New digital exhibit highlights B.C.’s Black pioneers

A new digital exhibit has been launched to bring more awareness to B.C.’s Black history, which dates back to the 1850s.

Launched by the BC Black History Awareness Society, the exhibit is titled B.C.’s Black Pioneers: Their Industry and Character Influenced the Vision of Canada and looks at the contributions these pioneers made in shaping the province.

“I don’t think people are aware of the struggles that the pioneers went through,” BC Black History Awareness Society president Silvia Mangue said. “Not just the Black [people, but] also the Irish, the Polish, the Germans, the Ukrainians.”

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The exhibit highlights how a group of up to 800 people of African descent migrated to B.C. in the mid-1800s.

“Much of the Black community that came at the end of 1850 came from the U.S., mostly fleeing from increasing oppressive Californian legislation that sought to protect the rights of slaveholders,” cultural anthropologist Adam Rudder said.

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The early settlers landed in Victoria Harbour and were met with a hospitable welcome by Governor James Douglas, whose mother was of African descent.

Some stayed in Victoria while others went to Salt Spring Island and even as far north as Barkerville.

They settled on dispossessed Indigenous land and despite the racial prejudices they also encountered in B.C., they went on to do great things.

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John Craven was Salt Spring Island’s first teacher. He taught Latin, philosophy, and even human rights to children of all different backgrounds, working for many years without pay.

The names of several other pioneers can be found on Government Street in Victoria, including Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, who was elected to Victoria City Council in Nov. 1866 and was a delegate at the Yale Conference, which framed the terms of B.C.’s entry into Confederation. His contribution is marked on a plaque in Victoria’s James Bay.

These pioneers left their mark on the B.C. we know today and the BC Black History Awareness Society is working to ensure their stories are not forgotten.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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