Vancouver Island once envisioned as Mormon homeland

The Vancouver Sun, Canada/May 10, 2011

The Mormon leader, Brigham Young, once imagined creating a Mormon homeland on Vancouver Island. Not in Salt Lake, Utah.

What a different place British Columbia would have become.

This historical revelation is brought to us today by Knute Berger, a great Pacific Northwest writer and historian, working out of Seattle.

The Vancouver Island vision comes up in a piece in Crosscut in which Berger describes concerns that some people are expressing about the new Mormon president of the public University of Washington, Michael Young. Young is a descendent of Brigham Young.

The section of Berger's piece that is of particular interest to Canadian readers describes the distinct possibility that Vancouver Island could have ended up as the world's key Mormon colony, with headquarters possibly in the remote village of Nootka.

Since Berger is a top writer, I'll provide an excerpt from his Crosscut piece, headlined "Fear of Mormons and the new U.W. president." Perhaps I'll follow this up later in another form. In the meantime, here's Berger:

"The Mormons, persecuted, had had their leader, Joseph Smith, murdered by a mob in Missouri and were forced out of Illinois. They decided to make their home west of the Rocky Mountains. One of their original ideas had been to head not to Utah, but all the way to Vancouver Island, which had been discussed by Young and others as early as 1844, and in that they had been encouraged by an Illinois politician named Stephen Douglas.

"English Mormons later petitioned the British on this cause. The Vancouver Island Colony ... was remote and thought to have good potential for farmland. The Mormon headquarters would be sited at Nootka. They opted instead for Utah, but the Vancouver Island option come up again during the Utah War a decade later. According to historians Richard Bennett and Arran Jewsbury in their article in BC Studies (Winter, 2000), 'The Lion and the Emperor: The Mormons, the Hudson's Bay Company, and Vancouver Island, 1846-1858,' Young again considered Vancouver Island in the event the American government forced another Mormon exodus.

"It was not the only option: there was discussion of evacuating to the Southwest, or north into Montana's Bitterroot Valley. The Vancouver Island plan had some appeal. The colony has been eager for settlers, especially in the face of the growing numbers of Americans in the region which had already caused the British to cede territory north of the Columbia River.

"Second, a large population of anti-American partisans might be of help if relations with the U.S. soured in the future. The San Juan Islands boundary, for example, was then still in dispute. Even so, once arrived, the British recognized that the Mormons would not easily be dislodged if trouble arose between them and their hosts, as was now happening in Utah.

In the end, the Hudson's Bay Company, which ran the Vancouver Island colony, was against the Mormons coming in. One communique reported that 'The presence of these lawless and immoral people is, in the opinion of the Governor and Committee, most undesirable." In 1858, the British Ambassador to the U.S., Lord Napier, warned the colony 'to be prepared for the possible contingency of an invasion by the Mormons.'

"A once-possible migration was now seen as an invasion. The Vancouver option died when Young and the Mormons achieved a settlement with the U.S. government."

As it turns out, the state of Washington, not to mention Utah, ended up with a much higher percentage of Mormons than B.C. Roughly three per cent of Washington residents are Mormon, compared to B.C.'s one per cent.

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