Friday, June 28, 2013

Theodore Davie

Premier number ten was Theodore Davie, brother of B.C.'s eight premier, Alexander Edmund Batson Davie.  Born March 22, 1852 in Brixton (London) England, Theodore Davie initially tried a career at sea. However, he found the experience distasteful and soon joined his father in Victoria, B.C. in 1867. (The elder Davie had moved there five years previously.)

Theodore followed his brother's footsteps and studied law in the office of Robert Bishop. In 1873, Davie qualified as a solicitor and began working in the Cassiar district during its gold rush. He was called to the bar in 1877 and practised briefly in Nanaimo before returning to Victoria. In Victoria, Davie gained a formidable reputation as counsel, especially in criminal cases. 

Davie was already exhibiting traits that would be dominant in his future political career: dogged determination, limitless energy and intelligence. These traits were brilliantly displayed during the trial of Robert Sproule, who was charged with murdering a rival claimant to a valuable mining property. Davie defended the man in 1886 and he was persistent and clever. Unfortunately, he was not only unsuccessful but his procedural manoeuvres brought him in collision with Chief Justice Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie. (Remember, Begbie was the same judge who jailed John Robson in 1862 because of a letter that Robson printed which accused Begbie of accepting bribes.)
Here's a photo of Theodore Davie, which I obtained from Wikipedia.

This is a photo of Judge Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie
With all of Davie's talents, it was inevitable that he would enter politics. In 1882, he was elected to the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, representing Victoria. During that time, he was a supporter of the William Smithe government.  When his brother became premier in 1887, Theodore supported him.

During the John Robson's government, Davie served as attorney-general. When Robson died in 1892, Theodore Davie succeeded him as premier. In 1894, Davie introduced a Redistribution Bill, which gave increased representation to the mainland of B.C. He later provided controversial financial inducements to railways in order to stimulate economic growth. However, Davie's most notable achievement during his term as premier was the building of the splendid parliament buildings in Victoria. This was done with much opposition from the mainland.

Theodore Davie's political leanings were definably conservative but his political career was best suited to a time when governments were not formed on party lines but rather on clusters of followers around strong leaders.

 This is a photo of the parliament buildings taken by Richard H. Trueman in 1903. This photo was obtained from the City of Vancouver Archives.

Even while he served as premier, Davie continued his law practice. It seemed as if he had unflagging energy but in 1895, it became clear that the two professions were taking a toll on Davie's health. He resigned as premier on March 2 of that year and took the position of Chief Justice of British Columbia, succeeding Judge Begbie. 

Davie was sworn in on March 11 but didn't serve quite three years before dying of heart disease on March 7, 1898. 

His chief contribution to jurisprudence may have been the first revision and consolidation of the statutes of British Columbia. Davie was quite proud of this achievement and it had become effective less than a week before he died. The Victoria Daily Colonist summed Davie up as the "most energetic, practical statesman British Columbia has ever produced."

For Monday I am thinking of writing on the case of Robert Sproule. I realize that this is not Vancouver centered but some of it does affect our city and I think it is interesting. Don't you?

The information on Theodore Davie was gathered from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography website.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pacific Scandal

In the late 1860,s there was a movement by our neighbours to the south to plan an economic takeover of Canada and force Canada to seek admission into the United States. Those who were involved were interested in getting control of the railroads thereby also having control of the monies the railway would generate.

Sir Hugh Allen was president of the Canadian Pacific Railway at the time. His American partners, some of them, felt that the Canadian railway should travel south from Ontario and connect with the Northern Pacific Railway, which was nearing completion. This move would open up the Canadian Northwest for American trade and perhaps takeover? Many Canadians though were suspicious of any deals that involved American investors. (Many still are today!)

Sir John A. Macdonald and George Etienne Cartier approached Allen and promised him the lucrative contract to build the Trans-Canada railway in exchange for financial contributions. Allen gave Macdonald's conservative party close to $350,000 from American investors, Sir John A. Macdonald's party came to power and Allen got the contract.

Macdonald first took the prime minister's position in 1867. British Columbia joined the confederation of Canada four years after that with a stipulation that the railway be extended west. By 1872, Allen hadn't undertaken the work to complete the railway and the American investors were getting impatient. They felt they were being excluded from the railway project. Rumours began to circulate around Ottawa about embezzlement.

A picture of Sir John A. Macdonald compliments of the Parliament of Canada website.

When rumours as juicy as embezzlement within the federal government are circulating, reporters are going to take notice and investigate. On July 18, 1873, the Globe out of Toronto published a telegram from Macdonald to Allen where Macdonald begged the businessman for money. A little more digging and it was discovered that American funding contributed to the Conservative victory. Macdonald resigned on November 11, 1873. (Five years later, he was re-elected as Prime Minister.)

Canada was a young country; Sir John Alexander Macdonald was our first Prime Minister. This event, Canada's first scandal, became known as the Pacific Scandal, Canada's first scandal.

I got this information from
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I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Reading, 'Riting and Robson

This is the Leyland Apartments on Broadway, built in 1928.

