Friday, August 23, 2013

Where did the Fortune Go?

Don't worry, this kitty is just sleeping. You should have seen the look she gave me when my phone camera woke her!
James Dunsmuir is described as practical, honest, reliable and unassuming. He had a certain brusqueness in business that gave an impression of cold haughtiness. He was careful with money, resisting what he considered to be over charges from doctors, shippers and such but he gave generously to churches, orphanages, hospitals and agricultural exhibitions. Starting June 1900, James donated $25 per month to the Extension Mine Accident Fund.

There was vicious public criticism of Dunsmuir sometimes but he never made an attempt to justify his actions or defend himself. He had a habit of being self-deprecating and this led to negative assessments of his business career. People wrongly labelled James as being simple, unimaginative and unambitious whereas if they had looked at the progress of the company during the time he was in control, they would have said differently.

During the time he was premier, Dunsmuir ran his company on a daily basis. And this talented entrepreneur raised production levels from 215,021 tonnes to 898,908 tonnes and the average workforce from 575 to 2,519. Sales increased from 215,127 tons of coal to 706,890 tons of coal and 8,327 tons of coke. The coke had never been manufactured before. James Dunsmuir did a lot to increase the value of the company and enlarge the family's fortune.

This photo is of Hatley Park, the home of James and Laura Dunsmuir.

Graveyard monument for James Dunsmuir at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, BC. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

More on the grave monument in Victoria, BC.

This is another photo of Hatley Castle in Colwood, B.C. It is now the home of the Royal Roads University.

It is difficult to understand why, at the relatively young age of 61, James Dunsmuir retired from the corporate world. Maybe he was tired of the eternal confrontations with the workers or discouraged by the growing popularity of oil in the U.S., which was seriously depleting the firm's key market. He was smart though. He sold up at the most opportune time to maximise his profits. Perhaps James was responding to the increasing value placed on leisure time and to the general economic decline of Vancouver Island. Another reason could be that he had just lost interest in furthering the family empire.

So James retired to the life of an English gentleman at Hatley Park near Esquimalt and devoted his life to fishing and estate management. Hatley Castle is an Edwardian mansion of 50 rooms on 640 acres complete with modern dairy and slaughterhouse. There was also a 2158-foot steel yacht Dolaura with a dining room that could seat 24 and a hunting lodge on the Cowichan River. This wasn't a flamboyant display of wealth though. James lived behind the massive fences on a large, relatively remote estate. 
This is a picture of the Japanese Garden at Hatley Park. It was designed by Japanese landscape architect Isaburo Kashida and installed in 1909.
This is Dola Dunsmuir - the youngest child of James and Laura Dunsmuir - and an unknown gentleman on horses at Hatley Park.
This is James and Laura Dunsmuir in the Italian Garden at Hatley.
A tea pavillion and bridge in the Japanese Gardens at Hatley Park.

(all these photos are from the Royal Roads University Archives)

James Dunsmuir, though, experienced little joy in his later years. He was increasingly isolated and lonely. His eldest son spent his life globetrotting in an alcoholic haze and his younger son died in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. The daughters weren't much better. They led frivolous lives and there was no one in the third generation of the Canadian Dunsmuirs who was the entrepreneur or worker that their father and grandfather had been. In fact, after James' death in his hunting lodge in 1920, the children burned through the family fortune in one generation.

So sad. James Dunsmuir had been the richest and allegedly the most influential man in British Columbia for a few years. He didn't create the labour environment but he contributed to the militancy with his strong arm tactics. He didn't create the racism but he intensified the debate by employing a large amount of Asians and using them as strike breakers. Yet he was a highly successful Vancouver Island entrepreneur who dominated the local economy and he created communities and provided living wages to thousands of people. James Dunsmuir was a talented businessman whose wealth and influence exceeded that of his father. 

Once again, I would like to thank the Dictionary of Canadian Biography for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I think it is so sad that after the father and grandfather worked so hard, it only took one generation for lose the fortune. So sad.

  2. Great job Karen. I think it is sad that after all his hard work that his children and grandchildren were so foolish to lose his fortune. I guess if you yourself don't have to work hard you have no concept of what working hard to have something is.

    To frivolously waste such a fortune is on the heads of his children and maybe he's retiring and being a Country Gentlemen is his knowledge that he might as well enjoy what he had before it was totally lost.

    Congratulations on a well done piece.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I told my father that this is the reason he isn't leaving us a fortune! LOL