5,000 people then living in Victoria, the annexation movement gained attention with the petitions, both in British Columbia and abroad. It undoubtedly increased the resolve of those committed to Confederation.

Sources

Ireland, William E.  --  "The Annexation Petition of 1869".  --  British Columbia historical quarterly.  --  Vol. 4, 1940.  --  P. 267-287.

Ormsby, Margaret.  --  British Columbia : a history.  --  Vancouver : Macmillan of Canada, 1971.

Shelton, George.  --  British Columbia and Confederation.  --  Victoria : Morriss Printing Co. Ltd., 1967.

Woodcock, George.  --  British Columbia : a history of the province.  --  Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre, 1990.