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Lotbiniere's BC experience

BC's juiciest political scandal

A Happy Solution

"Otium com dignate"?

Plum rot and anti-Asian legislation

E.G. Prior and Company

The Youngest Member of the House

Finally! La fin

Lotbiniere's BC experience


    BC's "juiciest political scandal"2Image courtesy of the BC Archives. Call number:a-01858

Sir Henri Joly de Lotbinière's predecessor, Thomas Robert McInnes is considered BC's most controversial Lieutenant Governor .  While the political situation in BC at the time of his governship was turbulent, McInnes worsened the situation by dismissing and appointing premiers without the support of the legislature or the people.  The first premier to experience the swing of McInnes' axe was John H. Turner, whom McInnes removed from office 8 August 1898.  Although Turner was having difficulties forming a government amidst all the political turmoil, he "just managed to limp along;"3 and his dismissal was widely criticized.  In fact, the Dominion even warned McInnes not to meddle as much in provincial politics, but "the Governor was not a man who cared to be dictated to by eastern capitalists concerning western political situations."4

Image courtesy of the BC Archives. Call number: a-01645

        John Turner                        

McInnes appointed Robert Beaven to replace Turner, but as Beaven did not even have a seat in the House, McInnes was forced to appoint his second choice, Charles Semlin as the new premier on 15 August 1898.  However, when Semlin began to have problems in the House, McInnes demanded he call elections and when Semlin refused, and McInnes abruptly dismissed him, and appointed his opponent, the unpopular Joseph Martin.  Martin's term as premier was the shortest in BC history and he was ousted with a vote of non-confidence passed 30-1 on 14 June 1900.

                   Charles Semlin

Image courtesy of the BC Archives. Call number:a-2330

Wide public discontent with McInnes was apparent:

  • after Martin's appointment as premier, McInnes arrived to prorogue the assembly and every MLA, aside from Martin and the speaker, walked out.5

  • the next premier, James Dunsmuir wrote to Laurier condemning McInnes' actions as "contrary to the principles, usages, and customs of constitutional government."6

Joseph Martin

  • the Provincial Rights Association published a decree in which they wrote: 

 "Thomas R. McInnes has committed a series of outrages on the constitution of this Province, and therefore, on the people, beginning in 1898 and not having ended at the present hour...No man who is the subservient tool of a despotic Lieutenant Governor, who is not responsible to the people, can be a true or sincere friend of the people.  The people's rights have been grossly invaded and trampled upon by Thomas R. McInnes, Lieutenant Governor of this Province and by his co-conspirators.The Prime Minister of the Dominion, Sir Wilfred Laurier has refused to assist Thomas R. McInnes, the head, and Joseph Martin, the tail of this rump creation, and the Provincial Rights Association which steadfastly opposes all tyrants, be they representatives of the Crown, or of the people, will hunt them from post to pillar until avenging justice shall have secured their political strangulation."7

Full text of Provincial Rights Association Decree

In response, Laurier advised McInnes to resign on 19 June 1900 and when McInnes refused, Laurier unprecedentedly dismissed him from office the following day and appointed Lotbinière as his replacement.


    A Happy Solution

Lotbinière arrived in Victoria with his wife, Lady Marguaretta, at the end of June 1900.  He was received with mixed emotions.  Some, such as the Provincial Rights Association, welcomed Lotbinière as "a happy solution to the... perplexing problems"8  of politics in BC.  Others, however, viewed the French politician as a stranger to BC politics, imposed "as a sort of disciplinary measure"9 on the Province.

When Premier James Dunsmuir wrote to Laurier questioning his choice, Laurier responded, kindly informing Dunsmuir:

laurier letter10

    As it turned out, Laurier had been right.  Shortly after his arrival, the Colonist described Lotbinière as 

"Of rather more than average height; slightly built, with silvery gray hair, moustache and whiskers, and a charming ease and grace of manner, Sir Henri looked a fit occupant of the important post to which he has been assigned."11 

The combination of Lotbinière's experience, social graces, "many admirable qualities," enabled him to impress politicians and people alike. Over the next six years, Lotbinière "proved himself so capable an administrator, so apt in constitutional matters and such a courteous and genial gentleman that he won friends on every side and, before his term was up, citizens were begging authorities to allow him to remain." 12


    Lieutenant Governor of BC:"Otium com dignate"?

