UNCHALLENGED LEADERS OF society and industry at the tum of the eighteenth century - the period which saw the construction of the Main Legislative Building - were the Dunsmuirs. Robert Dunsmuir, founder of the family fortunes, came to Vancouver Island from the coal mines of Ayrshire in 1851. He was a skilled miner anxious to improve his lot and on the voyage out promised his wife he would build her a castle. He fulfilled his promise in later years by building Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, one of the city's outstanding buildings. But for many years before he achieved success he lived in what was little better than a shack, surrounded by Indians, in the then coal-mining village of Nanaimo. He spent all his spare time searching f qr coal and was rewarded with the discovery of the seams at Departure Bay, which to us today is better known as a terminal of the B.C. Ferry system, and went on to become the largest and wealthiest employer in British Columbia.
Reminders of the Dunsmuir activities abound in the Nanaimo area in the form of slag heaps, shafts, loading chutes and miners' cottages ... now mostly abandoned. Robert Dunsmuir's prestige rivaled that of the lieutenant governors. He spent immense sums in Victoria, buying houses for his kinfolk, investing in various enterprises and providing much employment here. Robert Dunsmuir was that rarity in his era, a straight business man. No suspicion of political jobbery ever touched him. The Victoria Times was on one occasion rash enough to accuse him of using government to suit his own ends. He sued the newspaper, represented by his lawyer Theo Davie (later a premier of the province) and it cost the defendants $500 and very considerable legal fees. In contrast to our own days, large fortunes in Robert Dunsmuir's time did not excite envy.
Politicians had not yet begun to exploit artificially-stimulated jealousy of the wealthy as a step to political power, camouflaging this jealousy under slogans such as "social reform," "social justice," the "new society" or other catch phrase. Wealthy men were admired ... to the extent that when Robert Dunsmuir returned here from one of his business trips to San Francisco he was serenaded by employees of the Albion Iron Works which he reorganized. Although Robert Dunsmuir made his money chiefly around Nanaimo he spent it largely in Victoria. His first Victoria home was "Fairview," opposite the Legislative Building at the junction of Quebec and Menzies Streets. From the description of a fancy dress ball given there in 1885 we get an idea of leading people. Guests included E. G. Prior who was later premier. His firm, Prior's Hardware, became part of Mac & Mac (McLennan, McFeely & Prior) the great hardware merchants; Mrs. Bullen, Miss Helmcken, Mr. Irving, Sir Anthony Musgrave and, in full naval uniform, Sir Michael Culmie Seymour and Captain Ross.
In 1886 Emily, a Dunsmuir daughter, married Mr. Snowden from the Fairview residence. From the same home daughter Mary Heab married Henry Croft and lived afterwards at Mount Adelaide. This splendid home in Esquimalt was later purchased by Sam Matson, publisher of the Daily Colonist. The surviving Mrs. Matson willed the property to the Salvation Army and it was demolished in 1959 to make room for the Army's "Matson Lodge" on Dunsmuir Road. Another Dunsmuir marriage took place in 1891. The uniting of Jessie Sophia, Robert's sixth daughter, to Sir Richard John Musgrave of Waterford, Ireland, was the social highlight of the season. Prominent citizens at the Christ Church Cathedral ceremony included Robert Patterson, who later played a prominent role in promoting the railroad to Sidney, and R. P. Rithet, a most enterprising Victoria businessman.
"The wedding was the most fashionable and brilliant in Victoria's history ... the body of Christ Church Cathedral was filled with invited guests, while hundreds of ladies and dozens of gentlemen not so fortunate crowded the side streets, the aisles and the churchyard. "The bride's dress was of white and silver brocade, with full court train, brocaded in silver in the pattern of the Prince of Wales crest; veil and trimmings of Honiton lace." The six bridesmaids were Miss Effie Dunsmuir, Miss Musgrave, Miss Maude Dunsmuir, Miss Lizzie Harvey, Miss Birdie Dunsmuir and Miss F. Ward (the latter the daughter of a prominent merchant). Afterwards "between 200 and 300 guests spent several hours merrily at Craigdarroch Castle, the home of the bride, the band of H.M.S. Warspite being present to enliven proceedings." To give an idea of Dunsmuir's wealth- in 1883 he bought out his partner in the Departure Bay mines for $600,000 in cash (about $4,250,000 today). One of his sons, Alexander, who became an alcoholic, thought nothing of paying $20,000 for a necklace as a gift and left $645,000 to his brother James.
