Throughout February the Housing Central partners are celebrating Black History Month by sharing stories of prominent individuals who made a positive impact on our communities – and in the process, helped shape this province and blazed a trail for the Black community.
Early pioneers Charles and Nancy Alexander moved north from California, and in setting down roots on Vancouver Island became some of the first community builders in the Victoria area. Their legacy of giving back to and strengthening the Victoria and Saanich communities has earned them a prominent place in BC’s history.
Have you heard of Charles and Nancy Alexander, some of the original Black pioneers who came to British Columbia in 1858 following a call for colonists from then-Governor Sir James Douglas?
Like many Black migrants of their time, the Alexanders moved up north from the United States (from San Francisco, specifically) in search of prosperity and a better life for their family. What makes Charles and Nancy unique, was their influential role in shaping community life in Victoria and Saanich in the mid- to late-1800’s.
Both Charles and Nancy were born in St. Louis, Missouri as free Blacks. Having first made their home in BC at the corner of Douglas and Fisgard streets (a site later occupied by the Hudson’s Bay Company), Charles and Nancy were quick to expand their family and put down roots. The Alexanders eventually settled in South Saanich where they owned prosperous farmland. The two also owned businesses in Victoria, which saw great success.
By trade, Charles was a farmer, prospector and minister. He was best known for his carpentry skills and exceptional oration abilities. Charles is credited with building the first school in South Saanich and later became a trustee. Further making his mark on the community, Charles initiated and assisted in the building of the first Shady Creek Church and became one of its first preachers.
Nancy was also considered to be a community builder. In addition to being deeply involved with the church community in Saanich, Nancy was one of the first women to join the Lakehill Women’s Institute, which promoted health and education for women.
On December 25, 1899 the Alexanders celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary, an event attended by some of the oldest families in the province (both Black and White).
As of 1992, it was determined that Charles and Nancy had over 400 direct descendants.
The history of Victoria and Saanich is simply not complete without reference to the influence of the Alexander family.