What Were the Real Reasons for Creating the Colony of British Columbia?

Grades: 5-12

Courses Key Topics
Author: Lindsay Gibson
Editors: Roland Case, John Lutz and Jenny Clayton
Historical Researcher: Jenny Clayton, PhD, Department of History, University of Victoria
Developed by: The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2)


On August 2, 1858 the British government passed a law establishing the Crown Colony of British Columbia and offered the governorship of the colony to James Douglas, who was also serving as governor of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island. In the process of creating the new colony the British government cancelled the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) exclusive trade rights with Aboriginal people on the mainland, and also invalidated the HBC’s ten-year lease to govern, colonize and control trade in the Colony of Vancouver Island.

Historians offer differing views on the factors leading to the British government’s decision to establish the Colony of British Columbia. In this critical thinking lesson, students analyze various textual sources to ascertain the most important causes of this historic event.

Students learn to identify the causes of historical events and then learn about the factors that led to the creation of the Colony of British Columbia in 1858. They analyze various primary and secondary sources for evidence of the importance of four main causes, and then rank order or assign a percentage to indicate the relative importance of each cause. Finally, students write a Colonial Despatch to the British government explaining the most important reasons for establishing a colony on the mainland of British Columbia.

Step 1: Introduce historical causation

Explain to students that the concept of historical causation addresses “who” and “what” influences history. By “who” historians typically mean individuals, groups and social movements. The “what” refers to ideologies, institutions and other systemic factors. Some events are caused by intentional acts carried out by individuals and groups, while other causes are the result of accident, omission or unintended societal influences.

As an opening activity, invite students to identify the immediate and underlying causes of a car accident described in the scenario, #1 Looking for Causes. Distribute a copy to each student or project the scenario on a screen for the entire class to see. Explain the difference between an immediate cause (e.g., the victim had run out of cigarettes) and a broader underlying cause (e.g., lax law enforcement of drunk drivers). Invite students to identify both types of causes for the accident.

Invite several students to discuss their conclusions. If useful, provide students with a copy of the sample answers found on the background sheet, #2 Immediate and Underlying Causes of the Accident.

Step 2: Set the historical context for determining causes

Before exploring key factors leading to creation of the Colony of British Columbia, use the ideas described above in the Introduction to explain to students the focus of the lesson and outline the activities they will undertake.

Reinforce the idea of historical causation while providing background about the history of the region by inviting students to consult the Colonial British Columbia Timeline to predict which events were major causes of the creation of British Columbia. Distribute copies of the four-page timeline to students. In small groups, instruct students to focus on the events between 1843 (the HBC transfers its southern base to Vancouver Island) and 1858 (England establishes the colony of British Columbia on the mainland). Ask students to decide whether or not each event during this period likely contributed to the creation of British Columbia and, if so, whether it was a major or minor factor. If students need more context to complete this task, use the briefing sheet, Colonial British Columbia Before the Gold Rush, as speaking notes to provide an historical overview, or invite students to read the background document aloud.

After students have discussed the events from 1843-1858, invite different groups to share their conclusions for each event. Encourage other members of the class to offer alternative suggestions about the role of particular events in the creation of the colony.

Step 3: Introduce the main contributing factors

Distribute copies of the briefing sheet, "#3 Factors in the Creation of the Colony of British Columbia. Ask students to read the four suggested reasons for creating the colony. Invite students to suggest other causes to include on the list. Explain to students that they will examine various primary and secondary sources about the creation of the Colony of British Columbia in order to rank order these four (and other) causes from most important to least important.

Before proceeding, introduce students to the following criteria for assessing the importance of a cause in bringing about an event.

Using the sample scenario of the car accident, invite students to locate evidence for the importance of various causal factors. For example, the attitudes of the local officials seem to be a significant factor in the poor road conditions, and the explicit suggestion by local residents supports the idea that lax enforcement of liquor laws was a factor.

