R. E. (R. Edward) Gosnell.

A history; British Columbia online

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main entrance, a corresponding niche being filled by another commanding
figure, that of the late Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, whose selection to bracket
with that of Sir James was wisely made by the designers of that splendid
structure, adorning the sward " across James Bay."

Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie.

Sir Matthew was one of the remarkable characters, and a notable
figure, of British Columbia history. He was Chief Justice from his appoint-
ment in 1859 until the day of his death, June nth, 1894. Even a brief
outline of the founding and development of the western province of Canada
would be incomplete without a pen sketch of a man who so strongly im-
pressed his character upon the administration of justice, notable for its
completeness and effectiveness at a tirne when firmness was most needed.
This is furnished by the late Sir Henry Crease, for many years a colleague
on the bench :

" Accompanied by his faithful henchman, Benjamin Evans, who drove
the Court over twenty times from Yale or Ashcroft (after the C. P. R.
reached it) to Cariboo and back without an accident, and his trusty friend,
Charles Edward Pooley, as Registrar, he traversed the province wherever
it was necessary in the interests of law or justice to go. His unflinching
administration of the law from the outset of the colony in 1858 to his death
in 1894, at a time when — mixed with a great many good men, it is true —


the miners and the class of men who came with them comprised many of
the wildest characters under the sun, whose sole arbitrament in their quar-
rels in other countries had been knife and revolver, struck such terror into
wrong-doers and defiers of the law from his first assize at Langley in. 1859,
to the time of his death, that the peace of the country was thoroughly se-
cured — and the wilder spirits were tamed to such an extent that even in
difficult cases the court relied confidently on their assistance under a short
special enactment, as jurors, and was never disappointed of their aid when
so invoked. Tlie result was that the whole of the country could be traversed
from end to end by all men without weapons, except sufficient to protect
themselves from wild animals or for subsistence — a course in which he was
effectually supported from first to last by all the judges who sat with or
have succeeded him, to the great benefit, as the statute hath it, of person
and property and the peace, order, and good government of the colony. He
was a man over six feet (six feet four) in height, strong, and active in
proportion, a good sportsman and an excellent shot. His abilities and his
accomplishments were of the highest order, and his hospitality and his social
qualities gained him fast friends in every direction. So take him for all
in all we shall not often lock upon his like again."

Union and the Capital.

Really Douglas did not lay down the reins of office until the spring of
1864, when his successors arrived — Arthur Kennedy as Governor of Van-
couver Island, in March, and Frederick Seymour, formerly Governor of Brit-
ish Honduras, in April, as Governor of British Columbia. The decision to
appoint separate Governors for the colonies was in deference to local feeling
on the Mainland. Governor Douglas, of course, had his official residence in
Victoria, where he and his family had always resided since their removal from
Fort Vancouver ; and the other leading officials of British Columbia also pre-
ferred to live in Victoria. As might be expected it constituted a grievance


on the part of the people of New Westminster, then the leading and prac-
tically the only town of any importance on the Mainland. Sectional feeling
was even then strong; it was still more embittered subsequently, and has not
completely died out until the present day. With the division of the governor-
ship was linked a permanent and definite basis for the civil list for both col-
onies. With the arrangement for separate governors and separate civil lists
was associated the desire expressed on the part of the Imperial authorities to
see the colonies united under one government, and upon this point the views
of both Governors Kennedy and Seymour were sought.

