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Welcome to the Federal and Provincial Collections of Minutes of Decision, Correspondence, and Sketches digital resource. The materials assembled in this collection are scanned copies of the official records produced by the Joint Indian Reserve Commission (1876 to 1878) and the Indian Reserve Commission (1878 to 1910) relating to their activities allotting Indian reserves, fishing stations, commonages, and water rights in British Columbia.

The electronic copies available here replicate the 22 volume set of federal records and the 13 volume set of provincial records that are available to view in hard copy at the Union of BC Indian Chiefs Resource Centre, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) at the Specific Claims West Library.


The majority of Indian reserves in British Columbia were allotted after British Columbia entered confederation in 1871. Prior to confederation, Indian reserve policy and allotments in the Colony of Vancouver Island and the mainland Colony of British Columbia were made by James Douglas, beginning in 1850 in his authority as Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and between 1858 and 1864 as Governor. Douglas’ policies varied between the colonies and changed over the course of his time in power. He entered into 14 treaties with First Nations on Vancouver Island and allotted larger reserves on the mainland. When Douglas retired, Joseph Trutch, as Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, assumed responsibility for Indian land policy. Trutch denied the existence of Indian title to land, made substantial reductions to existing reserves allotted by his predecessor and introduced a formula for calculating Indian reserve allotments resulting in small, inadequate reserves.

BC joined Canada according to certain terms and conditions laid out in the British Columbia Terms of Union. Article 13 of the Terms of Union transferred control and management of Indian reserve lands from British Columbia to Canada and stated that Canada would follow “a policy as liberal as that hitherto pursued” by BC. Article 13 had direct implications for Indigenous peoples and the reserve creation policies Canada followed in the post-confederation period. It divided responsibilities between the new Government of British Columbia and the Government of Canada. The province retained control over lands and resources, while Canada assumed control over the management of Indian lands and fisheries. The 1876 federal Indian Act consolidated all previous legislation regarding Indians and Indian lands in Canada. The Indian Act outlined provisions relating to Canada's obligations to Indians and lands reserved for Indians, defining what reserves were and how they could be used, owned, and occupied.

This division in part explains the bitter disputes that arose between the Governments of Canada and British Columbia regarding the amount of land to be reserved for the Indians of the province. The province’s main interest lay in maximizing the amount of land available for non-Indigenous settlement. The federal government preferred that British Columbia follow the reserve policies established in the rest of the country that favoured the negotiation of treaties.

The formation of the Joint Indian Reserve Commission in 1876 was intended to resolve these disputes. It operated until 1878 and was comprised of three commissioners: A.C. Anderson, appointed by the federal government; Archibald McKinley, appointed by BC; and Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, appointed by both governments. In 1878, Sproat assumed responsibility as sole commissioner of the Indian Reserve Commission until 1880. Peter O'Reilly replaced Sproat and allotted the majority of reserves until his retirement in 1898. A.W. Vowell succeeded O’Reilly until the commission was dissolved in 1910.


The JIRC and IRC records include Minutes of Decision (official descriptions of Indian reserve allotments, including their location, size and physical boundaries); field minutes (reserve commissioners’ reports of their work while traveling the province visiting First Nation communities); sketches (preliminary diagrams of reserve allotments made by the surveyors who accompanied the commissioners); and general correspondence relating to the commissioners’ activities.

There are documents associated with the commissioners and their activities that do not form part of the collections here. Direct your search and/or inquiries to Library and Archives Canada and the BC Archives.

If you have questions or concerns about the collection, please contact the site administrator at library@ubcic.bc.ca.