Kervin’s Corner: A look back in history at Alfred Waddington

“He was thought to be one of the first settlers in the Vancouver Island colony to publish a book.”

Who was Alfred Waddington? A man too ahead of his time during the colony of Vancouver Island.

Numerous streets are named after him, the highest-peaked mountain in the B.C. Coastal range, Mount Waddington, and the northenrmost regional district on Vancouver Island, honour his name, and he was thought to be one of the first settlers in the Vancouver Island colony to publish a book.

During the mid-1800s, Alfred Waddington crossed the Atlantic to live among British settlers on the Western part of Canada, though at the time Vancouver Island hadn’t joined the confederation yet.

While avoiding the lure for gold during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush heyday, Waddington sought out something else.

He moved to Victoria in 1858 and encouraged more settlers to come live on Vancouver Island while finishing his book called Fraser Mines Vindicated.

Well ahead of his time, Waddington was elected to the House of Assembly (the colonial legislature) advocating for equality of religion, women’s rights and small government.

In fact, Waddington kept advocating for women’s rights in the House of Assembly, pointing out that women were forced to take on the citizenship of their husband’s country. Waddington was ridiculed out of the house because of it.

This is surprising to note of any politician at that time during the 1860s.

Even so, we still have politicians today who struggle to advocate for progressive issues.

He may have been one of the very few progressive thinkers during a time when the Hudson Bay Company had the Queen’s blessing to govern over the colony of Vancouver Island.

Talk about a conflict of interest there, but it seemed Waddington was having none of it, having already established himself as a man who opposed Governor James Douglas (the same man responsible for the Douglas Treaties).

Douglas was a company man, of course, after dedicating his whole life to the HBC.

Waddington chose to stay a bachelor, unconstrained by married life, while also taking on many projects, many of them related to infrastructure, but as for his tenure in the house he wasn’t much like the others.

“Mr. Waddington was nearly always behind time and often, just as the members were about to depart,” D. W. Higgins, an editor of one of the colony’s newspapers, said, “he would be seen crossing the bridge. Then the cry would go up, ‘Old Waddy’s coming’, and when he arrived a quorum had been secured, and business began.”

Other house members derisively mocked every part of Waddington simply because he didn’t fit in with the status quo.

Neville Shanks, who wrote of Waddington in 1975 for the North Island Gazette, said that Waddington’s “ideas (were) too far ahead of the other colonists and his times.” And, of course, reexamining Waddington’s life some four decades later the sentiment still rings true.

Speaking more to Waddington’s character is the fact that he drafted much of the city of Victoria’s charter, but upon being nominated as its first mayor he ultimately declined.

Waddington continually expressed his progressive thoughts by penning a pamphlet called Judicial Murder, having pointed out that a trial of a young Indigenous man who went by the name of Allanche was unfairly judged during a trial. Allanche was executed because of a verdict which rendered him guilty of murder. Waddington, keeping to his progressiveness, thought it deeply unjust.

“The first judicial execution in Victoria has been consummated; and after the mockery of a trial accompanied by circumstances such as, it is hoped, will never recur in this Colony, a poor, good-looking young Indian, under twenty, named Allache, has been executed for murder,” Waddington wrote. “We are told by some people that if a cruel measure, it was a necessary one; but is it not appalling to think that any man on this Island, even though he be an Indian, should be condemned on an ex parte (one-sided) statement of facts.”

I want to point out that during the late 19th century, the term Indian was still commonplace, but I definitely don’t agree to its usage.

According to Waddington, Allanche was defending his wife from rape. In Waddington’s mind, the young Indigenous man rightly killed the would-be rapist in the act of defending his wife.

During the trial, Allanche couldn’t speak English, able only to speak Chinook, and worse yet the court did not issue an interpreter to help the young Indigenous man. Waddington saw through the whole charade of the colony’s court system and called the spade a spade.

All of this considered, it’s no wonder Waddington is highly esteemed in our province.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University.

He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.

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