Victoria Pioneer Rifle, Corps (1860-1865)
The mid-nineteenth century was a chaotic time in the North American northwest. British Columbia was not a province but a scattered collection of British colonies. The border dispute with the Americans had only recently been settled. But the gold rush was on and thousands of Americans had flooded into Victoria and the mainland, setting up tent cities and overwhelming the small population. While the Royal Navy patrolled the coastline, there was no militia to enforce British law. This was also a time when free American Blacks living in the U.S. west were again at risk of enslavement. In 1860, 45 Black men, who had taken refuge in Victoria, stepped forward to form the first military unit in the British North American west. They were the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps, also known as the African Rifles. They obtained some training from the Royal Navy, and built a drill hall. However, they were not officially sponsored by the British government. Prejudice and lack of recognition led them to disband five years later. With the end of the American Civil War, and emancipation, many returned to the U.S., disillusioned by British North American treatment.