Black Settlers: Their Influence on the Vision of Canada and Salt Spring Island

New online exhibit is a creation by the B.C. Black History Awareness Society with support from Digital Museums Canada.

With more than 500 exhibits Digital Museums Canada (DMC) is the largest source of online content and experiences shared by large and small Canadian museums and heritage organizations. These online exhibits explore history, culture, science and the arts, and feature fascinating stories and treasures from communities across the country.

The exhibit 'British Columbia’s Black Pioneers: Their Industry and Character influenced the Vision of Canada' features 20 stories, 9 videos, and 86 gallery items that include images, photographs, maps, and archival documents; all are bilingual.

Their story is unlike any other story in Canada. As the Fraser Gold Rush was heightening, the British desperately needed settlers and they needed them quickly, settlers who could help to cement Victoria, the capital of the Colony of Vancouver Island, as a British administrative, business and mining hub, thwarting any attempts by the Americans to assert territorial authority.

This exhibit reveals how a group of about 800 Black immigrants, invited to settle here by Governor James Douglas, helped to stabilize British colonial communities and keep this area of Western Canada from American hands. At the time of this migration, the province of British Columbia, as we know it today was made up of the Colony of Vancouver Island and the Colony of British Columbia. James Douglas was the Governor of both colonies.

The exhibit includes the story of the Stark Family who settled on Salt Spring Island as part of Governor James Douglas program.

After their arrival, Douglas’ involvement and support largely waned, leaving the Black pioneers to rely on their own industry, character and ingenuity to make a life for themselves and their families.

These pioneers were educated and skilled, became community leaders, business leaders, ministers, school board trustees and teachers. In the course of making a life in the area, the Black pioneers were an important part of the development of civic society and commerce.

The majority came from the western states where they were facing restrictive government legislation, ambivalence towards slavery and beatings, insults and legalized injustice. Even free Blacks were denied citizenship.

This story shines a light on the opportunities, struggles and achievements of these men and women.

The exhibit includes research from the Salt Spring Island Archives with research conducted by volunteers Ceridwen Ross Collins, Christina Marshall, Usha Rautenbach, Elsie Mountford and Emma Bishop along with special thanks to Judy Sims for her memories of the Estes-Stark Collection.

The story and history of the Black pioneers is an important part of understanding Canada’s multicultural society. Canadians are generally taught that Black people came to Canada to seek relief from the oppression of slavery or, more recently, from repressive socio-economic conditions in their home countries.

This story helps round out the picture of Canada by showing how this group of about 800 invited settlers contributed to the richness of the developing society in the West and were an integral part of its early formation.

Read the stories of this important and ongoing chapter of British Columbia and Salt Spring Island's history at

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By Salt Spring News

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December 27, 2020 10:23 AM