He also built Oakland House in Berkeley, California, and 75 acres of wooded and formal gardens, which is now the property of the City of Berkeley. Craigdarroch Castle itself was built on 20 acres which stretched from Fort Street to Rockland Avenue (see map). It went up in 1889 and cost $650,000. The world was scoured for the finest of hardwoods. Leaded glass was imported from Italy and the imposing staircase built in Chicago. The mansion had 35 fireplaces, a billiard and ballroom and a 63-foot-long living room. The double driveway curved to Fort Street where what is now the junction of Joan Crescent and Craigdarroch Road was the entrance. Robert Dunsmuir died before the Castle was finished and his widow moved in and lived there until she died in 1908. The grounds were then subdivided and sold. Everyone owning a lot was given one chance on a draw for the Castle itself. The winner was Mr. Cameron of the Westholme Lumber Co., who mortgaged it to the Bank of Montreal. The B. of M. foreclosed on the mortgage and sold the Castle to the city for $35,000. During World War I, Craigdarroch was a convalescent home for servicemen; it then became headquarters of the Victoria and then the Greater Victoria School Board. The Victoria Conservatory of Music is now established in the mansion and hopes to have found there permanent headquarters.
Since the Victoria School of Music was instituted in 1897 it has had three homes ... first was in the Institute Hall next to St. Andrew's Cathedral facing View Street where the Bishop's house stood in 1950 and then on Pandora between Broad and Government Streets. Robert Dunsmuir, a kindly man, was treated with almost royal deference by Victoria's citizens. When he entered the city council chambers, which he did very rarely, mayor and aldermen rose to their feet and remained standing until he was seated. In addition to reorganizing the Albion Iron Works, he brought in American associates (Crocker, Stanford, Huntingdon and Hopkins - California's "Big Four") to launch the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railroad and bring the terminus to Store Street, in Victoria. He was as generous in private as he was careful in business, an instance of his generosity being when he chartered a steamer to bring daughter Marion and her bridegroom to Victoria after the Nanaimo wedding. Robert Dunsmuir owned not only mines.
He had a fleet of steamers, was a large shareholder in the Canadian Pacific Navigation Co. and chief shareholder in the Victoria Theatre of which he was an ardent patron. The Colonist editorialized on his death that he hadn't an enemy in the world. His second son James took over his father's business interests, became premier of British Columbia in 1901 and lieutenantgovernor 1906-09. He offset the excessive drinking of his brother Alex by becoming a total abstainer. Victoria remembers James today chiefly because of Hatley Park. Another Dunsmuir residence was Burleith, the gates and stone fence of which are still to be seen on Craigflower Road. James and his American wife lived in "Burleith" after Mrs. Robert Dunsmuir (the widow) went to Craigdarroch. Many gay parties were held there, but it was ruined by fire around 1932 after they moved to Hatley Park. James had eight daughters and two sons, the eldest daughter married Major Guy Audain, whose son Hatley Park (Royal Roads) which was built in 1911 had in its 700 acres Italian and Japanese gardens, fish pools, a conservatory, sunken gardens and dozens of other beautiful features which make it still today one of Victoria's greatest assets.
The estate was bought by the Canadian government after Mrs. James Dunsmuir passed on in 1937 and is used as a training centre for future officers of the Armed Services. The mansion, Hatley Castle, was designed by Samuel McClure, who became Victoria's leading architect. McClure, studious by nature, was the son of a Royal Engineer and like his father was an expert telegraphist. He turned to architecture and his homes characterized by stone or stained shingle lower exterior and half-timbered plaster on the upper storeys were noted for their spacious entrance halls and staircases and their leaded glass windows. Notable examples are the Olde England Inn, "Kingsmount" at 305 Denison, the Harry Gladwell home 1770 Rockland, "Illahie"t built in 1907 for Biggerstaff Wilson, the Gibson house on 1590 York Place (now owned by lawyer Howard Harman) and the Glen Rosa rest home at 644 Linden. McClure died in 1929. The pre-eminence of the Dunsmuirs marked a decided change in Victoria's social values. It would have been impossible for the Dunsmuirs to have attained such eminence 25 years earlier.
