British Columbia. Government Agent (Cariboo District)

Identity area

Type of entity


Authorized form of name

British Columbia. Government Agent (Cariboo District)

Parallel form(s) of name

Standardized form(s) of name according to other rules

Other form(s) of name

  • Government Agent. Cariboo

Identifiers for corporate bodies

Description area

Dates of existence



In 1860, the first government representatives were placed in the Cariboo area. These included Stipendiary Magistrates Phillip Henry Nind at Fort Alexandria and T. Boles Gaggin at Quesnel (or Quesnelle Forks). In 1862, the Alexandria agency was divided into the Cariboo East and Cariboo West agencies, led by Stipendiary Magistrates Peter O'Reilly and George W. Cox. In 1865 these were reorganized into Cariboo and Quesnel agencies, with Gaggin remaining in Quesnel. It is unclear which town functioned as a base for the Cariboo agency at this time. There was likely considerable overlap between the Cariboo and Quesnel agencies, as they did not have clearly established boundaries. There was an Agent assigned to the Cariboo District until around 1890. At this time, it formally became an administrative area known as the Cariboo District. The district included the towns of Quesnel, as well as Richfield (c. 1890-1900) and Barkerville (c. 1900-1950) with government agents stationed in them. The Cariboo District existed until around 1920.

The government agency system of British Columbia has its origins in the two colonial offices of Gold Commissioners and Stipendiary Magistrates. The position of Gold Commissioner was created by a Proclamation of Governor Douglas, dated September 7, 1859. These commissioners were responsible for issuing free miners certificates, recording claims, managing miner’s water rights and settling disputes.

Stipendiary Magistrates, often referred to simply as Magistrates, were laymen without legal training who acted as judges in civil, small debt, and some criminal cases. Magistrates were often the only government officials in a region and fulfilled all government functions and services for their communities. However, before confederation their primary function was to maintain law and order. They were initially responsible for policing in their districts, and may have acted as Police Constables. In more populated regions they may have supervised multiple other Police Constables, in addition to other administrative staff such as Mining Recorders and Toll Collectors located throughout the district.

Almost all Gold Commissioners, or Assistant Gold Commissioners, also held the position of Stipendiary Magistrate. Initially, these positions could be held alongside a variety of others. It was common for one individual to also be appointed, or otherwise referred to as: Mining Recorder, Government Agent, Justice of the Peace, Small Debts Court judge, County Court judge (until 1881 when they were replaced with trained Supreme Court judges), and as a representative in the Legislative Council of the colony.

Other Magistrate duties varied widely, including: managing road or other infrastructure projects, recording census data and vital statistics, issuing marriage licenses, tax and revenue collection, and school and hospital inspections. They also acted as Assistant Commissioners of Lands and Works in all local aspects of land administration, including: supervising surveys, the sale of crown land, pre-emptions, and leases of timber or grazing land.

Before confederation, the boundaries of administrative districts were only roughly delineated. This meant magistrates could be unclear on the limits of their own jurisdictions, resulting in considerable overlap. Magistrates often travelled extensively to maintain order throughout their districts and may not have had a clear base or headquarters they consistently operated out of. Archival records reflect this inconsistency, and the multitude of different job titles that could be held by one individual in multiple places at one time.

Over time, the title "Gold Commissioner" became restricted to those officials performing the administrative and judicial duties laid out in mining legislation (Gold Commissioners held their judicial responsibilities until they were repealed by the Mineral Act of 1897). The more general title "Government Agent" was increasingly used for those officials with broader responsibilities and was consistently used to describe these multifunctional roles by the 1880s.

The several functions of a Government Agent are legally separate powers and appointments, which were often, but not always, held concurrently by the same individual. Over the next few decades Government Agents continued to fulfill a multitude of roles. By the turn of the century, a single agent’s duties could include:

Government Agent, Supreme Court Registrar, County Court Registrar, Sheriff, Gold Commissioner, Mining Recorder, Water recorder, Welfare Officer, Vital Statistics Recorder, Meteorological Recorder, Provincial Registrar of Voters, Federal Registrar of Voters, Game Warden, Land Commissioner, Assessor, Collector of Revenue Taxes, Financial Officer, Marriage Commissioner, Local Board of Health Sanitary Inspector, Cattle Brand Recorder, Maintainer of Government Buildings, Coroner, Gaoler, Constable, and Court clerk.

New functions were added as government services were created. For example, during prohibition, agents issued permits to purchase liquor. They also became involved with the administration of the Motor Vehicle Act by registering vehicles and licensing drivers. By 1900 policing functions were formally removed from Government Agents and transferred to police forces, though they continued to work closely with some police constables, particularly in rural areas, until the BC Police force was replaced by the RCMP in 1950.

Into the twentieth century, the staff in government agencies was growing substantially from one person who fulfilled all government functions, to offices with multiple staff supervised by the Agent.

The location of agencies and the headquarters of each agency where an Agent was located changed over time, based on the movement of population. There were often sub-offices or other outposts throughout a district with other government officials, such as Mining Recorders, who reported to the Government Agent at the district's headquarters.

Agents reported directly to the Provincial Secretary in Victoria until 1917 when they were became part of the Department of Finance, as one of their primary roles was tax collection. Starting in 1920 and increasingly after 1945, the role of the Government Agent was reduced and eroded by the growth of other more specialized and centralized branches of government. For example, Agents provided social services and acted as informal Social Workers by dispensing income assistance and child welfare responsibilities until they were replaced by trained Social Workers in the 1930s.

Into the 1950s the Government Agent in some small communities continued to act as Magistrate, Gold Commissioner, Mining Recorder, Maintainer of voters lists, Recorder of vital statistics and many other duties. However, these roles were increasingly done by representatives of different government branches. The role of Government Agent continues to exist in 2022 as an administrator with limited authority in several communities across the province.


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Related entity

British Columbia. Gold Commissioner (Cariboo) (1860-1954)

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Related entity

British Columbia. Magistrate's Court (Cariboo)

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Revised: RMCRORY 2022-10-25 added admin history and dates




Catalog Cards

Anholt, Dennis Monroe (1991). Friends of the government: an administrative history of the British Columbia government agents. [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Victoria.

Hatch, Frederick John (1955). The British Columbia Police, 1858-1871. [Doctoral dissertation]. University of British Columbia.

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