Not To Be Trusted With Knives











{October 26, 2008}   BC Premier#6 – William Smithe. Not be mistaken for William Smith.

Now we enter the era of Premiers whose names I recognize because they have Vancouver Streets named after them. At least, I assume Smithe St. is named after this guy.

Name William Smithe
Born: June 30, 1842 in Matfen, England
Died: March 28, 1887 in Victoria, British Columbia (he only lived to be 44 years old!)
Party: none
Held Office: January 29, 1883 – March 29, 1887
  • settled on Vancouver Island in 1862 as a farmer
  • his first public office was the appointed position of road commissioner for Cowichan in 1865
  • ran in BC’s first provincial election in 1871 and won a seat for Cowichan
  • he was actually born as William Smith, but added an “e” to the end of his name, presumably because Amor De Cosmos was also oringally named William Smith and he figured the “e” would stop people from being confused as to who was who.  I’m guessing that the latter William Smith changing his name to Lover of the Universe did more to help people distinguish between the two of them than the former adding the “e”
  • in the Legislature, he maintained “an independent stance”1 by not supporting Premier McCreight or his successors, Premiers De Cosmos and Walkem
  • in 1873 he married Martha Kier, daughter of an important Cowichanian, which added to his prominence in the region
  • re-elected in 1875, campaigned on Walkem’s failure to build a road from Victoria to Cowichan
  • I like to say the word “Cowichan”
  • he was the leader of the opposition when the Leglislature opened in 1976, but as the Walkem Government fell, he handed over the opposition leadership to Andrew Charles Elliott, who then became the Premier. And didn’t include Smithe in the cabinet. Which I find a little ungrateful, no?
  • Smithe was added to cabinet as minister of finance and agriculture in July 1876, however, when the “erractic” Thomas Basil Humphreys was canned2
  • managed to retain his seat in the March 1878 election despite not really doing anything too exciting as a cabinet minisiter and in the face of most everyone else on the “government supporters” side of the floor being kicked out
  • yet again became the leader of the opposition against Premier Walkem (we was reinstituted as Premier)
  • became the Premier in 18 when Walkem’s successor, Beaven, couldn’t muster up the support of more than 8 of 24 MLAs; this gave Smithe the biggest majority since BC joined Confederation
  • at this point, BCers were still pissed off over the long-standing issue of Canada not building the promised railway, as well as mainland BCers being pissed off over a really expensive dock being built on the Island. Dock-gate, if you will3.  Smithe struck a deal (the Settlement Act) that made both mainlanders and islanders happy:
    • the feds got “3,500,000 acres in the Peace River district” of BC<5
    • the feds would “open the railway lands in the south to settlement, assume construction of the graving dock, and advance $750,000, for the building of the island railway”5.
  • As with several other of the Premiers we’ve looked at so far, Smithe’s government implemented a number of racist policies aimed at Chinese-Canadians and Aboriginal people, including:
    • preventing Chinese people from acquiring crown land
    • a $10/yr “license” fee for Chinese people over the age of 15. If I’m reading that correctly, that’s a license to be Chinese?
    • trying to implement an act forbidding Chinese immigration. This act was stopped by the feds, but the feds did implement a $50 head tax on all “Oriental” immigrants to appease BC
    • “severely limited Indian lands […] arguing that because Indians did not cultivate much land they did not need much”5.
  • won the 1886 election, showing support from the public on his policies, including the racist ones,
  • when asked by an “American newspapermen […] if British Columbia might one day annex itself to the Union in response to natural trading interests, he replied that British Columbia might instead annex Washington and Oregon”5.
  • died of nephritis in office in 1887.

In summary, Smithe appears to have settled that whole railway kerfuffle that all the previous BC premiers seemed to have being fighting with the feds over.  So here’s hoping that we will be reading about more non-railway issues in future editions of my BC Premier Series!

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

Footnotes:
1Which I still find funny, given that there were no political parties at this time
2No idea what made Humphreys so “erratic” as Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for him. And I’m too lazy to search any further for that as my interest-level:willingness-to-exert-effort ratio on this one is pretty low.
3Not to be mistaken for Deck-gate.

References:
4Wikipedia, the reference that shall inherit the earth
5Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

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