Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fighting Joe

Joseph Martin was only one of the participants in the controversial school issue but, as usual, he played a provocative role. During a public meeting at Portage La Prairie on August 5, 1889, Martin followed Ontario MP D'Alton McCarthy's attack on Quebec and French language rights. Fighting Joe announced the Greenway government would reform the dual public school system and end government printing in French.

Martin apparently admitted, somewhat contritely, to Premier Greenway that he may have been carried away by the situation and by the knowledge that the Liberal caucus had already decided to act on the school matter. Now Greenway could have disavowed Martin's statements but he chose to proceed instead.

Early in 1890, Martin introduced the new legislation and caused a political upheaval that lasted over a decade. He may have initially benefited from the popularity of the measures but he was also under attack from the Manitoba Free Press for conspiring to rig land sales in Portage La Prairie. He chose, perhaps wisely, to leave that charge unanswered.
In December, the new school legislation faced a legal challenge from ratepayer, John Kelly Barrett, who refused to pay his school taxes. Martin was successful in representing the province in the court case.

But Martin's influence in Manitoba was on the wane. Add to that his constant quarrels with local notables and he was becoming a political liability. In February of 1891, he resigned his provincial seat to contest Selkirk unsuccessfully in the federal general election in March. Fortunately, he was able to regain his provincial seat in the by-election, which was held later that month. In mid-April, he resigned as attorney general and went back to his law practice in Portage La Prairie. He represented the province of Manitoba in the Barrett case on appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada and in London before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, where the provincial legislation was upheld in a decision rendered on July 30, 1892.

In November of 1893, Martin ran in the federal by-election and, surprisingly, he won the traditionally Conservative riding of Winnipeg. However, he did not mesh with the Liberal caucus. His French Canadian colleagues resented the role he had played in the school scandal and his free trade sentiments rubbed against the party's increasingly flexible position on the tariff. Wilfrid Laurier, the Liberal leader, managed to control Martin's slashing style. Martin took part in the filibuster in 1896, which finally forced Conservative party leader Sir Charles Tupper to withdraw the government's remedial school legislation and called a general election for June. Martin lost his seat and hoped that Laurier, now Prime Minister, would appoint him minister of the interior anyway. But Clifford Sifton, the new Liberal master of the west, was chosen. Joseph Martin, right or wrong, felt betrayed.

Friday, I will tell you about how Joseph Martin came to British Columbia. Thanks to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography website.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Joseph Martin

Our thirteenth premier was born on September 24, 1852 in Milton, Upper Canada. Joseph Martin went to school in Milton until 1865 when his family moved to Michigan where he worked as a telegrapher. Martin was briefly involved with the Patrons of Husbandry, a farmers' protest movement before entering the Michigan State Normal School in Ypsilanti in 1872. The following year he was transferred to the Normal School in Toronto. In 1874, Martin was expelled from that school for his unruly behaviour.

Martin had a quarrelsome nature and tended to settle his disputes with his fists, earning him the nickname 'Fighting Joe'. He was naturally suspicious and had a capacity for pettiness. His combative, feisty spirit was well known throughout his career, as was his considerable eagerness to advance his own interests.

After being expelled, Martin taught school in Ottawa on a second-class certificate. It was there that the future politician first embraced liberalism and developed strong anti-French sentiments. In 1877, he entered the University of Toronto but he left two years later without a degree.

He returned to Ottawa and began his articles for law. In 1881, he married the widow Eliza Eaton and became stepfather to her young daughter, Irma Livingstone Eaton. These new responsibilities enticed Joseph Martin to seek new opportunities in Manitoba. In late 1881, he and his family arrived in Manitoba but thinking that Portage la Prairie had more immediate opportunities, the Martins moved there in early 1882. Martin was admitted to the Manitoba Bar late that summer and he established a successful law practice. He took on an articling student, Smith Curtis, who would later come to be his partner. Joseph Martin became a prominent figure and he was soon drawn into local politics.

In January of 1883, Martin contested Portage la Prairie as a supporter of Thomas Greenway's Provincial rights party, which would form the nucleus of the provincial Liberal party after the election. Martin won but a narrow margin but the results were overturned. In May of 1883, there was a by-election and Martin was successful in that and would hold the seat until 1891. His feisty nature made him effective in the opposition and he was a skilful debater with a sharp wit.

Joseph took a leading role in the assembly. He criticized Premier Norquay and the Canadian Pacific Railway's monopoly in the west. His attacks became harsher when Prime Minister John A. Macdonald began to disallow railway charters that had been passed by the provincial legislature. On January 19, 1888, Greenway formed the first frankly party government in the province. Martin became attorney general and commissioner of railways.
The CPR abandoned its monopoly a few months later and Greenway took the credit. He used this occasion to call a general election in July in which he won a smashing victory. Now the pressure was on for the new ministry to provide an alternative to the CPR and there weren't many choices.

