Written by Afua Cooper
In 1858, eight hundred black women, men, and children landed in Victoria BC from San Francisco, California. They were fleeing California’s repressive Black codes, in hope of finding a life of freedom in the new Crown colony of Victoria. Significantly, it was also in 1858 that the colony of Victoria was founded. The Black pioneers, as they came to be called, were thus one of the founding groups of the colony and made their mark in diverse ways.
Though Victoria came to be the hub of the Black community in the colony/province, the African population spread out to other locales namely, Nanaimo, Kamloops, Salt Spring Island, Deas Island, Vancouver, and other places throughout the province. Furthermore, since 1858 to present time, numerous other Africans throughout the Black Diaspora have journeyed to British Columbia. These immigrants arrived from other parts of the United States and Canada, from the Caribbean Islands, from the Pacific Islands, and from Africa throughout these 150 years. Black Communities in BC.
The history of Black people in British Columbia is largely unwritten. It is also not particularized in a gender specific way. The Ruth Wynn Woodward Chair in the Women’s Studies Dept. at Simon Fraser University seeks to correct this by curating an exhibit which documents the history of Blacks in BC, particularly women, through photographs. This exhibit has several objectives: to document this unwritten history of the Black presence in BC; to celebrate that experience; to pay homage to the women and men who helped to build British Columbia, and finally, to commemorate the Black presence as part of the Province’s 150th founding anniversary commemorations.
Partners, sponsors, and collaborators for this project include the Provincial Archives in Victoria, the Vancouver Archives, the Vancouver Public Library, the BC Congress of Black Women, Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project, the History Department, at Simon Fraser University, The Gender and Women’s Studies Department, and the Centre for Culture, Identity and Education, UBC, the BC Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and Canadian Heritage.