Start of Yale Convention
The Yale Convention
Predecessor and Promoter of Confederation within Canada
Its importance at the time of its conception has been overridden by events that have occurred since. The Yale Convention "has been much derided; it has been the fashion, either not to notice it at all, or to sneer at it as an enlarged edition of the ‘Three Tailors of Tooley Street'."(1)
The Yale Convention occurred within the midst of Confederation and had surrounding events been different it would have been the one responsible for finalizing the decision to join with the rest of Canada and the terms by which this would be accomplished.
The controversy over the issue of whether or not to join with Canada had been by-and-large pro-Confederation, henceforth the Convention. The reason unification with Canada was prolonged after the Convention was the result of procrastination.
The move towards Confederation was thrown into high gear through the efforts of Amor De Cosmos. On March 10, 1867 he introduced a resolution to join B.C. with the rest of Canada.
The colony of less than 10 thousand people (Vancouver alone has upwards of six hundred thousand people today) were under a great deal of financial strain, and they were desperately trying to find a solution to ease the burden. The colony was in a state of transition, with farming not yet firmly established and industry almost nonexistent.
The colony was united in their desire to find a solution to their financial burden but divided in the means to achieve it. Many believed that a union with the USA would be far more practical, owing to the accessibility of large cities and the transient miners that moved back and forth. The rest of Canada, in comparison, was through a virtual chasm of "trackless mountains and uninhabited prairies." (2)
The colony was divided on its desire to remain loyal to the mother country of Britain or to join with the U.S. A clear distinction was Vancouver Island for union with the U.S. and the mainland against. The efforts of Amor De Cosmos to quell the support for a union with the U.S. were untiring and his efforts towards this end are largely forgotten today.
In January of 1868 a meeting was held in Victoria in the interest of joining the Colony of British Columbia with the newly formed Dominion of Canada. The decision was to take steps towards unification with the rest of Canada on fair and equitable terms. The reply came in March of 1868, informing the colony that the Canadian Government desired union with B.C., and that communication had been opened in this regard with the Imperial Government.
The Council, while admitting that a union would prove beneficial, put forth an amendment that opted to withhold on a final decision. "The amendment smacked of the Governor's usual procrastinating policy and it was hinted that he and the official members were blocking the movement because of the latter." (3)
In May of 1868 the Confederation League was formed. During the summer of the same year branches of the League were established in New Westminster, Hope, Yale, and Lytton. On July 1, a meeting was held in Barkerville in which they condemned the "Government for its opposition to Confederation and favouring ‘some organized and systematic mode of obtaining admission to the Dominion of Canada'." (4)
In August of 1868 the notices summoning the Yale Convention appeared. On the list of delegates chosen for the convention six had, or had held, seats in the legislative council and one would later become the Lieutenant Governor of the province.
Thirty-seven resolutions were passed at the Yale Convention. Nearly all the resolutions dealt with the people's need to see an outline and a set of terms that would bring unification with Canada about.
Within the terms of union existed the decision that Canada would be responsible for the whole of the colony's debt. In the question of retrenchment they examined particulars, including the governor's outrageous salary, as well as many of the government representatives' salaries.
The next issue they examined was that of policy, including the lack of Indian Policy, education and immigration. The decision was made to promote immigration through the abolishment of tolls for the wagon road and grants of land to settlers to encourage settlement.
The above resolutions were to be passed through Governor Seymour to the Home Authorities. Needless to say that while the Convention held the support of the colonists, it was viewed with disfavour by the governor himself.
The Legislative Council that had been formed in 1867 was dissolved and a new council formed in 1868. The promoter of confederation from the outset, De Cosmos, lost his chair to men who had been two prominent opponents of confederation.
In 1869 Governor Seymour's health began to fail. On June 14, the news of his death reached the Colonial office. Mr. Anthony Musgrave was appointed successor. Musgrave was of the opinion that the "to trifle with the matter further would be discourteous and that, with the aid of the Executive Council, a scheme had been prepared for their consideration on the basis of making an offer which the colony would immediately accept if made to them." (5)
Confederation went forth but the Yale Convention delegates role in the matter had been overlooked as a result of the actions from the past year. The delegates opted for action, the government opted for delay. It was not until a new governor came into power that the government was propelled to take action.
