The Union Club Celebrates BC 150

In July 2021 we mark 150 years since BC joined Canada, we are planning some activities to commemorate the event, and below is some history of The Union Club as part of the union with Canada discussions.



The Club official histories cite two rather obscure exchanges of opinion by the editors of the Standard and Colonist newspapers. In the first, 11 December 1882, the writer accused the founders of The Union Club, which had just hosted a dinner for the Governor General, Marquis of Lorne, of creating a political vehicle to oppose the provincial government’s G. A. Walkem administration’s hard line threats to pull out of confederation if the original terms of the Union were not met.  The Colonist replied on the following day insisting the Standard editor was just exhibiting sour grapes for not having been refused membership (by vote) and vigorously denied the assertion of political partisanship. The Colonist pointed out, Premier Walkem was a charter member. Not giving up, the Standard responded that indeed Walkem and his friends were members but that they were hoodwinked into joining the Club by these “wire-pullers.”

There was indeed much “wire-pulling.” As early as 1874 local businessman William Wilson headed up a consortium of local property speculators who were facing huge losses with the railway failing to appear. Using the local Mechanics Institute, of which he was a director, to foment a crowd he proceeded to storm the Legislature causing Premier Amor De Cosmos to resign. Dr. J. S. Helmcken assembled a coalition to form the “Terms of Union Preservation League” and floated a petition to Queen Victoria. The government sent the new premier, George Walkem, off to London to get the Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon, to mediate with Ottawa. A deal was reached to extend the completion time of the railway to 1890 and work to begin on the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway portion at once.  However, in the Spring of 1875 the Canadian Senate defeated the financing bill for the E&N and the deal was dead. In response Wilson’s group formed the “Carnarvon Club” to openly lobby for dissolving the Union if the Carnarvon Terms were not met.

The gentlemen of The Union Club coalesced shortly thereafter, finally registering as The Union Club of British Columbia in 1879.  Wilson’s group ultimately became the rival Pacific Club.

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