As A RESULT OF THE political turmoil, many new colorful personalities emerged during the 1870-80 decade to add excitement to the social and legislative scene. There were no political parties - they came in first with Premier McBride in 1903-but M.L.A.'s and their supporters switched from one or other combination according to where the "mostest" was promised. The rallying cry for patriots was the never-failing vote-getter today, namely: "unfair treatment by outside interests."
In the earliest years of the Colony the Hudson's Bay Company was the whipping boy, accused of benefiting its shareholders at the expense of settlers. When Vancouver Island became a Crown Colony the British government aroused the ire of many because of its alleged neglect and parsimony. When British Columbia became part of Canada, Ottawa became the culprit, allegedly depriving the province of its rightful share of Canada's revenue, an attitude - whether well based or not- still common today.
The lengths to which British Columbians were prepared to go to extract money from Ottawa is shown by their pressing Ottawa to accept the province's population in 1870 as 60,000 when in fact it was only 36,247 as far as could be ascertained from the dubious records kept. Nor were the politicians in the East sprouting angels' wings. Urging support for this or other measure from their local political friends they were careful to assure them that their interests ( real estate, trade, or otherwise) would not be affected. 61 British Columbia's first premier made no great contribution to political or social life.
The chief claim to fame of John Foster McCreight, premier 1871-72, was his honesty. He had the reputation of being crochety and ill-tempered, but he was really intolerant of politicians although elected for Victoria. Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Trutch persuaded him to accept the premiership of the first united parliament of Vancouver Island and the Mainland. As a lawyer, McCreight was an educated man, in contrast to the other politicians whom the lieutenant-governor described as "a queer kittle cattle ... a wild team to handle." They were too wild for McCreight who quit the premiership over a very small matter after a year and was glad to do so. Politics were definitely not his line. He was a fiery tempered Irishman who arrived here from Australia in 1860 and upset Chief Justice Begbie by daring him to use outside the court the words he had used inside.
Begbie twice exiled him to "Siberia" - the legal term for the Cariboo, the drawback being that with the gold rushes over, there was nobody to judge. It was only one stage removed from solitary confinement. McCreight did not shine socially. He lived on Michigan Street near Birdcage Walk. He was apparently married for the name of Mrs. McCreight appears with his as guest at a social function, but little was seen of her and the marriage certificate was not among his papers. He achieved temporary notoriety by publicly punching a Dr. Rumsey on the nose and was fined for so doing. Neither assailant nor assaulted ever revealed the reason for the set-to. Perhaps there wasn't one. McCreight was an ardent supporter of Christ Church, but shocked the Church and friends by suddenly turning Roman Catholic. He left Victoria in 1897 never to return.
British Columbia's first cabinet ministers were paid $3,500 a year, the equivalent being about $35,000 today. Their spending was a substantial contribution to the city's economy. M.L.A.'s got no pay, but were suspected of helping themselves to generous "pickings.'' In one session of the Legislature a motion was put that a return be made of all amounts paid to members. It was turned down. The Colonist commented: "The public thought the M.L.A.'s services Royal Governor Seymour charged outright in 1869 that many M.L.A.'s "made pickings on the quiet." After McCreight came De Cosmos (1872-74). Amor De Cosmos, the West's first radical, was born plain Bill Smith, legitimate offspring of James and Charlotte Esther Smith of Windsor, Nova Scotia. He changed his name to the Latin equivalent of "Lover of the Universe" because when he was an itinerant photographer in the California goldfields he found himself submerged beneath hundreds of Bill Smiths.
He arrived in Victoria with the gold-seekers, but swiftly decided that there was more pay dirt in politics. Socially De Cosmos was an alcoholic beacon in a toper's maze. Nearly all men drank heavily, but De Cosmos seldom seemed to eat. Wine and whiskey drinking on the Pacific coast paralleled the gin-drinking in industrial England with one important exception. Britain's gin palaces catered to the working classes, whereas wine and whiskey drinking was indulged in heavily by all classes throughout the west. Successful men were proud of their wine cellars. Some blame the shortage of women and absence of domestic life for the heavy drinking. Naval officers endeavoring to round up partners for a ball in 1860 could find only 30 young ladies - some of them half-breeds - in the whole of Vancouver Island.
It was estimated that males at that time outnumbered females by 100 to 1 . The situation was relieved, by the arrival of 62 imported females among 270 passengers in the S.S. Tynemouth in September 1862. The women were sent out under the auspices of the London Female Emigration Society. There would have been 96 of them, but San Francisco, where the Tynemouth called, was just as short of women as Victoria. Thirty-four went ashore there and didn't return to the ship. For Victoria, arrival of the Tynemouth was a gala event. All shops and other businesses closed for the day and crowds of sexstarved settlers and miners tried to board the ship in Esquimalt where she tied up. But they had to wait until the passengers were brought to Victoria in the gunboat Forward and quartered in the Colonial Police Barracks in James Bay.
