The Columbia District

Map of the Oregon Country "jointly occupied" by the US and Great Britain; the Columbia Department at its greatest extent included areas far to the north and south.

Queen Victoria chose to use the Columbia District for the foundation of the name for the Colony of British Columbia.

The Columbia District was a subsidiary of the enormous fur trading British Hudson Bay Company (stationed in what is known as Ontario today). It reached into British Canada from the region known as “Oregon Country” in what would become the state of Oregon in the United States. To the north of Oregon Country, there was New Caledonia.

The First British Columbia Colonial Governor

New Caledonia was administered by the Hudson Bay Company which was run by James Douglas (1803 – 1877) who was a bureaucrat of the Hudson Bay Company. James Douglas was also the first British Colonial Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island from 1851 – 1864. He is habitually called the “Father of British Columbia”.

Hernandez Explores Region

The first European to sight, examine, name and record the islands located in the future Columbian and Caledonian regions was the Spanish explorer Juan Jose Hernandez (1725 – 1775). He was on an expedition for Spain to colonize all of the west coast of North America which was claimed in the 1493 papal bull. It also contained the rights written within the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas.

The Treaty of Tordesillas

The Treaty of Tordesillas was precise about the demarcation line in leagues from the islands of Cape Verde. But, it did not identify detailed islands or the extent of its league. So this meant that matters had to be dealt with by means of a joint voyage which never came about. A league is a unit of length or area which was, at the time, expressed in distances of a person or a horse measuring an hour’s walk.

Land Changes According to Treaty

The Columbia District was administered from Fort Vancouver located on the Columbia River. When the Oregon Treaty was signed in 1846 which fixed the 49th parallel, part of the Columbia District became Oregon Territory. Therefore, the changing of the administrative headquarters became Fort Victoria located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria founded in 1843.

Gold Found Near Caledonia

New Caledonia became recognized as a region of the British coast laying just north of Puget Sound. This area was part of the Columbia District along with additional unchartered land parts. That changed when gold was found in 1858 in Fraser Canyon. Then towns grew as a result of the “Cariboo Gold Rush” as it was so called in order to capitalize off the gold found.

Columbia District Becomes British Columbia

Even with the territorial loses to the United States in 1858; Queen Victoria chose to use the Columbia District for the foundation of the name for the Colony of British Columbia. This was after the creation of Crown Colony on the British mainland north of the Washington territory.


  1. Crow, John A., The Epic of Latin America (4th Ed, University of California Press, 1992) p.136. ISBN-0520077237
  2. Ged, Martin, “The Naming of British Columbia,” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1978), pp. 257-263.