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With an almost unlimited abundance of natural resources, specifically fish and timber, British Columbia was the longtime home of a wide variety of indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
In the late 18th century a variety of Spanish
explorers, based in Mexico
, charted the coastal waters and quickly laid claim to the entire area for Spain.
In 1778, Captain James Cook of the British
Royal Navy sailed into the area while searching for the Northwest Passage. Reports of his productive exploration (as well as others) would later bring eager speculators into British Columbia, all hoping to trade with the locals.
By the end of the century, the British influx into an area previously claimed by Spain
produced a few minor skirmishes, but by 1795, the Spanish influence in the area had ended.
Soon British employees of the North West Company, a fur-trading business based in Montreal, were exploring the mainland; forts and trading posts were built and agreements reached with the indigenous population.
In the 1820s, the Hudson's Bay Company merged with the North West Company. This massive business now controlled trade of all types across much of Canada, and in what is now called British Columbia.
When they established a trading post at Victoria in 1843, the United States
staked its claim to part of the land in what was then called Oregon County.
That dispute over land rights was finally settled in 1846 between British North America and the United States. The 49th parallel
became the official border, and land above it, including all of Vancouver Island, was retained as British territory.
In 1849 the British Parliament formed the crown Colony of Vancouver Island. The mainland of British Columbia, called New Caledonia at the time, remained loosely organized.
The discovery of gold in 1858 along the Fraser River changed everything. Tens of thousands of get-rich-quick types flowed in, and in an effort to protect this beautiful and valuable land, the Colony of British Columbia was expeditiously created that same year.