Model the first step of analysis of the primary and secondary documents found in #4 Core Documents: What Were the Real Reasons for Creating the Colony of British Columbia? using Document #9 as an example. Distribute a copy of this document to each student or display a copy for the class to see. Begin by inviting students to use the questions on the activity sheet, #5 Reading Around a Document, to develop an overall sense of the document. Illustrate what is involved in this task using the sample answers for Document #9 found on #6 Sample: Reading Around a Document. Explain the need to identify details from the text (find evidence) to support a response that may involve drawing inferences. Direct student’s attention to the introductory description of the author and the citation after the text as sources of information about the document. Discuss their answers as a class.

Model the second step of the analysis with the entire class using Document #9. Provide copies of the activity sheet, #7 Identifying Evidence about Causes, to guide students. Direct them to look for evidence that suggests whether or not each proposed cause was a factor and then rate how important it may have been to the creation of the Colony of British Columbia. A sample analysis of Document #9 is found in #8 Sample: Identifying Evidence about Causes.

Step 4: Assign the documents for investigation

Students are now ready to examine the collection of nine documents found in #4 Core Documents: What Were the Real Reasons for Creating the Colony of British Columbia?. Inform students that most of the documents focus on one of the suggested major causes, but several documents touch on more than one cause:

Organize students into groups of six, and assign students within each group to work in pairs on the following documents:

Step 5: Analyze the documents

Distribute copies of the appropriate documents to each pair of students. Encourage students to use the questions on the activity sheet, #5 Reading Around a Document, as a pre-reading guide for each document. Ask younger students to answer the questions orally. With older students, ask each pair to provide a written copy of this activity sheet for each text document analyzed.

Distribute sufficient copies of the activity sheet, #7 Identifying Evidence about Causes, so each pair of students has one copy for each document it is assigned to analyze. After students have identified evidence for an assigned document, ask them to rate the importance of each cause using the scale on the activity sheet.

Step 6: Share findings within the group

When students have analyzed their assigned documents, assemble each group (of three pairs) together. Arrange for each pair of students to share its document analyses with the other group members using a placemat strategy. Provide each group with a large sheet of paper. Ask students to draw a circle in the centre with one wedge-shaped space for each pair of students.

Invite students to use their allotted space on the chart to record the key pieces of evidence from their documents for each of the causes. Once all students have summarized their ideas, direct each group to write the four main causes in the centre of the circle. Invite the groups to discuss the most significant evidence from each pair of students related to each of these causes. Explain that students will shortly be asked to reach their own conclusions about the relative importance of the causes, but for the time being they are simply to record in the centre of the circle key evidence that the group can agree on for each cause.

Step 7: Determine the relative importance of the causes

Distribute a copy of the activity sheet, #9 Relative Importance of the Causes, to each student (or pair of students). Inform students that their task is to assemble evidence from the different documents to help them determine the relative importance of the causes of the creation of the Colony of British Columbia. Ask students to rank order the importance of the causes from 1 (most important) to 4 (least important). Alternatively, invite students to indicate the relative importance of each cause by assigning percentages. For example, students might decide that one cause likely contributed one-half (50%) of the influence to make the decision, two causes may have contributed equally (20% each) and the last factor may have contributed significantly less (10%). Remind students that they should not simply count the pieces of evidence for each cause—instead they should consider the relative importance of each factor in the decision to create the colony. Direct students to use activity sheet #9 to indicate the rank order or the percentage of importance for each cause and to justify their conclusions with evidence and explanations.

OPTIONAL: Ask student to construct a pie chart illustrating the percentage allocation for each of the four causes using a compass and protractor to draw a pie chart manually or to use an online program to draw the chart electronically. The following pie chart was created on http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/Graphing/classic/pie.asp

Before embarking on the activity, review the criteria for the task found on rubric, #10 Assessing the Importance of the Causes. If desired, after completion of the activity, arrange for students to assess their own or each others’ ability to offer plausible rankings or assigned percentages of the causes supported by important and relevant evidence.

Step 8: Write a despatch to London

Distribute copies of the briefing sheet, #11 Writing a Despatch to the Colonial Office, to students. Invite them to assume the role of the Governor of Vancouver Island and write a despatch (letter) to the British Colonial Office in December 1857 to convince the Colonial Office of the most important reasons for establishing a colony on the mainland of British Columbia. Arrange for students to share their letters or a summary of their overall conclusions with the rest of the class.