Most of the women found 63 partners within a few days and many of their descendants live here today. But even in Victoria, according to local legend, some of them "went missing" as far as husbands were concerned, but they were not missing from the local scene. In the same year the Seaman's Bride was due here from Australia with 23 females. They were permitted ashore in San Francisco and stayed ashore. As to the type of lady, Australia was as short of women as Canada and it is hard to believe that Australia was parting with her best. The arrival of the Thames City with a detachment of Royal Engineers in April 1859 brought 118 men, but only 31 women to the Colony.
In 1862 a ship from Britain arrived with 250 passengers, among them only 25 women and, worse still, 20 of them were married. There were not enough women to go round for the few hundred local residents, let alone the tens of thousands of transient miners. It was not to be wondered at. The long voyage round the Cape from Britain was perilous and inflicted great hardships. When to this is added the roughness and monotony of a pioneer's living it is understandable why many of the early fur traders partnered Indian women. James Douglas's wife Amelia was the offspring of Hudson's Bay chief factor William Connolly and an Indian wife. Factor John Tod, who owned a large part of Oak Bay, partnered three Indians. One of them he called his "singing Lola" but her vindictive and stern look in a photograph seems to indicate that she "went off song" after a few years of John.
Mary Tod Island off the Oak Bay Marina is named after one of his daughters. De Cosmos didn't marry at all. His interests were in other directions. He was launched into political life by the British Colonist (now Victoria Daily Colonist) which he founded. It was not, however, the first newspaper. The pioneer newspaper was the Victoria Gazette edited in 1858 by American immigrants Williston and Bartlett. Their literary efforts were preceded by those of Robert Melrose who is sometimes hailed as Victoria's first journalist. Robert Melrose, a Scot, arrived in Victoria in 1853 to work on Craigflower Farm where he lodged with his wife in a rough shack. Mrs. Melrose raised her glass and kept a meticulous diary of the alcoholic content of his fellow immigrants. He kept a daily record telling with the precision of a breathalyzer whether they were one-quarter, half-three-quarters, or dead drunk.
A red letter day in Mrs. Melrose's hard life was when H.R.H. Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria, visited her, accepted a jug of home-made cream and gave her $ 5 to show her appreciation. A truthful line in Melrose's diary reads: "It would almost take a line of packet ships running regularly between here and San Francisco to supply this isle with grog, so great a thirst prevails amongst its inhabitants." Melrose was probably among the horde of "Egyptian locusts" as they were termed who descended on a newly-built ship in 1869 and consumed all the liquor and food before the christening party arrived. The builder was indignant.
The invited guests indignant. The Colonist wrote: "The young socialite who was to have christened the ship left in a great huff." Meanwhile the shipwrights dealt Bacchanalian blows at the blocks and the ship slid unchristened into the water. "What shall we call her?" shouted the head carpenter on the receding vessel. "Call her?" echoed the desperate owner with a vengeful glance at the departing "locusts" : "Call her the Bums" and B.U.M.S. she was christened. Ship christenings (as indeed any free entertainment) can be counted on to draw Victorians in crowds. Harold Husband, president of V.M.D. shipyards, in 1962 publicly invited "friends'' to attend the launching of the ferry Queen of Victoria. He found he had so many "friends" he had to abandon the custom.
The Victoria Gazette changed hands in the year it started after going daily at 12 ½¢ (about $ 1 per copy by today's values) and expired a few months later. An employee in the leaky Wharf Street shed where the British Colonist was printed was David W. Higgins. Higgins was an able but quarrelsome journalist. His career was punctuated with libel cases. Halifax-born, he arrived in Victoria in 1858 and soon quarreled with De Cosmos. He set up the rival Victoria Daily Chronicle in a press he brought from the defunct 65 Victoria Gazette. Meanwhile De Cosmos had sold the British Colonist to the staff. Both Higgins' Chronicle and the British Colonist found the going tough. Higgins merged the two papers into the British Colonist and Victoria Chronicle, then, after six years, renamed the paper Victoria Colonist. Higgins, like De Cosmos, had his eye on politics and the financial rewards attached thereto. He sold out in 1886, became an M.L.A., Speaker of the House and president of the National Electric Tramway & Light Co. He wrote two books Mystic Spring and Passing of a Race and married in the year of his arrival a local girl, Mary Jane, third daughter of J. T. Pidwell, a Cornish Methodist, whose home was at the corner of Douglas and Humboldt Streets, now a parking lot.