Lotbinière was a man with a great deal of political experience prior to his appointment in BC.

Gisèle Samson of the Association Historique Francophone de Victoria states the following:

Sir Henri-Gustave a déjà mené une longue carrière politique active et variée d'une quarantaine d'années quand il arrive en C.-B. C'est un homme cultivé... un conseiller constitutionnel précieux pour tout jeune politicien.13

[ Sir Henri-Gustave had already led a long, active and varied political career over the forty years prior to his arrival in B.C., he was an educated and cultured man... an invaluable constitutional adviser for any young politician. my translation]

Image courtesy of the BC Archives. Call number:i-51642
Lotbinière on the steps of the Legislative Assembly

In spite of his many years of experience at both provincial and federal levels of politics, the chaotic state of politics in British Columbia would prove challenging for Lotbinière.  The Legislative Assembly seemed to experience crisis after crisis, and even when conditions were calm, the lack of party politics and party discipline made the political climate unstable and unproductive.  Lotbinière expressed his frustration with the situation in a letter to his son, written in May 1902:

La session a commence le 19 février.  3 mois lundi et je ne sais quand elle se terminera.  Les partis sont presqu’également divisés, mais j’ai tort d’employer le mot partis, dans le présent cas, car ici, Conservateurs et Libéraux se trouvent mêlés dans les deux camps, comme des fleurs dans un bouquet.

Avec notre système Parlementaires Anglais, il faut absolumment (sic) la Discipline de partis.  Il est un utopie que de rêver un gouvernement parlementaire stable là où ceux qui le supportent refusent de prendre la responsabilité de ses actes.  Comme de raisons, il y a une limite à toute chose humaine et il y a des cas où un membre est justifié de voter contre son parti, mais il faut de bonnes raisons pour cela…14

[The session began on the 19th of february which is three months ago monday and I do not know when it will conclude.  The parties are nearly equally divided, but I am not correct in using the word party at the present time, as here, there is a mix of Conservatives and Liberals in both camps, like a bouquet of flowers.  With our British Parliamentary system, party Discipline is absolutely necessary.  Stable parliamentary government is a utopian dream in a place where even supporters of the idea refuse to take responsibility for their actions.  Like reason, there is a limit to every human creation and there are times when a member would be justified in voting against his party, but there needs to be good reasons for that... (my translation)]

By Christmas of the same year, the political situation had improved little, which Lotbinière expressed to his son in a letter:

24 December 1902

Our political horizon here is still very cloudy and I am hoping against hope how it will end.15


    Plum rot and anti-Asian legislation

Image courtesy of the BC Archives. Call number:b-01949

The Hon. James Dunsmuir reluctantly became premier under the previous Lieutenant-Governor, Thomas R. McInnes, and was tired of the "mundane matters" he had to deal with as part of his position, such as reports plum rot and requests for horses and buggies.16  Although Dunsmuir and Lotbinière got along well, they disagreed on a "hot" topic: the treatment of the increasing amount of Asians living in British Columbia.  While Lotbinière was friendly and welcoming towards Asian immigrants and workers, employing three Chinese servants himself,17 Dunsmuir continuously tried to push anti-Asian legislation through the Legislature and found that Lotbinière had a "distressing habit of disallowing anti-Asian legislation."18

                James Dunsmuir

Dunsmuir willingly resigned just following the royal visit on 21 November 1903.  Lotbinière described his resignation as part of the « grand ménage » he was attempting on BC politics.19


    E.G. Prior and Company

After Dunsmuir's resignation, Lotbinière called on Edward Prior, an engineer and business man prior to becoming a politician, to form a government.  Unfortunately Prior would have the second shortest term as premier in BC history after a scandal that resulted in Lotbinière dismissing him as premier; an act that reminded the province of the Semlin-McInnes situation.Image courtesy of the BC Archives. Call number:b-03365

Prior and Lotbinière initially enjoyed a good relationship.  Lotbinière disagreed with Prior over a bill concerning railway construction (Bill 16) but correspondences between the two men remain cordial.20

However, when Lotbinière found out that Prior had awarded his own company, E.G. Prior and Co. a "substantial government contract"21 to supply hardware for the Chimney Creek Bridge even though the company had been the lowest bidders, Lotbinière reacted immediately. He dismissed Prior's outlandish claims that he felt he was acting in the best interest of the province and declared in a letter that he was "unable to continue to feel confidence in [Prior's] judgement."22

Edward Prior                        

Prior, however, refused to resign, claiming that Lotbinière, like McInnes before him, was "violating the true principles of parliamentary independence of members, and above all, of ministers of the crown,"23 by dismissing him.  His claims fell on deaf ears and Lotbinière subsequently appointed a promising young politician as premier of the Province: Richard McBride.


