Why do we have a B.C. Day?

August 1 celebrates our province

Why do we have a B.C. Day?

As our Aug. 1 public holiday approaches, most of us will be thinking more of how to enjoy it rather than why we have it.

But I found it interesting to learn why we do have a day off in August and not in February, March or June – the other months with no holidays (unless Easter is in March, not April).

Weather could be one reason, though this year, who knows?

But that’s not the only reason.

In 1974, a Member of Parliament said: “We feel that B.C., like every other provinces, could benefit, and should have a holiday around August 1st,” and in 1996, the British Columbia Day Act finally was officially enacted.

Coincidentally, the United Kingdom Act of Parliament that created the colony and government of British Columbia was passed Aug. 2nd, 1858, so the date of our celebration is an apt one.

The name was chosen by Queen Victoria, who gave her own name later to the capital. For the colony itself , she used the existing ‘Columbia District,’ the name the British had for the upper regions of the territory drained by the Columbia River.

The ‘British’ part of the name distinguished us from the ‘American Columbia’, or ‘Oregon Territory,’ as that later became.

Between the founding of British Columbia and the eventual adoption of the first Monday in August as a public holiday, a great deal of pioneering took place, and that is exactly what the legislature wanted to celebrate – not to mention the millennia of First Nations’ habitation that preceded the arrival of first the Europeans, and later immigrants from all over the world.

In those early days, half the aboriginal peoples of present day Canada lived in the Pacific Northwest, on the coast and inland.

We all recognize the well-known names that followed: Captain James Cook, whose voyages along this coast established British jurisdiction here; Sir Alexander Mackenzie, whose first (European) journey across North America finished in Bella Coola; Simon Fraser, who gave his name to our mighty river; David Thompson, and many others.

But had the Spanish and Russian explorers and would-be colonists who also plied these coasts (see all their names on maps) taken over, we would never have been British Columbia, and maybe not had this holiday.

And who knows how we would have developed without the early arrival and activities of the Hudson Bay Company, the originator of the fur trade and subsequent exploration?

In 1871, B.C. became the sixth province to join Confederation and was promised that the Canadian Pacific Railway would push through the Rockies to the coast. That happened in 1885, at which point British Columbians became truly part of  Canada.


Carla Reed is a member of the Maple Ridge Historical Society.