In considering the question of union, it may be stated briefly that the
majority of people on the Island of Vancouver, and especially in Victoria,
were in favor of it. The majority of residents of the Upper Mainland, who
as a rule had their starting point at Victoria, and who when they came to the
coast wintered there, were also in favor of the Island capital. It was the
centre of business and government at that time, and was then as it is now a
very desirable place of residence. The Lower Mainland, however, and in
particular, the city of New Westminster, was opposed to the proposed union.
As to which place should be the capital was really at the bottom of the issue,
and even when not brought into the discussion was ever present in the minds
of both parties. New Westminster feared, owing to the larger jxDpulation,
greater influence and enhanced attractions of Victoria, that it would be
chosen, and the people of Victoria for similar reasons were, confidently hope-
ful that it would be. Governor Kennedy reports the majority of the House
of Assembly of Vancouver Island as " in favor of unconditional union with
British Columbia," and while the Legislative Council did not care to express
an opinion, he was nevertheless in a position to state that nearly all, if not
all of the ex-oMcio members were also in favor. He avoided the question of
the location of the capital, but stated that " I have abstained from expressing
any public opinion, or exercising any influence I may possess, in encouraging
this movement, but I have no doubt that the expression of the former and


legitimate use of the latter, if acquiesced in by Governor Seymour, would
immediately remove all serious opposition to a union of these colonies, which
I consider a matter of great Imperial, as well as colonial interest."

Governor Seymour's views of the subject are somewhat in doubt. In
a despatch to the Home Government, he expresses the opinion that union
with Vancouver Island is not desired in British Columbia, His sympathies
were entirely with the city, where he had his official residence. He says :
" In the event of union taking place, a question which will locally excite some
interest is as to the seat of government. Victoria is the largest town of the
two colonies, and is, in many respects, the most agreeable place of residence.
I think, however, in seeking union with British Columbia, she relinquishes all
claims to the possession within her limits of the seat of government. New
Westminster has been chosen as the capital of British Columbia, and it would
not be fair to the reluctant colony to deprive her of the Governor and staff
officers. Both of these towns are inconveniently situated on an angle of
the vast British territory; but New Westminster on the Mainland, has the
advantage over the island town. It is already the centre of the telegraphic
system, and is in constant communication with the upper country, whereas
the steamers to Victoria only run twice a week. The seat of government
should be on the Mainland; whether it might with advantage be brought,
hereafter, nearer to the gold mines is a question for the future." It may be
interesting to note in this connection that years after, when the colony of
British Columbia had become a province of the Dominion and the question
of erecting the present new Parliament buildings was before the country, a
suggestion was strongly supported in the upper country that the capital should
be removed to Kamloops, as being strategically safer in case of war and
more central. Doubtless, Kamloops, in a period of hostility, would afford
the necessary security, and would be a delightful site for a capitol building,
but considering the vast extent of territory to the northward opening up and
to be opened by railways, it would be anything but a central location. Future


g-enerations will probably agree that, taking all in all, Victoria was well
chosen for the purpose.

The subject of union continued to be a live issue, for a time practically
the only public issue of importance. There were petitions and counter peti-
tions. Finally, union, strongly supported by the Imperial authorities, took
place and went into effect on the 17th of November, 1866. The matter of
the selection of a capital, however, was not then settled. Governor Seymour
strongly opposed Victoria, and did not withdraw his opposition until the posi-
tion of the Home Government was clearly defined and he advised the Legis-
lative Council in 1868 to come to a decision and to assist him in so doing.
The decision was in favor of Victoria, where the first united Parliament of
British Columbia sat in that year, and continued to sit for ever afterwards.
Governor Seymour stated in his speech at the opening of the Legislative
Council in the year referred to that Her Majesty's Government was of the
opinion that he had held an extreme view as: to the extent to which the public
faith and honor are pledged to the purchasers of land in New Westminster.
Undoubtedly a great many persons had been induced to buy property in New
Westminster on the strength of its being selected as the capital of a new
colony, but upon the union of the two colonies, which was without any doubt
advantageous from many points of view, it was necessary to select or reject
one of the two capitals. Victoria at the time was by far the most important
point of the two, and the Home Government regarded " public convenience
as the main guide in the selection of a seat of government." Sir Henry
Crease states that " those who on the faith of the royal proclamation staked
their all were simply ruined, without redress or compensation, leaving behind
a wound and a sense of deliberate injustice in the minds of the Mainland
against the Island that has never been entirely healed, although the reason
given that it was necessary to consolidate not only to save the unnecessary
expense of two governments and two sets of officers where one would do,
especially to prepare for Confederation, was not without great weight."