    The Youngest Member of the House

 When Lotbinière appointed the young Richard McBride as premier, the political situation in BC was "as ugly as ever."24  But McBride was popular in both political and social circles, and Lotbinière had high hopes for the 32-year old politician. He wrote his impressions of McBride in a letter to his son:

12 October 1903

Our prime minister is the youngest member in the House and I think he is well disposed to do what is right. I treat him as if he were my son as far as advice and encouragement can do it.25

Image courtesy of the BC Archives. Call number:a-01414

Young McBride (back far right) before becoming premier

Lotbinière stressed to McBride the importance of party politics and his sincere belief that "the system of constitutional government would collapse" in BC with the continued absence of proper party organization and discipline.26  McBride took his adviser's words to heart and, upon being appointed premier, announced that he was Conservative and that his Legislative Assembly would be run along party lines.27  Lotbinière was pleased, but hesitant, as many of McBride's close friends were not part of the Conservative party, and expected to still be invited to form the governement with McBride.  However, to his adviser's delight, McBride held firmly to the idea shared by Lotbinière that political stability could only be achieved through clear party division and party discipline, and placed his surprised liberal colleagues in the opposition.28

Less than half a year after party politics were introduced in BC, Lotbinière again wrote about the situation:

17 Jan 1904

The Legislature has resumed its sittings and I am glad to say that so far the session is satisfactory.  I am very favourably impressed with the leader of the opposition, Mr MacDonald who shows firmness and moderation in the control of his followers and I hope he will be able to keep up the course he has started.  The Government are making a very strong effort to re-establish the equilibrium in our finances... May God help them to do honestly and fearlessly their duty.  I do my best to encourage them and feel more hopeful for the future that I have ever felt since I came here.29

Lotbinière had been right all along, what BC needed was party discipline.  With party discipline came stability, and McBride remained Premier of BC until 1915.


    Finally! La fin.

Because of his success in BC, Lotbinière was invited back for a second term as Lieutenant-Governor,
a rare honour.  Lotbinière, however, declined.  His wife had died recently and he at 77 years old, his vision and health deteriorating, he wanted to return to his family and gardens in Québec.
Two years prior to the end of his term, Lotbinière wrote:

24 February 1904

I would be grateful when leaving next June could I feel that the province is better off than when I came five years ago.30

Clearly, by the end of 1906, such was the case.  Under Lotbinière's guidance, the new premier had taken BC politics from a system functioning on "chaotic individualism"31 to a stable Legislative Assembly that had firm party divisions and party discipline.  Lotbinière twice extended his term: once to open the Canadian Exposition in 1905, and finally, to host Prince Arthur in the spring of 1906.  Around that time, he wrote his final letter to his son about his experience in BC:

Image courtesy of the BC Archives. Call number:g_09833

22 March 1906

Prince Arthur will be here next week.  He will stay at Government House, great banquet... It is our last function in BC.

I am sad to leave BC, our friends here, the daily work of my office, the responsability (sic) of my position as adviser to my advisers!  I have the feeling that there is no more work for me after this, and nevertheless, strange to say, though my eyesight is leaving me and my memory for names and actual events is getting weak, my mind appears to expand instead of contract.

We are accustomed to say that we live... “day by day” and to think that it means we must not be “anxious for tomorrow”  Lately I have thought it meant more than that... that we must do... all work allotted to us for that same day leaving no part of it unfinished.32


Lotbinière towards the end of his term in BC           

According to Marcel Hamlin, University of Ottawa, "It was unanimously agreed that Sir Henri had done much to enhance the position of lieutenant governor by his kindly affability, his natural elegance, his personal prestige, and his political experience."33

Lotbinière left Victoria quietly, declining any sort of official ceremony.  He died two years later, in his residence in Québec at the age of 79 after a long and fruitful political career, including a lasting impact on politics in British Columbia.


Endnotes (click on number to return to place in text)

1.  British Columbia Archives (hereafter BCA) Political correspondences of John Herbert Turner, MS-0471, file 112 and 113, telegraphs to Hon. James Dunsmuir from Laurier, 20 June 1900, 22 June 1900.

