Gilbert Malcolm Sproat

Gilbert Malcolm Sproat was born to Alexander Sproat and Hectorine Shaw, 19 April 1834 in Scotland. In 1860 travelled to the Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island as an employee of Anderson and Company. His encounters with Aht people of the Alberni Inlet led him to become an amateur ethnographer with the publication his book, Scenes and studies of savage life, published in 1868. Sproat Lake in the Alberni Valley is named for him. He married Katherine Ann Wigham in Victoria in 1862 and they raisd a daughter and two sons. They later separated from each other and she returned to England. Sproat was offered a seat in the colony’s legislative council but declined and later, on 24 July 1863, he was sworn in as a justice of the peace for Vancouver Island. He returned to England for a time, but he remained interested in BC affairs. In 1869 he allowed he name to be put forward for governor. After visiting BC in 1871, he assumed the role of the province’s first agent general to London.

In 1876 he returned to BC where he became the third member, representing both governments, of the Joint Indian Reserve Commission (JIRC). He completed two circuits with the JIRC before the commission was reduced and he was named as the sole commissioner in 1877. During his tenure as commissioner Sproat became increasingly critical of both governments’, especially the province’s, approach to Indigenous land issues. Sproat followed in Douglas’ views that the land should be reserved prior to settlement, that Aboriginal title needed to be acknowledged, and that reserves needed to include access to future commerce opportunities such as fishing, timber, agriculture etc. He voiced his numerous complaints regarding the failure of the province to deal with illegal settler pre-emptions, the resistance to recognize Aboriginal title, and the ramifications of the colonial policy to grant as little land as possible to reserves. He was instrumental preventing a possible war in the interior with the negotiation of reserves and dissolution of a Secwepemc/Okanagan Confederacy in 1877. His involvement and support of a large gathering of Nlha7kápmx, where the people met to plan forge a plan for self-government, and his continued letters of complaint to Ottawa and Victoria led to widespread criticism and eventually led to his resignation early in 1880.

In 1883 Sproat, as a government agent, was sent to the Kootenays to report on the region. As a result he became a magistrate in Revelstoke in 1885 and regional gold and land commissioner in 1886. He became known as “the Judge” and “the Father of the Kootenay.” In 1889 he ended his government service, remained in the interior, and became involved in real estate. In his later years, he returned to Victoria and he continued to express his opinions about the history of the province through his publications in newspapers and historical texts. His correspondence during his time as reserve commissioner stand as a voice of opposition to the disregard of Aboriginal rights, the unjust treatment of Indigenous people by the governments, and the “settlement” of BC. Sproat spent his last days in Victoria with Brenda Peers, James Murray Yale’s granddaughter, before his death on June 4, 1913.


  1. Fisher, Robin. “An exercise in futility: the joint commission on Indian land in British Columbia, 1875-1880,” CHA, Hist. Papers, 1975: 79–94.
  2. Foster, Hamar. “Gilbert Malcolm Sproat” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. University of Toronto, Universite Laval.
  3. Harris, Cole. Making Native Space. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002.
  4. Sproat, Gilbert. Scenes and Studies of Savage Life Sproat. London : Smith, Elder, 1868.
  5. Sproat, Gilbert. “Sir James Douglas, k.c.b.,” in the Victoria Week, 9 Sept.–11 Nov. 1911 (also preserved in clippings at pp.96–103 of the J. T. Walbran scrapbook at BCARS, S/S/W 14).
  6. Sproat papers, BCARS, Add. mss 257.
  7. Papers Connected with the Indian Land Question 1850-1875. Victoria, B.C. : Queen's Printer, c1987.
  8. Rickard, T. A. “Gilbert Malcolm Sproat,” British Columbia Hist. Quarterly, 1 (1937): pp 21–32.