Kennedy was on a bit of a mission and
his correspondence suggests that his main concern was with the Hudson's
Bay Company on Vancouver Island. The HBC at the time was involved in trading
liquor to the natives in the northern part of the island and the mainland
as well. Kennedy wrote that the HBC made their "establishments the scenes
of many irregularities," undoubtedly due to the evil effects of the
alcoholic beverages that they served. In these remote areas the liquor was
brewed right on the spot and was "generally diluted with salt water, and
flavoured to suit the Indian taste either as brandy, rum or whisky,
creosote, and even sulfuric acid [was] being (I am credibly informed) used
to give strength and flavour."(39)
With such strong brew being given to the Natives it is no wonder that
they were committing such hideous crimes: like prostitution and murder:
On the mainland the HBC had adopted a policy of not
allowing their employees to trade or sell alcohol to the natives. While on
Vancouver Island they did not put in place such a rule. Refusal by the HBC
on the Island upset Kennedy: he wrote, "if the HBC would aid, instead of
opposing me, to have a law adopted on Vancouver Island, they would find it
I think, sound commercial[ly] . . .." (40)
On November 20th 1866 Kennedy got his wish when during a meeting of the
Committee of the Hudsons Bay Company the following was ordered:
"that the officers of the Company
in Vancouver Island and British Columbia
be informed that in the opinion of the
Governor and Committee it is in the
interest duty of the Hudsons Bay Company
to discourage in every way the sale
of spirituous liquors to the Indians
in Vancouver Island and British Columbia. (41)
While this proclamation laid out a policy for the HBC's
officials, in reality the liquor trade was difficult to control. While the
HBC had taken an official stance against supplying the Indians with booze,
many other private interest groups were free to do as they pleased. The many
saloons that had opened up during the gold rush were legally allowed to
sell liquor and though it was discouraged that they sell to the Natives,
not much was done to deter them. Kennedy himself said, "I am comparatively
powerless to stop this evil." (42)
In Victoria the Indians had many opportunities to get
their hands on alcohol and when fueled by its effects the Natives were thought
to act wildly out of control. Reksten writes that "Company men who had witnessed
the strangely exaggerated effect that alcohol had on the natives had taken
care to limit its availability, but the saloons abounded."
The daily police reports from 1866 broached the topic as well, "It is
reported to me that Indians are constantly supplied with liquor."
Strangely enough, there are no reports of arrests reported for the people
who sold the alcohol, the day of or in the days that followed the report.
Even when the police knew of whom it was that was selling the booze there
does not seem to have been many punishments given to the culprits.
Police Chief Bowden (1860)
-photo courtesy of BC Archives
It could be said that many Victorians did not feel
as strongly about the problem that Douglas, Kennedy, or some of the upper
officials did. To many, Indian drunkenness was a victimless crime, what
concern was it of theirs, as long as they stayed on their reserves outside
of town. Even when the natives were drunk and causing a "dreadful disturbance,"
it was not worthy of anything more than a visit by the police.
It seems that the only time the police and many other citizens
were at all concerned was when the Natives did something that directly affected
their lives. Whether it was stealing, prostitution or murder, if a white
person was involved it was something that needed to be dealt with.
The so called Indian drunkenness problem surely did
exist on some levels, but what I want to argue is that it was not a problem
that was exclusive to the Native community that lived on Vancouver Island
during the 1860's. The white population were involved in many of the same
activities that the Natives were. Drinking was not just a native problem,
it was an issue that involved all people living in Victoria.
To find out more about the drinking problem click . . .