In 1885 he built one of Victoria's finest homes "Regents Park" at the west corner of Fort and St. Charles Streets, the scene of many gay social events. The Victoria Colonist was printed in the Hibben-Bone building on the site of what is now the Churchill Hotel on Government Street in 1 882 : the old Victoria (Royal) Theatre was demolished to make room for it. The newspaper moved to View and Broad Street near the present Canada Trust Building about 1900 and in 1951 to its present location on Douglas Street where it combined printing facilities with those of its former rival, the Victoria Daily Times.
The latter, a Liberal paper, was started as a weekly, price $2 per year, by Senator Wm. Templeman in 1884 and was published until 1951 in the "Times Building" on Fort at Broad, a building now sublet into offices. But this was not the first attempt at a Liberal paper in Victoria. De Cosmos, dissatisfied with the treatment he was getting from the Colonist got his brother to start the Liberal Standard in 1874. Victoria has been a publisher's graveyard. Through the years it has had the Telegraph, Express, News, Weekly Sentinel, Globe, Evening Post ( publisher W. J. McDowell), Home Journal and Observer. In the 1860's, it had a French newspaper Le Courier de la Nouvelle Caledonia, the editor of which was reputed to be a count, but finished up as a waiter. In 1869 John Robson, the New Westminster publisher and politician, moved his expiring Columbian here and it was absorbed by the Colonist, of which he later became editor. Douglas, who was constantly attacked by De Cosmos in the British Colonist, ignored the criticisms and seems to have regarded the "Lover of the Universe" as a species of cockroach.
But others were less patient. Hudson's Bay Company official Rod Finlayson beat him up in 1862. Robert Dunsmuir, the coal-mining magnate, wore out an umbrella on De Cosmos' shoulders when the latter accosted him aggressively on the street. A few minutes afterwards De Cosmos emerged from his editorial den to make some unpleasant remarks to Mayor Rithet. The mayor punched him around and chased him back to his sanctum. Residents also retold gleefully in 1866 the story of a legislator who crooked De Cosmos' head under his head and treated the face to what was described as "severe but merited chastisement." The fiery-tempered legislator had intended to throw De Cosmos from the James Bay Bridge into "the drink," but Dr. Helmcken intervened and prevented this. Sir James Douglas afterwards told Helmcken pointedly that his jurisdiction as Speaker of the House was inside not outside parliament.
Helmcken's intervention had apparently deprived the governor of a great pleasure. The Colony was in a bad way financially when De Cosmos took on the premiership. It was still worse off when he left. But Victorians got plenty of entertainment. De Cosmos' electioneering was a roisterer's delight, very often accompanied by free drinks, band music, torch parades from the home of one prominent supporter to another, terminating sometimes with a grand drink-in at the old Colonial Inn. De Cosmos could speak longer than any man of the time. He spoke once for 24 hours continuously in Parliament. Refreshing his falsetto voice with frequent sips of spiked eggnog he captivated audiences with his mixture of half-truths, oversimplifications, innuendos and downright untruths. He told the malcontents what they wanted to hear and could reinforce his oratory with copious tears.
He was somewhat of a political chameleon, changing color with his changing interests. De Cosmos was at various times for and against (1) Victoria being a free port; (2) Confederation; (3) Parliament being located here; ( 4) A transcontinental railroad. He indulged freely in political blackmail. By threatening secession he hoped to get more money out of Ottawa. The location of the terminus of the projected Trans-Canada railroad was a football for conflicting real estate interests. Eventually De Cosmos left provincial for Federal politics. His departure was hailed with uneasy relief. Many wondered what he would get up to in Ottawa. Victoria rejected him altogether at the polls in 1892 and he became a lonely old man, indulging in interminable walks and embarrassing men and women with his fixed stare.
He seemed to be trying to remember faces. In his last year he was insane and under constant surveillance. Few people troubled to attend his funeral in Ross Bay cemetery, but many years after his death the Victoria Daily Colonist erected an imposing monument over his grave. He is also commemorated with a plaque in the rotunda of Parliament Buildings. He found many more admirers in the twentieth than the nineteenth century. Ottawa even discovered that "he was a leader in the struggle for responsible government" ... although anybody more irresponsible it would be hard to find.
After De Cosmos came Premier George Anthony Walkem. Out of the wreckage of Confederation promises Victoria had managed to salvage the promise of a dry-dock. Construction of the dry-dock became a financial burden and political scandal. The first pile was driven in 1876. Eleven years elapsed before it was finished. It was to be 481 feet long and the Dominion Government guaranteed 5% interest on the cost for I0 years. The project went wrong from the start. There was some shockingly bad figure work. Item: cement estimated at $3,000 cost $250,000. Item: total cost of dock estimated at $500,000; actual cost $1,175,000. The cement was ordered from England by Premier Walkem and stored in Selleck's warehouse at a rental of $80 a month. First stored in 1871 it was still being stored 20 years later. In 1882 a fire broke out in Selleck's Hotel adjoining the "fireproof warehouse," leading to a loss of $30,000 in cement.