Acceptability in the higher social circles was, until the 1890's, judged by different standards - those engaged in "trade" were considered to rank lower than those of good birth and holding official positions. In Victoria's earliest years the question of birth did not arise because the only "society" existing was that of senior Hudson's Bay Company officials and officers of the Royal Navy stationed here. James Douglas was the undisputed head of all and, in a small settlement where every face was familiar, social distinctions could not be rigid. Even as Royal Governor of Vancouver Island (1851-64) The Canadian Government bought Hatley Park with all buildings and 700 acres of land for $75,000. Corner of Charles and Maud streets. Douglas made a point of inviting "all but the riff-raff" to his parties at the Fort. Friendship with Douglas put the hallmark on social acceptance. To be invited to take a bumpy ride in his spring-less carriage ... an invitation he frequently extended to the wife of Bishop Cridge and other ladies ... was an honour not lightly to be declined. For men it was a privilege to be asked to accompany him on a Saturday afternoon country ride or in the S.S. Beaver to visit San Juan and the Company's farm managed by Mr. Griffiths.
If Douglas was on the top rung of the social ladder, on the bottom (assuming that he eventually made it) were characters of uncertain origin like Blanket Bill. Blanket Bill when a very old man in Bellingham claimed to have instituted Victoria's first mail service by canoe to Seattle. He got his name because when captured by Indians they swapped him, he claimed, for a blanket (presumably a new one) offered by James Douglas. Advancing years brought celebrity to Blanket Bill, but his memory had unfortunately gone and his disjointed and sometimes incoherent reminiscences (not all due to age), interrupted by long, unexplained silences were of little benefit to historians. But he claimed to be well known in Victoria. The mostly English gentlemen-farmers who arrived with their servants soon after Victoria was founded introduced a lighter hearted and, the Scots old-timers thought, a light-headed note into society. Most of them had their expenses paid by the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company for whom they acted as bailiffs and then, as now, expense accounts were subject to abuse.
They and their daughters enjoyed dancing, singing, horseback-riding, picnics, visits to H.M. warships and all-night parties. Many parties had to be all night ones for, as Martha Cheney describes in her diary, distances between the farmhouses and the H.M. ships were too great to permit return the same day and heavy drinking seems to have been customary among the men. The wives and daughters of the immigrant farmers wore bustles when entertaining ... a form of dress regarded by the Scots in the same light as many elderly regard the miniskirt of today. Officers of the Royal Navy stationed here shared the same ideas of entertainment as the gentlemen farmers.
To them Royal Governor Douglas was "Old Square Toes" (not in his hearing of course). He and his cronies could join in the fun if they liked. Fortunately Douglas, no doubt egged on by his daughters, chose to like, insisting at the same time on due respect for the dignity of his office. As senior official in the Colony he could condone the new attitudes without losing prestige, although he disapproved of the extravagant expenditure. He may even at times have welcomed the change. As the population of Victoria slowly grew, Hudson's Bay officials looked for financial opportunities outside the strictly regulated sphere of their salaried employment. The Company could make money by trade and by selling land. What was more natural than the purchase of land by Company officials?
Prominent employees like Tod, Yale, Finlayson, McNeill and Pemberton were among those who purchased land around Victoria at the then current price of $ 1 an acre and by so doing they enhanced their financial and social standing. A new land-owning class was in course of formation. Land ownership received further encouragement when the Company and the Crown permitted purchase by installments. Those who purchased downtown lots prior to the gold rush made a handsome profit provided they sold out in time, but much of the land purchased in outlying areas remained uncultivated for years and the purchasers had to wait a long time for the return on their investment. New elements entered society with the 1858 and subsequent gold rushes. Mostly they were fly-by-nighters. Downtown Victoria was for them a sort of fair ground where they pitched their booths and made their sales of camp equipment, shovels, barrows, picks, lamps, drink, clothing, provisions and boots to transient gold-seekers. W. & J. Wilson, clothiers, on Government Street, were an exception. William Wilson, who arrived here in 1862, bought out the Henry Gillard store on Government Street and was later joined by his brother Joseph to form W. & J. Wilson. William became an M.L.A. and died here at the age of 84 in 1922. The Wilsons have been connected directly and indirectly with numerous enterprises in the city ... carriage trade, groceries, finance ... and one Wilson, Richard, was a recent mayor of Victoria.
