People of African descent have been part of Vancouver history since before the City was established. It has been a challenge, however, for the Archives to acquire records which document the activities of individuals and the groups in the Black community. In recognition of Black History Month, we thought we would feature a few of the records we do have and, by doing so, encourage the donation of other records.
Governor Sir James Douglas, born in Guyana to Creole and Scottish parents, was not a resident of Vancouver but he encouraged the settlement of Blacks, who were fleeing from persecution in California, on Vancouver Island. Some 800 left for Victoria between 1858 and 1860 and descendants of these immigrants eventually settled in the Lower Mainland.
One of Vancouver’s best-known and earliest Black residents was Seraphim “Joe” Fortes (1865?-1922). Originally from the Caribbean, Joe arrived as a crewman aboard the Robert Kerr in December 1885. Joe worked in various jobs, including as a bartender, but it is his legacy as a swimming instructor and Vancouver’s first official lifeguard at English Bay for which he is best remembered. Continue reading