Celebrating Sir James Douglas

Nostalgia 361 – By Godfrey Chin   – Sunday, February 24th 2008

The recent launch of my docutext Nostalgias took me last October to Vancouver, British Columbia (BC) for a fascinating experience. After entertaining the Guyanese Posse in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, Clyde Duncan , their President, insisted on an extended tour of the city.

Finally we went up a hill in the suburbs of the city to Fort Langley, cold bussing tail. This ’short pants’ tropical mudlander did not walk with warm clothing, but his trembling heart ignited, as a tall, sombre statue loomed in the shadow of the car’s beaming headlight.

The bronze memorial plaque read: “Sir James Douglas 1803-1877 / As the first Governor of British Columbia 1858-1864 James Douglas proclaimed the new crown colony at Fort Langley, on Nov 19, 1858.”

And then the biggest surprise of my life since I passed Scholarship, June 1948 at Smith Church, Clyde presented me with a paperback. In the dark pine shadows I barely discerned the title on the grey tones of the cover, but I managed to make out Old Square-Toes and his Lady: The Life of James and Amelia Douglas.

I knew Clyde was familiar with my voracious appetite for reading, but then he calmly mentioned, with that glint of pride which we mudlanders proudly proclaim at every opportunity wherever and whenever our Golden Arrowhead flies: “Sir James is Guyanese.”

He coulda knocked me over with a feather, but the grass was wet as a baby’s diaper in the biting 42º temperature. Thank heavens, as a West Indian cricket fan, nothing in life or sports will ever surprise me again.
Man, ah was anxious to read immediately in the flashing shadows of our return trip. It was dejà-vu as I became as engrossed as I used to be when I received my sons’ high school quarterly term test results in the Banlon years back home! Mangoes sometimes fall far from the mango tree.

Hell, reading about Sir James Douglas, was better than Ludlum’s Bourne Identity, and my host Trev Sue-a-Quan must have baulked at my burning his electricity thru’ the night, and inconvenienced by my late arrival for breakfast next morning. Ya think it easy!

I share here a brief synopsis of who Sir James Douglas was and the role he played in the founding of British Columbia, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
Sir James Douglas, August 15, 1803-August 1877
– as recorded in the History Department at Douglas College
James Douglas was a mixed-race kid from a single-parent family. But education and hard work got him to the top of the ladder – he even earned a knighthood.

That’s not a modern success story, but the thumbnail tale of Sir James Douglas, the founder of modern British Columbia. Born in British Guiana in 1803, the son of a Scottish plantation owner and Martha Ann Ritchie, a free black woman from Barbados, his prospects weren’t great. But his father sent him to a preparatory school in Scotland. His natural smarts and his education helped Douglas rise to become head of the Hudson Bay Company’s Pacific region.

Douglas married Amelia Connolly, a woman of mixed Cree and Irish-Canadian heritage. He became Governor of the Crown Colonies of Vancouver Island and BC and was knighted upon retiring.

BC historian Margaret Ormsby wrote of him: “A practical man, but yet a visionary, Sir James Douglas was also humanitarian. He treated individuals, including Negro slaves and Indians, with a respect that few of his contemporaries showed.”

Douglas College is proud to bear the name of Sir James Douglas.

Canada Post plans to issue a stamp this year (2008) in recognition of Sir James as they celebrate the 150th anniversary of the province of British Columbia. In January 2008, Clyde Duncan, President of the Guyanese Canadian Cultural Association of BC, visited Guyana and met President Jagdeo recommending a commemorative stamp issue in this country also.

The Overseas Guyanese Group also plan to have a bronze statue of Sir James Douglas cast and erected in Georgetown, during Carifesta 2008.

Left to Right: Clyde Duncan , Bert Allsopp, past Mayor of Langley Township-Kurt Alberts,Lady Point, Lt. Governor Steven Point, John Aldag – Manager of the Historic Site Fort Langley at the kick off of the BC150 celebration 1858 – 2008.