B.C. would soon become part of Canada and while the original supporters of confederation were unceremoniously disregarded the end result remained the same with Canada incorporating the colony into its midst. In 1871 British Columbia officially became part of Canada and lost her colonial standing.
Yale Convention List of Delegates
Victoria: R. Wallace, Amor De Cosmos, J.E. McMillan, J.D. Norris.
Salt Spring Island: M.W. Gibbs
Metchosin: Thomas Fulton
Esquimalt: J.B. Thompson, W. Fisher
New Westminster: Henry Holbrook, John Robson, Dr. A.W.S. Black, David Withrow
New Westminster District: D.W. Miller
Yale: Charles Evans, Adam McLarty, Henry Havelock
Yale District: Alexander Rose
Lytton: R. Smith
Quesnelmouth: J.C. Armstrong
Williams Lake: F.J. Barnard
Cariboo: E.H. Babbitt, W.C. King
Lillooet: H. Featherstone
Burrard Inlet: Hugh Nelson
Harrison River: James Donnelly
Lac La Hache: Dr. Browse
1 Howay, F.W. British Columbia: From the Earliest Times to the Present. Vol. II Vancouver: The S.J.
Clarke Publishing Company, 1914. Pg. 282.
2 Howay, 278
3 Howay, 282
4 Howay, 282.
5 Howay, 290
The Yale Convention Plaque
18 February 2004
Trans Canada Highway, Yale
Amor De Cosmos
Promoter of Confederation
A man who desired more than De Cosmos to see his colony forever merged with Canada would be hard to locate. An avid supporter of confederation his name is mentioned wherever confederation is recalled, but the final glory of merging B.C. with Canada would not be his.
His dream, be it through the writ of his own hand or not, was realized and his lobbying for the event through political and social means would no longer be required. De Cosmos was a man of complex character and had the personality that some would describe as foolish while others would call it brave. No man was too large, no organization too great, no cause too small for him to embark upon. A favourite target of his was Governor Douglas.
But, De Cosmos was not a saint. He had a number of problems, problems which may have stemmed from a lack of forethought or a sense of conceited self-importance. Born in Nova Scotia in 1825 to the name of William Alexander Smith he made his way to California in 1852 to join in the gold rush. Upon arriving there he became a photographer and took pictures of the miners.
1854 was a big year for Smith, not only did his brother join him to start up a business, but he changed his name to Amor De Cosmos, a combination of Latin, French and Greek meant to convey his love of mankind and the world. He made his way to Victoria in 1858 during the Fraser River Gold Rush.
In Victoria he was a significant force through his newspaper, the British Colonist. The major cause he advocated was responsible government. Another cause he undertook was to stem the spread of the smallpox epidemic among native people.
His paper will most be remembered for is its support of Confederation. The two major editors of the time, De Cosmos and John Robson, worked in unison toward a common goal and their efforts brought about the Yale Convention. Despite being a major advocator of Confederation he never received the honour of signing the final agreement, though he was a member of the British Columbia legislature at that time.
De Cosmos career in politics can be viewed as a series of successes and failures. In his later years he became increasingly eccentric and called for action that was not realistic, including the separation of B.C. from Canada. His first attempt to run for office was in 1861. Two years later he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Vancouver Island and served in this position until 1866. In 1867 he served in the Legislative Council of British Columbia for a year, and returned again in 1870 for a year.
Confederation came about in 1871 and it also saw De Cosmos elected to the newly formed provincial legislature and the federal parliament.
He became premier of B.C. in 1872 for a term of two years. He retained his position as a member of parliament and did not fully retire from the responsibility until 1882 when his attempt to run in the federal election met with failure.