Many contractors were ruined. So great was the administrative tangle that the Dominion Government, despairing of sorting it out, took over the whole project. The drydock finally completed in 1887 (H.M.S. Cormorant was the first ship to use it) was replaced in 1927 by the new $5,000,000 dock, 1,150 feet long, which is used today. Its replacement was partly a result of the anti-unemployment campaign following World War I. It has been useful for many merchant and war vessels, but it has proved an even more useful source of revenue for dockyard employees and consequently Victoria as a whole in the years since World War II. The drydock scandal drove Premier Walkem from office. He was premier on two occasions, from 1874-76 and 1878-82. A short, bespectacled man, he was pleased with his resemblance to Rudyard Kipling.
An Irishman of English descent, his father arrived with the Royal Engineers: he became prominent in Victoria's social life when he married Sophie Edith Rhodes, whose father was a partner in Rhodes & Janion, well known auctioneers and merchants; their warehouse was on the waterfront at Store and Johnson and the derelict Janion Hotel still stands. Walkem could paint animals very well and some went so far as to call him a second Landseer. He lived after marriage in "Maplehurst," the large Henry Rhodes property, boundaries of which were Galt, Blanshard, Princess and Quadra Streets. The residence was just north of where the Victoria Memorial Arena now is. He died there in 1908 at the age of 81.
"Maplehurst" was the scene of many garden parties, notably one in 1874 featuring an "Aunt Sally" and a "post office" from which young postmistresses issued most gushing epistles. Walkem and his great friend De Cosmos went to London at the taxpayers' expense to put their view that Ottawa was falling down on its railroad promise. The Victoria Colonist said the mission was a failure. The Victoria Standard, run by Charles, brother of De Cosmos, said it was a success. Walkem gained popularity, but contributed to depression by buying votes with a reckless public works program.
Unable to borrow more locally, he borrowed from Ottawa threatening secession to gain his ends. When he resigned the premiership in 1882 the Colonist said his only success in public life was advancing his private fortune. "He has led his country into debt, difficulty and dishonor and now abandons it to its fate." It relented on his death and said he "was a man of more than ordinary talents." A. C. Elliott, another Irishman, who took over in the year 1876-78 between Walkem's two terms of office, was welcomed in Victoria society partly because his only daughter Mary Rachel married the only son of Sir James Douglas, but also because as Victoria police magistrate he was in the public eye. There was some resentment at the fact that he began to draw two salaries at the same time ... as legislator and city police magistrate.
He got over this hurdle by continuing the police magistrate's job without pay. Elliott was of a retiring disposition, unsuited to the hurly-burly of politics. He had great personal courage and once entered a hostile Skeena village alone to apprehend a murderer. He is buried in Ross Bay cemetery. Before condemning too harshly the apparent unscrupulousness of our early politicians it must be remembered that opportunities for advancement outside politics were few. The population was small and engaged chiefly in what are now termed the service industries ... that is supplying local needs. The export and import trade was largely dominated by the Hudson's Bay Company. The Royal Navy had their steady suppliers among farmers and merchants. San Francisco provided a good market for lumber. The much-coveted salaried official positions were in the early years filled almost entirely by qualified men from the United Kingdom. For lawyers and the unskilled two avenues were open ... real estate and politics.
Land was cheap. Buying it on time payments was not beyond the means of those with modest capital, but paying the taxes until it could be resold at a profit called for reserve capital or a good job, especially in a declining market. The value of land could be multiplied if a road or railroad were built near it. This desirable end was the aim of much political manipulation. Many government expenditures could be shaped to benefit landowners and many politicians directed their efforts to increasing the value of their holdings. These efforts resulted in much public works expenditure being incurred on projects of no benefit to the people whatever, plunging the province into debt.
When Victoria in 1878 decided that more was to be gained by fighting than co-operating with Ottawa John A. MacDonald, who had lost his seat in Kingston, Ontario, was offered a Victoria seat. He went to Ottawa as Victoria's champion, later becoming prime minister. The same decade saw two of the few new buildings in the city for many years, namely the first Dominion Hotel and Rickman's Brick Works on the site of the old Globe Hotel. The Globe Hotel was the first building erected in the former Hudson's Bay Company enclosure when the Company sold its lots on Government Street between Fort and Bastion Streets in 1861. The Dominion Hotel replaced the "What Cheer House," a tavern operated since the early sixties by Thomas Mitchell from Swansea, Wales. Mitchell had some succes with his gold diggings in the Cariboo and built the "What Cheer House" with the proceeds. After selling out he turned to farming in Saanich