The question of Confederation with Canada was also mixed up with
that of union of the two colonies and the fixing- of a place as capital. At
the very time when an effort was being made to unite British Columbia and
Vancouver Island on the Pacific coast, a similar movement was on foot on
the Atlantic side of the continent to bring together in one federation the sep-
arate British colonies there. Though far removed from the old Canadas and
separated by almost insuperable physical obstacles, the sentiment of the east
began to be reflected in the west, more especially as the scheme of Confedera-
tion completed in 1867 made provision for the bringing in of British Co-
lumbia, and we shall tell in the next chapter how that was brought about.*

Story of Confederation.

Confederation came about in a way in British Columbia entirely different
from that in any of the other provinces. It is scarcely necessary to review the
events which led up to the union of four provinces in 1867. Although the
Maritime Provinces wanted an alliance of their own, they did not take kindly
to one with Canadians, as the inhabitants of Ontario and Quebec were then
exclusively known, and it was only by political strategy that it was accom-
plished in the case of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, while Prince Edward
Island remained out for some time after. Quebec at heart was not with the
movement, although she joined hands with Ontario, having first fixed her
representation. Manitoba cost the Dominion a rebellion. Her entry into
the Federal compact was badly managed, and an unnecessary grievance cre-
ated, which prejudiced the cause for the time being. In the east Confed-
eration arose largely out of a sentiment of unity. It was an idea — a grand
consummation into the accomplishment of which the leaders of both parties
entered with enthusiasm. There were many diverse elements and interests

* The story of Confederation as given in the following pages was first prepared
ill 1896, and was published in the Vancouyer World, and subsequently in the Year Book
of British Columbia. It is a very necessary part of the narrative, in fact, one of the
most interesting and im.portant in the history of the Province. As the author feels that
he has given his best efforts to it. and cannot hope to materially improve it, the
chapter has been carefully revised and reproduced.


to consider, many difficulties in the way, but there were also many obvious
disadvantages in remaining apart ; and when the fathers of Confederation had
made up their minds to succeed and went seriously to work, the difficulties
were soon overcome. It was an experiment at first, and no man could con-
fidently predict the outcome. There were local irritations, provincial preju-
dices and weighty obligations to make good. For a time not a few able,
conscientious and truly loyal men, who subsequently became good Canadians
and heartily acquiesced, looked on with misgivings and gravely doubted the
wisdom of the experiment. If, however, the British possessions in North
America were to remain British, Confederation was inevitable. Amalgama-
tion and structural organization were rapidly going on on the United States
side of the line, and such a political force could only be counterbalanced and
restricted by a similar movement on this side. In the east, therefore, as has
been intimated, the stimulus to Confederation was political and national,
and was so in spite of local considerations. Manitoba, on the other hand,
was a territorial purchase, and was virtually created at the time of its union
with the other provinces, and had it not been for the community of Metis,
whose fears were inspired by an ambitious zealot, abetted by a few American
citizens, there would have been nothing either in the way of local interests or
sentimental objections to have interfered.

In British Columbia the conditions were entirely different from, and
the considerations of a nature totally unlike those which affected the eastern
half of Canada. Geographically, the Crown Colony was far removed from
the seat of Government. An almost insuperable barrier of mountains cut it
off from the rest of the British possessions. A vast, unbroken and prac-
tically uninhabited plain separated it from the nearest province. Politically
or socially, the influences of Eastern Canada did not extend to within a thou-
sand miles of its extremest boundary eastward. There was absolutely no
land communication, and, apart from Hudson's Bay Company fur caravans,
only one or two parties had ever come overland. There were comparatively


few Canadian-born residents, and these were mainly among the pioneers who
had left their native place while Confederation sentiment was still in its in-
fancy, and who had formed new associations, and, to some extent, new ideals
and objects in life. The population was largely British-born, with not a few
Americans interspersed. The country, in its physical configuration, its re-
sources, its requirements, was in every sense foreign to Canada. Communi-
cation and trade were wholly with the Pacific Coast and Great Britain, and
sympathies to a considerable extent followed in the line of trade and travel.
It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that there was an important element
opposed to Confederation at the outset.

