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Amelia Douglas (1812-1890)
Fur trade pioneer
Amelia Douglas
Amelia Douglas
(National Archives of Canada C-005051)

Amelia Douglas was one of the founding mothers of British Columbia - and one of the most well-known women in fur trade society. She was born at Fort Churchill to a furtrader of Irish and French Canadian ancestry called William Connolly, and his Cree wife Miyo Nipiy. Amelia grew up in a household where her mother commonly spoke Swampy Cree and her father (born in Quebec) usually spoke French. Amelia was raised in fur trading posts.

When Amelia was living with her family at Fort St. James she met an enterprising young Scottish clerk who worked for her father (at the time chief factor of the post). In the spring of 1828 sixteen-year-old Amelia married James Douglas, who was twenty-five. Douglas was a competent man who rose quickly in the fur trade, becoming a chief factor by November 1839. The couple settled at Fort Vancouver and Douglas later became chief factor and governor of Vancouver Island. He eventually became governor of British Columbia. Throughout the impressive career of James Douglas his wife Amelia was his number one supporter and advisor on aboriginal traditions and politics.

Early in their married life the courageous Amelia risked her life trying to rescue Douglas from an attack by some angry natives; Douglas had not understood some customs of the Carriers and Amelia saved her husband by throwing bales of trade goods to their chief to restore his honour. The warriors released James Douglas.

The Douglas family became the most prominent in British Columbia - and also the wealthiest. Amelia had given birth to thirteen children, though seven died as infants and she saw two others die in adulthood. She conveyed some of her aboriginal traditions to her offspring, though they grew up with primarily European customs. Amelia lived in Victoria for 40 years but often avoided its social life, perhaps because she was sometimes shunned because of her mixed-blood heritage and she had problems communicating in English. When James Douglas was knighted in 1863, the shy and modest Amelia became Lady Douglas. Sir James died in 1877 and Lady Douglas lived a quiet life until she passed away in 1890 at the age of 78. The remaining Douglas family then consisted of her four daughters, 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Discover more

  • Old Square-Toes Adams, John. Old Square-Toes and His Lady: The Life of James and Amelia Douglas. Victoria: Horsdal & Schubart, 2001.

  • Hume, Stephen. Lilies & Fireweed. Frontier Women of British Columbia. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour Publishing , 2004.

  • Lugrin, N. de Bertrand. The Pioneer Women of Vancouver Island 1843-1866. Victoria: The Women's Canadian Club of Victoria, 1928.

  • Van Kirk, Sylvia. "Many Tender Ties", Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer, 1980.


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