Sir James Douglas

© David Watts
Victoria winter 1996

See him there on the wall: scowling, stiff, straight and tall
Even to his family, he talked like a book
Self-taught, formal clothes, some folks called him “Square Toes”
If you think you’ve seen it all, take another look.

Governor, trader, explorer, surveyor
Faces of a man who came long ago:
James Island, James Bay, Douglas Street and Mountain, they are
Places you can find him wherever you go.

Born in the New World in Guyana to a Creole girl
His father was a Scotsman with fields of sugar cane
To school in Britain James went, learned to speak perfect French
Joined the Northwest Company when he was sixteen.

From Fort William, ‘cross the plains, Ile de la Croix to Fort Saint James
Learned the names and caches and the peoples of the West
Stewart Lake seven years, buying and selling fish and furs
Working as a trader’s clerk, he met his biggest test.

Changes came: he could see the Northwest and the Hudson’s Bay
Become a single Company, ending years of strife:
With new masters, he stayed on, left in charge when the boss was gone
Courted, won Amelia Conelly who saved his wife.

He was rugged, tall and strong, shoulders wide, stride was long
Usually kept his feelings down or poured them into work
Once he got into a fight, gave the folks an awful fright
Learned to keep his anger tight while holding the fort.

To get away he transferred south, down the Columbia to its mouth
Fort Vancouver, Washington, on contested land
Nineteen years from the post, traveled up and down the coast
Working through the ranks, he rose to second in command.

Yankee interests from the East claimed the region for the States
Douglas sought a northern place where the Company could stay
Found a harbour, fertile soil, at the south tip of Vancouver’s Isle
There built Fort Victoria for the Hudson’s Bay.

Douglas’ toehold held the line even sough of Forty-Nine
Vancouver Island undivided under the British mast
Oregon Treaty proved him right, fixed the line without a fight
The Company moved to Douglas’ site, his own command at last.

Back in London, Douglas’ fort caught the interest of the court
Folks who thought it ought to take in settlers from away
Vancouver Island Colony passed to the Crown from the Company
Douglas as its Governor when he stepped down from the Bay.

In the Fraser, gold was found, people came from all around
Britain didn’t want a boom town with everyone for himself:
Proclaimed another colony on the mainland, called “BC”
James Douglas: named to be Governor there as well.

Six more years: that’s enough as Governor, and he set off
Crossed to Europe to receive a knighthood by the Queen
With the title “Sir James” added to his other names
Visited places that he read about but never seen.

As a young man, he’d never known what it was to stay at home
Older now, he had a chance for things he’d never done
If Amelia was sometimes Mom and Dad to the children they both had
James was Father and Mother to the Province they’d begun.

In Active Pass off Georgia Strait, two enormous ferries meet
Spirit of Vancouver Island and Spirit of BC
Two colonies, once apart, Douglas game them both their start
Now our western ramparts on the Salish Sea.