The mainspring, however, was not sentimentalism. It was not with the
idea of rounding off Confederation, or building up a commonwealth from
ocean to ocean, with a common organic structure and a common destiny —
nothing of the kind. While there were prominent men in the colony, like
the late Hon. John Robson, F. J. Barnard, and the Hon. Amor de Cosmos,
who hailed from Canada, and who were no doubt imbued with aspirations of
a kind that directed the movement in the east, yet the mass of the population
was not influenced by such considerations, and that was the most natural
thing in the world. It could not have been expected to be otherwise. Dr.
Helmcken, who opposed Confederation conscientiously as well as ably, during
the debate to go into committee on the terms submitted by Governor Mus-
grave, said with much force that " No union between this colony and Canada
can permanently exist unless it be to the material and pecuniary advantage
of this colony to remain in the Union. The sum of the interests of the in-
habitants is the interest of the colony. The people of this colony have, gen-
erally speaking, no love for Canada. They care, as a rule, little or nothing
about the creation of another empire, kingdom or republic. They have but
little sentimentality, and care little or nothing about the distinctions between
the form of Government of Canada and that of the United States. There-
fore, no union on account of love need be looked for. The only bond of


union, outside of force — and force the Dominion has not — ^will be the ma-
terial advantage of the country and pecuniary benefit of the inhabitants. Love
for Canada has to be acquired by the prosperity of the country and from our

Dr. Helmcken did not represent the feelings of British Columbia in
so far as the desire for Confederation was concerned. To rightly under-
stand the feelings of the people on the subject we have to go back to the
conditions of the time. The situation has already been described, which
in one word, in relation to Canada, was isolation. The circumstances,
however, were these: The Province was heavily in debt, the liabilities being
around $1,500,000 for about 10,000 white people. The after effects of the
Cariboo gold fever were being experienced. Prosperity had vanished, times
were depressed, money was scarce, and there were no prospects ahead except
the chance of new gold fields being discovered. A great many people de-
plored the loss of a free port, to which they attributed a good deal of their
former prosperity. On the Mainland, w-here the Confederation movement
was the strongest, there existed a keen dissatisfaction over the removal of
the capital from Westminster. And so all around there was a desire for
change. As a Crown Colony there were only two roads open which offered
any hopes of betterment — Confederation or Annexation. While there was
a slight movement in the latter direction, and a petition had been gotten up
in its favor, signed mainly by Americans ; and, while there was a modicum
of truth in what Dr. Helmxken said about the majority of people caring
little about the distinctions as to the form of government of Canada and
the United States, yet British Columbia was essentially loyal to British insti-
tutions and to the British flag. As a political possibility annexation was
not to be thought of, and the sentiments expressed by the fathers of Confed-
eration in British Columbia, in the debate referred to, showed to what
small extent the annexation movement had influenced public opinion; union
with Canada, if it meant no more than continued connection with the mother


country, in that respect was unobjectionable at least. It was, in fact, prefer-
able to annexation. Isolation seemed to be hopeless and unendurable. Change

was necessary.

The C. p. R. as a Factor.

