Wednesday, July 24, 2013


This is the Pilling House at 906 Salsbury Drive. Built in 1908, it reflects the evolving social and economic character of Grandview in the early 1900s. This area was originally promoted as an exclusive area - thanks to its commanding views - but other districts such as Shaughnessy won out in the exclusivity area.

Charles Semlin's political career began in 1871 - the same year the B.C. entered the confederation of Canada - when he was elected in Yale to the inaugural session of the provincial legislature. He and another candidate tied for third place in the three-member riding so the returning officer put their names in a hat and Semlin was declared the winner when his name was drawn. Semlin's first years as a politician were not that notable. He ran unsuccessfully in Yale for the general elections in 1875 and 1878.

Then Charles' fortunes improved. He was returned to his seat in 1882 and would go on to retain his position in the elections of 1886, 1890, 1894 and 1898. He then became leader of the opposition after the election of 1894 when Robert Beaven failed to win his re-election.
Charles Knight, president and general manager of  Western Pacific Development Company, owned the house from 1910 to 1913. From 1914 to 1915, William Walker, manager of the Canadian Electric Power Company lived here. The transition to a more middle and working class neighbourhood began in 1922 with James and Marion Pilling.

Semlin was an affable and easy-going man, not particularly effective as leader of the opposition. He appears to have been largely uncomfortable in the political arena of the day with its divisive atmosphere and raucous debate. To make things even more confusing, provincial politics had not yet embraced party allegiances of the federal arena. Semlin and Premier John Turner were both staunch conservatives. Semlin only held a titular head of opposition because the opposition represented all shades of the political spectrum. All were united in their discontent with the Turner government and you can't build a political party on that!

By 1897, the national and provincial press were criticising not only the Turner administration but also the actions of certain cabinet ministers. Semlin issued an official opposition platform that summer on behalf of the Provincial party, calling for an electoral re-distribution to correct the over-representation of Victoria and the under-representation of the mainland in the assembly. He also called for a reorganization of civil service, constraints on Asian immigration and government control of railways. In October of that year, the first gathering of provincial Liberals formulated as similar platform to oppose the Turner government. The Liberals were split over the issue of introducing party lines in the next election but the arrival of prominent Manitoba Liberal, Joseph Martin, had served to give them greater presence.

James was an adjuster with the Canadian Credit Men's Trust Association, and following his death in 1938, Marion continued to live here until 1950. In 2009, the sleeping porch was restored under the Vancouver Heritage Foundation's Restore It program.

In July of 1898, the Turner government failed to win a majority. Contested results and delayed polling meant that the exact results remained in doubt for some time. In a controversial move, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Robert McInnes dismissed Turner and his ministers in early August. In spite of the fact that Beaven had failed to win a seat, McInnes turned to him to take over as premier. However, Beaven failed to get the support he needed so the Lieutenant Governor called on Semlin to take over as leader of the province. 

Martin was reluctant to serve under Semlin - perhaps because Martin was hoping to be named leader at a Liberal convention to be held in Vancouver in two weeks and could then rightly assume the position of Premier - but the former Manitoba politician did end up supporting Semlin.

Charles Augustus Semlin was only premier of British Columbia for 18 months - from August 15, 1898 to February 27, 1900 - but what a tempestuous period of time that was. First of all, the loose affiliations and informal structures that held the political parties together were challenging to unite even for accomplished politicians but even more so for a gentle man such as Semlin. Divisions in his cabinet, most notably between Conservative Francis Lovett Carter-Cotton (Minister of Finance) and the mercurial Joseph Martin (attorney general).These two men detested each other and their animosity distributed to the disintegration of the government. 

Semlin's problems were compounded by his efforts to initiate wide-ranging reforms. Moves such as legislating eight-hour days for hard rock miners were angrily denounced by mine owners and led to a lengthy and bitter strike in the Kootenays. (June 1899 to February 1900) Then there were the dismissals that accompanied efforts to purge the civil service of patronage appointments, which caused heated protests and further eroded government support.

Wow! This gentle, amiable man sure set off a powder keg, didn't he? He was there to right the wrongs of the age and that easy-going outside obviously hid a will of steel.

Friday, I will finish telling you about Charles Semlin. 

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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  1. It seems as if the class of Orientals and Whites in Canada are similar to the class of Blacks and Whites in America as far as clashing? Could you comment on that issue? Although, it seems racist is it? Or was it simply difference in culture?

    1. Remember that when the railway was built, Chinese were welcomed as cheap labour but after it was finished, Canada made it more difficult for the Chinese to get in by charging a head tax on every Chinese person that tried to enter the country.

      There is the story of the Komagata Maru - - which I wrote on in 2012. That was racially motivated I think.

      Of course, just as the U.S. did during World War II, B.C. put Japanese citizens in concentration camps after taking away everything they owned. Some were working as spies and that was probably one of the fears of the government.

      People naturally fear whatever is different. Think back to when we were in school and all the kids had to wear the sort of clothing in order to be popular. We all want to fit in and may shun those who don't. I think that is was probably a cultural thing and maybe a bit of racism and thinking they were superior to Asians. That attitude though isn't only for the whites, every nationality and country has racism of some sort.

      Thanks for asking and for taking the time to read my blog.