In the Colonist in 1869, John Robson called for state-subsidized schools in every community and government boarding schools for children from sparsely populated areas. Robson felt that education was "the best safeguard against crime, indolence, poverty [and] intemperance". He considered it the duty of "every man, whether he has children of his own to educate or not, to aid in placing within reach of every child of the community a liberal and wholesome education". 

Robson believed that the education system in Ontario was the "most perfect in the world" and in the 1860s, he advocated to bring a similar system to British Columbia. He hoped that his would link B.C. to the rest of Canada and ensure immigration to the province. Robson did insist that the education be non-sectarian, so that it might counteract bigotry and cement together "socially, politically and religiously the heterogeneous population of the young colony". Although he felt that religious training should be done in the home, John did support the recitation of the Lord's Prayer in schools. He also endorsed the policy of having major Protestant denominations represented on local school boards and boards of examiners.

Parents in British Columbia had gotten used to supporting private schools or sending their children away to boarding schools. Robson repeatedly called for the establishment on high schools in order to establish local schools. He got his wish when the first high school in the province was opened in Victoria in 1876. Robson returned to New Westminster in the early 1880s and he complained that it wasn't fair for the entire province to pay for a free school for Victoria residents. The New Westminster high school had been a private one for many years but in 1884, it became a free school. But at the time of Robson's death in 1892, only two other cities in the province - Nanaimo and Vancouver - had high schools.

Robson also had plans for a provincial university and in 1890 his government passed an act to establish one. Unfortunately, the rivalry between Victoria and Vancouver and the University of British Columbia didn't open until 1915.

When Robson became responsible for education in 1883, there were 2,693 students enrolled in public schools. By the 1891-1892 school term, that number had swelled 10,733 students enrolled. However, few B.C. citizens shared Robson's view on education or his passion for it. This may have been what allowed Robson to centralize the school system to the point where critics accused him of running a political machine.

Even when he was premier, Robson attended public school examinations and closing exercises. (Our ninth premier admitted that he had the fault of "doing two or three people's work under the impression that nobody else can do it") And his critics were quick to agree. On November 4, 1890, The Victoria Daily Times suggested that his ministers were only able to provide nominal attention to their portfolios because they were busy with their own interests. 

Friendly journalists stated that Robson could not "dominate his colleagues" while his enemies labelled him as powerless puppet. Robson had opposed the party system but his administration would have been much easier if there had been a party whip.

Robson's tenure as premier was plagued by ill health, a failure to delegate responsibility, and an inability to command the consistent support of supposed allies in the cabinet and legislature. Robson wanted to rest so that he could preserve his health and in 1890, when he won a seat in New Westminster and an "insurance" seat in the Cariboo, Robson resigned the former. He explained that, in order to maintain his health and other responsibilities, he couldn't carry out the demands of such a large and important constituency.

Frederick William Robson, John's younger son, had suffered a long illness and died in April of 1891. It came as a quite a blow to the John and in the spring of 1892, his doctor advised Robson to take a year's "absolute rest from work and worry".  Robson tried to do this, tried to free himself from administration duties but citizens with problems -real or imagined - would bring their problems directly to Robson. 

This is the Duke residence at 24 East Broadway. Built in 1906, the house's first residents were Robert H. Duke and his wife Alzina. Robert worked as manager for Pacific Coast Fire Insurance Co.

Robson appointed Colonel James Baker as minister of minister of education and immigration in May while he lobbied for the position of lieutenant governor. He then set off for London to discuss an imperial loan and crofter immigration. Perhaps he hoped that the change of atmosphere would improve his health.

Portraits of Robson show him to be a gruff man and he had few personal friends. However, those who knew him say that under that cold exterior was a warm heart and kind manner. He was contradictory in some areas like when he presented himself as a man of the people yet moved in circles with prominent business leaders and railway executives. He had little sympathy for striking miners of Robert Dunsmuir's Wellington colliery or CPR trainmen. He believed in free schooling but thought students should pay for higher education and he never extended the benefits of education to the Chinese or the First Nations. He berated land speculators yet was one himself. However, he was consistent for 31 years of public service in his ideals surrounding land settlement, social and moral development and the promotion of liberal institutions. 

Robson may not have been an original thinker - many of his ideas were drawn from his experiences and influences while growing up in Central Canada. And he wasn't the only one to favour these ideals. However, John Robson - through his years of public service and his time as a journalist - was one of the most influential British Columbians of his time and a major contributor to the strengthening of connections in Canada in his adopted province.

On June 20, 1892, while in London, John Robson crushed the tip of his little finger in the door of a hansom cab. Blood poisoning set in and nine days later, he was dead. So Saturday will be the 121st anniversary of this great man's death. I hope you can think of him on that day.

I have to be honest with you. I didn't know a thing about John Robson before I started these entries but now I have a deep admiration for the man. I don't agree with everything he stood for - I may have if I had lived in his time - but I applaud the things he accomplished. 

Thanks goes to theDictionary of Canadian Biography Online website for informing me of this politician and to Bob_2006 at for the information on the houses.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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