He had achieved a great deal of recognition in his earlier political career, but in 1895 he attempted to return to public life and failed again. This marked the final date of his political career, as well as being the same year he was declared insane. Amor De Cosmos, supporter of Confederation and pioneer of B.C. died two years later.
View of the Fraser River from Front Street.
18 February 2004
Front Street, Yale
The Man Behind the
John Robson was the editor of the British Columbian, a newspaper that reflected his high moral standards from its conception in 1861. This may have been the result of having the Reverend Ebenezer Robson for a brother!
A man who was not afraid to use his paper to express his views, he once went to jail for contempt of court due to an item that appeared in his paper. The editorial was against Judge Begbie and it was Begbie who sent him to prison during a case that arose over libellous material. Governor Douglas also received a number of pointed comments against him in the British Columbian.
The paper was often used to assist in his political views. A supporter of joining with Canada, his role during the 'procrastination' stage of confederation lobbying was significant. Both he and Amor De Cosmos, editor of Victoria's British Colonist newspaper, were "ardent champions of 'liberalism' in politics."1
His support of confederation gave him notable recognition as a delegate for New Westminster during the Yale Convention, and he was one of the few that continued to avidly support joining with Canada even after the idea had fallen out of favour.
1 Akrigg, G.P.V & Akrigg, Helen B. British Columbia Chronicle 1847 - 1871: Gold & Colonists,
Vancouver: Discovery Press, 1977. Pg 218.
Hugh Nelson: Yale businessman and B.C. politican.
Lieutenant-Governor Hugh Nelson
Dietz's Friend and Partner,
Future Man of British Columbia
Born in far-away Ireland in 1830 Hugh Nelson would go on to become an integral part of B.C.'s past and present. His beginning as a leading man of B.C. began in Yale B.C. while in partnership with Mr. Dietz.
Together, Dietz & Nelson dabbled and succeeded in a number of business ventures, including an express service and sawmill. Hugh Nelson arrived in B.C. in 1858 and headed directly to Yale. He came to the colony with the same ambition as thousands before and after him, but he veered away from the popular route and made a sizeable fortune on the miners rather than with the miners.
Connecting the Cariboo with the West Coast he and Dietz established themselves amongst the businessmen at Yale and became wealthy members of the town. Through an association of the 'elites' of Yale he became friends with such people as John Kurtz, David Higgins, and William Powell.
Nelson remained closely associated with Yale until he and Dietz sold their express company to Francis Barnard in 1867 and moved closer to the Coast. He would return to Yale the following year for the Yale Convention but would not spend an extended period in the small town where it all began.
While running their sawmill in Burrard Inlet he was also involved in politics. A supporter of confederation he was elected as "MP for New Westminster in 1871 as a follower of John A. MacDonald." 1
Nelson left political life for a while to continue running the mill, a time when the unexpected loss of his partners made his attention there prudent. Moody was a victim on the doomed steamship, the 'Pacific', and it is not really known what happened to Dietz.
He returned to politics in 1879 after MacDonald elected him to the Senate. In 1882 he sold his share of the mill that he and his partners had made so successful, and devoted his full attention to public life. His dedication paid off when he was elected lieutenant-governor of B.C. in 1887.
Around this time Nelson met and married Miss Stanton. She was described as a "lady who brought to Government House a charming personality and a winsome manner, which captivated all who were so fortunate as to be entertained there." 2
He completed his term in office in 1892 and retired to England as a result of poor health. "While on a visit to Ditchely Park in Oxfordshire, the seat of Lord Dillon, his brother-in-law, he died and was laid to rest in the family mausoleum of that nobleman." 3
Hugh Nelson's noble vestige remains in the province he dedicated so much time in creating. Though he was born and died in Europe his presence within B.C. will never be forgotten.
1 "Hugh Nelson." Government House, the Ceremonial Home of British Columbians. Internet: http://www.ltgov.bc.ca/office/HughNelson.htm.
2 Higgins, David. "Chasing the Golden Butterfly." The Mystic Spring, 1904.
3 Higgins, David.
End of Yale Convention