People who made money by "trade" were, however, never regarded as in the upper echelons of society: landownership and official position ... with the government, the Hudson's Bay Company or the Royal Navy remained the hallmarks of the "upper crust." Honoured guests at a ball given by the Royal Governor in New Westminster were Matthew Baillie-Begbie, W. A. Young, Colonial Secretary, whose wife was a niece of James Douglas; A. G. Henry Pering Pellew Crease, the leading Victoria lawyer; Joseph Wm. Trutch, Commissioner of Lands and Works; W. D. Hamley, Collector of Customs; Chartres Brew, Superintendent of Police; Arthur T. Bushby, Captain James Cooper, Harbourmaster; Robert Ker, Auditor-General; Registrar of Court Charles E. Pooley and Colonel R. Wolfenden, Queen's Printer. Wolfenden was a former sergeant with the Royal Engineers, but had a knowledge of printing. The titles given these officials when the whole white population of British Columbia was about 6,000 seem rather grandiose to us today, but perhaps they were no more out of place than our 11 parliaments, 10 premiers and one prime minister for a population of about 21 million.
It is interesting to note that drunkenness was not a prerogative of civilians. The band of the British flagship which was to play at the New Westminster ball arrived so drunk that the Royal Engineers' band was hastily rounded up to substitute. More evidence of the "togetherness" of the official classes is seen in honoured guests at a concert given in St. John's Church in 1873. They included Joseph Trutch, Admiral Hillyar, the ubiquitous Begbie, Judge Gray and Sir James Douglas. Tradesmen, on the other hand, were expected to remain tradesmen and while this may have been irritating to many from over the border, there was no way of breaking the barrier. Birth and breeding (provided the breeding was supplemented with a private income) also played a large part in social acceptance. When Lady Jane Franklin, wife of the famous Arctic explorer Captain Sir John Franklin, R.N., paid a visit to Mayor and Mrs. Harris, her A.D.C. referred, somewhat snobbishly it seems to us today, to the reception they could expect: "Will your ladyship wash erands?" and narrated with great gusto how the reception went exactly according to expectations.
Harris was the wealthiest man in town, but still a "tradesman." Another indication of the prerogative of birth is the remark made by Lord Duff erin, the governor-general, about Anthony Walkem, premier from 1874-76. He wrote: "He (Walkem) is not, I imagine, a person of any great consideration. He is a lawyer in a small village (Victoria) and the son of a clerk in the Dominion Militia Department, so that in one's intercourse with him one has to be on guard against the intellectual frailties engendered by his professional antecedents." In other words, the aristocrats of those days didn't think race horses could be bred from draught-horses. People accepted this maxim and their place in life. Those were the days when the hymn was sung, unamended: The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high or lowly, he ordered their estate. In all societies birds of a feather have tended to flock together. Before the advent of an established mercantile class, officials and their kin flocked very much together. We read that at a society gathering in 1870 the Hon. Arthur T. Bushby, son-in-law of Sir James Douglas, sang in a rich tenor "Soft Sleep Be Thine," "Banks of Allan Water," "Gently Sighs the Breeze." Mr. Haverick, an official from Yale, gave impersonations in "The Stagestruck Hero"; Mrs. Needham, wife of Chief Justice Needham, played the piano for her daughter singing "The Forsaken," "When the Swallows Fly Home." Her singing reduced strong men to tears, said the newspaper comment.
The tradesmen classes similarly had their social occasions in the philharmonic, dramatic, fire brigade and other societies. None of them clashed and the Church in those days as in these was a point of contact for all stratas of society. Without a doubt the most popular of all institutions in Victoria ... a popularity which continued until it left Victoria in 1905 ... was the Royal Navy. The Navy joined in every activity. As early as 1858 it staged Victoria's first cricket match when a team from H.M.S. Satellite played the Pioneer Cricket Club. The Navy was important economically.
A battleship like the Sutlej would have a complement of 600, all of them spenders.·In 1873 the Royal Navy had five ships here with 1800 men. The Navy Yard had many permanent employees, all of whom were fed with mostly local produce. Victoria felt great pride in the security provided by the Royal Navy. This was given expression to by the Daily Colonist in 1890 in a comment on the ball tendered to Rear Admiral Hotham and officers of the Pacific Squadron. It wrote: "The event is looked upon not only as a recognition of the many courtesies received at the hands of the officers, but as an attempt at making the representatives of Britain's maritime power feel that though they sojourned among colonists, their lot had fallen among British subjects whose ambition for Britain's welfare is the same as theirs, whose hope is that they may ever continue to be one of England's most substantial bulwarks as well as her chief colony."
