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 Union Club of British Columbia was founded in April, 1879, just as the final push was on under Premier George Walkem and Amor De Cosmos, working with John A. MacDonald to get construction to start of the Canadian Pacific Railway as promised under the 1871 “Terms of Union”: a transcontinental railway to commenced within two years, completion within ten.

MacDonald had been able to pass an 1873 order-in-council which identified Esquimalt as the West Coast terminus although this was coincidental with the failure of the CPR syndicate, and just before revelations of the “Pacific Scandal” and collapse of the MacDonald Government

By 1879 there was no sign of a railway. Canada was trying to change the Terms. The negotiations were difficult. Furthermore, a group of disaffected business leaders, land speculators and politicians threatened withdrawal from the union with Canada.

Behind the scenes were the many professionals and civil servants, mainly in Victoria, who were horrified at the prospect of a split. Initially, seeing their civil service appointments and pensions threatened, they had opposed union with Canada. However, having achieved assurances of their continued employment and pensions, a provision actually written into the Terms of Union of course now they remained staunchly in favour of the Union.

It was just such a group, motivated as much by self-interest as altruism who decided to formalize as a club of “remainers”.

Supreme Court Justice Matthew Baillie Begbie was the Club’s founding president. Founding members were businessman and later Lieutenant Governor Frank Barnard, Cariboo MPP and retired Royal Navy Lieutenant Henry E. Croasdaile.  Early members were lawyer, City Mayor and former Victoria representative on the colonial legislative council Montegue Tyrwhitt-Drake, court registrar C. E. Pooley, Surveyor General Joseph Despard Pemberton, and Justice Peter O’Reilly. HBC physician and community leader John Sebastion Helmcken was a member. The owner and editor of the Colonist, David Higgins, soon to become Speaker in the Legislature was a member; the editor of the Victoria Standard, a staunch “leaver” was most certainly not. Other early members and attendees at events were officers of the Royal Navy, and the hierarchy of the Anglican clergy.

By 1884 there were 149 Union Club members and 78 charter members.

Stayed for next month “Chapter 2 – The Battle of the Clubs”

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