Martin and Greenway opted to sell the unfinished Red River Valley Railway to American Railway builder, Henry Villard. Villard would complete the line to Winnipeg and connect it to his Northern Pacific Railroad.

This deal irritated the Winnipeg Liberals who were promoting another railway as well as the farmers who had expected more substantial rate reductions. This discontent could have created considerable difficulties for Martin, Greenway and their colleagues if it weren't for a controversial school legislation that distracted voters from the issue of the railway.

Wednesday, I will tell you about the controversial school issue in Manitoba and more on Joseph Martin. This all has to do with Vancouver and British Columbia because these events made the man that would one day govern this province. And, as usual, I am getting my information from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography website.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Friday, July 26, 2013


Before I get into talking about Charles Semlin, I want to let my readers know about something I just found out. On June 11, 2012, I wrote an entry entitled 'Flirty Forty' and this photo and write up was included.

Taken in New Westminster on October 1, 1940, this is one of the most famous photos of World War II. It is entitled 'Wait for Me Daddy'.
This photograph shows the Eighth Street and Columbia Avenue intersection. Photographer Claude P. Detloff positioned himself to capture the column of soldiers walking down the hill when he saw the five-year- old Warren 'Whitey' Bernard escape his mother's grasp and run to his father, Private Jack Bernard.

Life magazine picked up this picture and it appeared worldwide. In addition, it hung in schoolrooms across British Columbia during the war. Good news is that Bernard made it back from the war and Detloff was on hand to photograph the family's reunion.

It has just been announced that artists Veronica and Edwin Dam de Nogales have been hired to create a bronze memorial artwork of this photo, which will be displayed in New Westminter's Hyack Square, in almost the exact spot where this photo was taken. It is due to be unveiled in October of 2014.
A speech by Attorney General Martin ultimately led to the demise of the Semlin government. On June 20, 1899 - just after the Kootenay miner's strike began, Martin was giving a speech at a banquet in Rossland. A few angry miner owners in the audience began to heckle Martin. The Attorney General didn't handle it that well and shouting match began, which led to a brawl that had to be broken up by the police. Semlin demanded Martin's resignation and Martin only agreed after the caucus sided with the premier.

That wasn't the end of Joseph Martin though. When the legislative session began in January of 1900, there was Martin sitting with the opposition. Even when Martin was in his cabinet, Semlin did not have a comfortable majority. Now with the man sitting with the opposition, the future of Charles Semlin's government was precarious. The fatal blow came in February of 1900 with the defeat of a major government bill concerning electoral redistribution. 

Semlin advised Lieutenant Governor McInnes of the defeat and requested time to try to regain the confidence of the house. After several days of negotiating, Semlin found several opposition figures that were willing to join his ministry. McInnes ignored Semlin's efforts and dismissed the government. He called on Martin to form a government.

The lieutenant governor's decision caused an uproar in the assembly and they responded by passing a no-confidence vote in Martin. Martin could not govern without a popular and he failed to get that in the June 1900 provincial election. So McInnes turned to James Dunsmuir to form a new administration.

Semlin had represented Yale since British Columbia had entered the confederation. But he didn't run in the 1900 election. He later said:"I felt that I had done my share, and that it was time that younger shoulders were taking up the burdens of public life." He did try to return to politics, winning a by-election in 1903. He didn't run in the provincial election that fall though. He did try provincial politics again in 1907 but lost.

Throughout his political career, Charles Semlin found time to be active in his community. He is said to have helped form a local agricultural association in 1888 (the Inland Agricultural Society of British Columbia perhaps? He was elected president of that organization in 1889.) He was active in the development of the British Columbia Cattleman's Association in 1889.He continued to play a role as the ranching industry faced a series of challenges, including increased competition from ranches in Alberta. 

Semlin also had an interest in Canadian history land and was president of the Yale and Lillooet Pioneer Society for many years. He was a good speaker and was often asked to chair meetings and to act as master of ceremonies. He continued to fill those roles well into his eighties.
Charles Semlin was a life long bachelor - is even listed as single on his death certificate. He did raise a daughter, Mary, and left much of his estate - valued at just over $50,000 and consisting of mainly stock in the Dominion Ranch Limited - to his grandchildren. In one account of his life, written after Semlin's death, a friend said that the girl was adopted. However, according to a census record of 1881, Mary is listed as the daughter of Caroline Williams. Williams was a native woman living with Semlin and using his surname but there is no record of them ever marrying.

This teacher, packer, miner, hotel owner, rancher, politician and school trustee died on November 2, 1927 - less than a month before his 91st birthday. The Vancouver Daily Province carried the news on the front page, pointing out that he was the last surviving member of the province's first legislature. In the editorial column, it reflected that Semlin's adult life had spanned the history of the province of British Columbia since its formal creation in 1871. In Cache Creek, the newspaper observed that his grave was next to a cenotaph commemorating European pioneers "of which the deceased was one of the most beloved."

So that is my telling of the life of Charles Semlin, B.C.'s twelfth premier. I obtained the information from the awesome website, Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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