For some years before, the subject of a trans-continental railway ha*d been
much discussed, both in Great Britain and Canada, and with the writings of
prominent men on this subject British Columbians were familiar; because,
as a class they were educated, intelligent and well-informed — highly superior
to any similar number of m.en in the other provinces — a fact easily accounted
for. Many were graduates of universities and well connected, a select com-
pany of adventurers, so to speak. A railway from ocean to ocean was a
popular theme. It opened up new vistas of possibilities not only for Can-
ada, but the Empire. To Canadians it meant a chain to bind the discon-
nected British possessions together; it meant an outlet to and inlet from
the West; it disclosed a new Dominion of great magnitude and promise.
It was a subject brimful of opportunity for the eloquence of oratory and
the pen-picturing of the essayist. To Great Britain it afforded that alterna-
tive route of commerce long sought for in the North-West passage, for
the discovery of which her seamen had been diligent and persistent ; and
for military transport in case of war. It is not easy to give due credit for
the first advocacy of a Canadian trans-continental railway. It goes quite far
back in Canadian history. It was discussed by Judge Haliburton, and was a
dream of Hon. Joseph Howe. We find a route well defined in an article
that was contributed by an ofiicer of the " Thames City," which brought
out a detachment of the Royal Engineers and Sappers & Miners in 1859,
to a paper published on board. Curiously enough, the route then indicated,
was the one that was subsequently followed in actual construction. As a
matter of fact, the project at various times was widely discussed. Like so
many other great enterprises of national importance, it was a long time in
the public mind before it assumed concrete form. In British Columbia,


Mr. Alfred Waddington was the first and foremost advocate. He was an
enthusiast on the subject and devoted much of his time and energy to acquir-
ing information and in an agitation for a railway via Bute Inlet. Begg's
history of British Columbia contains the following reference to his later
efforts*: " Mr. Waddington proceeded to London, and petitioned the House
of Commons, in the interests of British Columbia. His first petition of the
29th of May, 1868, was signed by himself; the second (3rd July) was pre-
sented by Viscount Milton. It was largely signed by parties connected
with British Columbia, and showed that that Colony was ' for all practical
purposes, isolated from the Mother Country, and surrounded by a foreign
state, and great national difficulties ' ; that it was ' entirely indebted to the
United States for the carriage of its letters and emigrants, and almost en-
tirely for the carriage of goods required for trade and domestic purposes:
that a graving dock was required; that it was of great public importance
to secure the advantages of an overland communication through British
North America, which would be the shortest and best route to China, Japan
and the East; that the overland communication sought for would perpetuate
the loyal feelings of the colony, and that a line of steam communication from
Panama to Vancouver Island should in the meantime be subsidized.' Mr.
Waddington after remaining in London until 1869, returned to Ottawa,
and continued to advocate the construction of a trans-continental railway,
until after Confederation. He sold the plans of his overland route through
British Columbia to the Dominion Government in August, 187 1. He died
in Ottawa of smallpox in February, 1872."

As Confederation was the order of the day, and was being successfully
accomplished, the people of British Columbia were not slow to sec that in
the undertaking of such an enterprise lay their hopes for the future. With
a railway having one terminus at Halifax and the other on the shores of
the Pacific, they recognized the importance of their position geographically
and commercially — a position which in annexation would only and always


be secondary to San Francisco, but in Confederation second to none. In
all the political habiliments, paraphernalia and belonging's, clothingf, surround-
ing, and attaching to Confederation the one main object — ^the essence of it
all was a railway — direct communication with the East. As Dr. Helmcken
might have expressed it, they loved not Canada for what she was, but for
what she would do for them. They noted the terms under which the other
provinces had entered the Federal Union — debts assumed, allowances made
for differences of degree and conditions, annual subsidies in lieu of existing
revenues, provincial autonomy, and so on. They knew further the anxiety
theie was to extend the Dominion of Canada westward to the Pacific Ocean.
To be relieved of debt, to throw off the weight of an overweighty official-
dom and to secure a railway and still possess the sovereign rights of self-
government, by the one act of union, was a consummation devoutly to be

Online LibraryR. E. (R. Edward) GosnellA history; British Columbia → online text (page 18 of 79)