The first and the second dry dock in Esquimalt were a direct result of Royal Navy interest. The latest and largest dock was built after an inspection tour by Lord Jellicoe. It was as a result of his visit that the Queen Elizabeth could dock here in World War II. Some older residents still remember the Royal Navy ratings, many of them fine bearded men. They were seldom quarrelsome, full of fun and spent freely of their modest pay. Socially the bands of the warships provided first class music for weddings, Victoria day celebrations, funerals, sporting events and many other occasions. Jack Tar was always willing to give a hand in fighting fires or floods. Citizens thought so highly of the naval ratings that they protested to the Admiral about them being put on chain gangs with other common malefactors for breaches of discipline ( mostly desertion) and the Admiralty felt compelled to stop the practice. As to the officers they were gentlemen, often with private means and among them were some very eligible bachelors.
Captain Langford's oldest daughter married Captain Joslin, R.N. The third married a Lieutenant Bill. The second oldest married outside the Navy, to Captain Lewis of the Hudson's Bay Company. Thomas Skinner's daughter ( the first white girl born in Victoria) also married a naval officer. The marrying habit was not confined to officers. Many tars became engaged locally but there was a regrettable tendency by many to forget their obligations. All Victorians grieved for the four midshipmen from H.M.S. Warspite who drowned off Race Rocks in 1891 after leaving Pedder Bay in a canoe to get salmon; the monument erected by their sorrowing parents is still maintained carefully in the Canadian Forces Base in Esquimalt (formerly H.M.C.S. Naden). Until recent years the Navy, whether R.N. or R.C.N., always enjoyed marked preference in Victoria.
The Canadian admirals who succeeded the British were on a par socially with the lieutenant governors and their presence or absence could make or mar a social occasion. One of the best remembered of recent admirals is Rear Admiral W. M. Landymore, a short, energetic officer with a distinguished war career, who fell a victim to unification of the Armed Services. Victoria's affection for and identification with the Navy is now exercised through Rear Admiral H. A. Porter, whose title is Commander, Maritime Forces, Pacific Coast, but H.M.C.S. Naden is commemorated in the Naden band, first founded in 1932, whose performances in the Victoria Day parade always draw enthusiastic applause. It is sad to record that in Post World War II years relations between civilians and navy men deteriorated in Victoria. Young navy men stationed here resented what they called the "smugness" of Victorians devoted to their homes, gardens and families and apparently quite ignorant of the fact that Victoria, as a seaport, offered sailors very little indeed in the way of entertainment ... entertainment which they considered they had a right to expect.
Victoria merchants, on the other hand, watched with growing concern the vast quantities of merchandise bought overseas by the crews of warships stationed here. They noted also that the so-called "goodwill" cruises which enabled crews to buy so much more cheaply in San Francisco, Hong Kong or Japan, seemed to coincide with Christmas or other buying seasons. The retailers also noted the enlargement of retail purchasing facilities within the "Naden" area for members of the Service in direct competition with them; as private enterprise is the backbone of all taxation, they felt they should not have to compete with tax-suhsidized services. After the navy officers and Hudson's Bay Company officials in 103 early years the senior officials enjoyed precedence. The first civil list in 1859 totalled £5,300. Principal officials were Matthew Baillie Begbie, Chartres Brew, Captain James Cooper, Wymouth 0. Hamley, Captain W. Driscoll Gossett, R.E., treasurer, whose iron house from England has previously been mentioned, W. A. G. Young, and George H. Cary, Attorney-General. With the advent of more representative government the ranks of officialdom became diluted with political appointees. Some of the jobs were entirely superfluous, but they provided jobs for supporters of the politicians.
Begbie commented on the appointment of a second chief justice that "it was as necessary as a 13th wheel to a railroad truck." This dilution led to a downgrading in social status of government officials generally. The original appointees were much higher on the list of socially acceptables. A corollary of this was the upgrading of the mercantile section of the community. The last 20 years of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of leading merchants as a separate class, although they were often at the same time landowners, politicians and industrialists. Good family became of less account. A good bank account of paramount importance. It is to these merchants that Victoria owes many of its finest homes of the period. Some of these homes do not seem so magnificent to us today as they are often dwarfed by high-rise apartments erected near them, or their surroundings are diminished by the building of smaller, modern dwellings, but in their time they were palaces compared with the homes of the working people. The fine woodwork, minstrel balconies and imposing staircases were something the ordinary man saw only as a servant. Even as late as the 1930's, a reporter invited to describe a reception at one of these fine homes would think he was really entering high society. Who were these people, where were their homes, how did they make their money?