2.William Rayner,  Images of History: Twentieth Century British Columbia through the Front Pages, (Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 1997), 8.

3.S.W. Jackman, The Men at Cary Castle: A Series of Portrait Sketches of the Lieutenant-Governors of British Columbia from 1871-1971, (Victoria, BC: Morriss Printing Company Ltd., 1972), 71.

4.William Rayner, British Columbia's Premiers in Profile: the good, the bad, and the transient, (Surrey, BC: Heritage House Publishing, 2000), 86.

5.Dr. Ed. Whitcomb, A Short History of British Columbia, (Ottawa: From Sea to Sea Enterprises, 2006),  24.

6.Rayner, British Columbia's Premiers in Profile, 91.

7.BCA, British Columbia Premiers' Papers, 1883-1933, GR-0441, box 15 file 3 no. 142, Horace F. Evans, Provincial Rights Association enclosing resolution commending the dismissal of Thomas McInnes as Lieut. Governor and the appointment of Sir Henry Joly de Lotbinière, 4 July 1900.

8.BCA, British Columbia Premiers' Papers, 1883-1933, GR-0441, box 15 file 3 no. 142, Horace F. Evans, Provincial Rights Association enclosing resolution commending the dismissal of Thomas McInnes as Lieut. Governor and the appointment of Sir Henry Joly de Lotbinière, 4 July 1900.

9.D.A. McGregor,  They Gave Royal Assent ,(Vancouver: Mitchell Press Ltd., 1967), 42.

10.BCA, Political correspondences of John Herbert Turner, MS-0471, file 114, Wilfrid Laurier explains appointment of Lieutenant-Governor, 5 July 1900.

11.Jackman, The Men at Cary Castle, 79.

12. McGregor,  They Gave Royal Assent, 42.

13. Gisèle Samson, Conférence de l'Association Historique Francophone de Victoria, Janvier 2008.

14. BCA, Mflm 11A (2) Sir Henri Joly de Lotbinière correspondence outward, Victoria Day 1902.

15.BCA, Mflm 11A (2) Sir Henri Joly de Lotbinière correspondence outward, 24 December 1902.

16. Rayner, British Columbia's Premiers in Profile, 94.

17. British Columbia, 1901 Census, online search through Vancouver Island History, http://vihistory.ca/content/census/1901/census1901.php?page=main.

18.Rayner, British Columbia's Premiers in Profile, 92.

19.BCA, Mflm 11A (2) Sir Henri Joly de Lotbinière correspondence outward, 22 November 1902.

20.BCA, British Columbia Premiers' Papers, 1883-1933, GR-0441, box 20 file 2 no. 92-94 Correspondences between Prior and Lotbinière concerning Bill 16, 21 April 1903- 30 April 1903.

21.Peter Murray, From Amor to Zalm: A Primer on B.C. Politics and its Wacky Premiers, (Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishing, 1989), 58.

22.Rayner, British Columbia's Premiers in Profile, 99.

23.Rayner, British Columbia's Premiers in Profile, 99.

24.Rayner, British Columbia's Premiers in Profile, 99.

25.BCA, Mflm 11A (2) Sir Henri Joly de Lotbinière correspondence outward, 12 October 1903.

26.Rayner, British Columbia's Premiers in Profile, 101.

27. Whitcomb, A Short History of British Columbia, 30.

28.Murray, From Amor to Zalm, 68.

29.BCA, Mflm 11A (2) Sir Henri Joly de Lotbinière correspondence outward, 17 January 1904.

30.BCA, Mflm 11A (2) Sir Henri Joly de Lotbinière correspondence outward, 24 February 1904.

31.Rayner, British Columbia's Premiers in Profile, 101.

32.  BCA, Mflm 11A (2) Sir Henri Joly de Lotbinière correspondence outward, 22 March 1906.

33. Marcel Hamelin, "Joly de Lotbinière, Sir Henri Gustave," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=40931&query=

Click the images to view them in context.

 turner a-01858

semin a-01645

martin a-02330

lotbiniere steps i-51642

dunsmuir b-01949

prior b_03365

young mcbride a-01414

old lotb g_09833
  Copyright 2008 by Callie Joyce Perry, Jeremy Nemanishen and Tamara O'Reilly