BC Premier #15 – The Premier Who Liked To Party Party

Sir Richard McBride, the 15th Premier of the Province of British Columbia.

File:Richard McBride.jpg Name Sir Richard McBride, KCMG
Born: December 15, 1870 in New Westminster, BC
Died: August 6, 1917) in London, UK
Party: BC Conservative
Held Office: June 1, 1903 – December 15, 1915
  • considered the founder of the (now pretty much defunct1) BC Conservative Party
  • September 1887: went to Dalhousie Law School. While there, he did really well in the mock Parliament and, in a bit of foreshadowing that my grade 9 English teacher would have loved, he was the mock Parliament Premier in his third year
  • 1896: ran in the federal election for the oddly named Liberal-Conservative party (no idea who their opponents were), but lost
  • 1898: elected to the provincial legislature in the Westminster-Dewdney riding; given the nickname “Dewdney Dick”
  • 1900: appointed to Dunsmuir’s cabinet as the Minister of Mines, having done a bunch of legal work sorting out mining claims in the mining boom in the northwest part of the province during recess between legislative sittings;
  • fall 1900: elected president of the BC consverative organization (not Party, ‘cuz they didn’t quite have provincial parties yet)
  • September 1901: he resigned from Dunsmuir’s cabinet when Dunsmuir appointed a Joseph Martin ally to his cabinet, as Dunsmuir had said he was going to work against Martin
  • Feb 1902: chosen to be the leader of the Opposition
  • Sept 1902: not re-elected as the president of the provincial Conservative organization, but since the guy who was elected didn’t have a seat in Legislature, he remained the leader of the Opposition.  This led to…
  • June 1, 1903: appointed Premier by the Lieutanent Governor. He felt that the no-party system was lame, so he declared his administration to be a Conservative Party one (which seems slightly odd, given that he was specifically not elected as the leader of the Conservatives, but so it was) and that he’d fight the fall election as the Conservative Party
  • October 3, 1903: won the first partied2 Government with a two seat majority (22 of 42 seats).  This party tried “to stablize the economy by cutting spending and raising new taxes”5 and implemented “progressive reforms of the province’s labour law”5– you know how Conservatives love labour and higher taxes3.  Also, like many politicians of the time I’m discovering as I write this series of blog postings, he was a big fat racist who called for “a halt to Asian immigration”6

    “He shared the widespread belief in “a white B.C.,” called for “Mongolian exclusion,” and sought to shut out the “Asiatic hordes.” His particular concern was “cheap” Japanese labour competing in the fisheries and in “everything the white man has been used to call his own.” He endorsed anti-Asian measures in order to bring the “Asian problem” to the attention of eastern Canadians, and he employed the federal government’s repeated disallowance of the province’s legislation on the matter, notably the so-called Natal Acts which imposed a language test on prospective immigrants, in his “Fight Ottawa” crusade. After the Conservatives formed the federal government in 1911, he urged Borden to honour a promise to legislate against immigration from Asia. By then McBride also perceived a Japanese military threat.”6

    On the other major racial issue that seems to come up in this period of BC history:

    “McBride’s approach to Indian peoples, whom he had known from his boyhood and legal practice and with whom he could converse in Chinook Jargon, was paternalistic. As a young lawyer he got a charge of murder reduced to manslaughter because his drunken client “was an Indian.” He believed the Indians had “been treated fairly and equitably,” and thought they “should play a very important part in the material advancement and welfare of the community.””6

  • 1907: won another election, this time with 26 of the 42 seats
  • 1908: decided that the province should have its own provincial university (UBC, which opened in 1915), because Conservatives love higher education3, and promised more railway lines
  • 1909 & 1912: kicked serious ass in these elections, which 38 of 42 seats and 40 of 42 seats, respectively.
  • was BFFs with Robert Borden’s federal Tories
  • during WWI: in response to rumours of German ships in the North Pacific, he bought two submarines from Seattle and then sold them to the federal government at the same price for which he bought them. He was accused of making some coin on the transaction, but a Royal Commission “determined that the whole transaction was “of blameless character””6
  • in addition to his racism, he was also sexist and “never believed”6 in women’s suffrage
  • 1915: called an election for April 10, then three days later postponed it indefinitely under the dubious explanation of “unexpected difficulty in revising the voters’ lists and getting ballot boxes to remote areas””6
  • 1915: UBC opened
  • as seems to be the downfall of many early BC politicians, the railway did McBride in. An economic downturn along with “mounting railway debts”5 caused the people to like his government a lot less, so he resigned as Premier on December 15, 1915 and became BC’s rep in London, UK.
  • 1917: having suffered from nephritis and diabetes for several years, McBride went blind (presumably from the diabetes, not the nephritis)
  • 1917: died in London, less than three months after resigning. His body was returned to Victoria, BC for burial.
  • things that are named after him: the town of McBride, BC; the McBride River in Northern BC; Sir Richard McBride Elementary School in Vancouver4.

In summary, a racist and a sexist (though both of those seemed to be quite common at the time), McBride did very well in politics when times were good, but didn’t seem to have the skills to pay the bills when times went bad.  Also, I suppose I have him to thank for the creation of one of my alma maters, UBC.

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

1It’s not totally defunct, as you do see candidate running on the Conservative banner in elections, but I don’t I’ve seen a Conservative party candidate win an election in the entire time I’ve lived in BC. And really the conservatives MLAs are all hiding over in the BC so-called-Liberal Party.
2Is *too* a word.
3I wish there were an “I’m joking” font…
4This is where I’ve heard of him. I used to run a science outreach program that put volunteers into elementary schools to teach science to the kids, so I know the names of most of the schools in Vancouver.

5Wikipedia, the reference of that also likes to party party.
6Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

Comments |9|

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  • You need to fix your “held office” box… it's missing an end date. Of course, maybe you are saying he is still Premier in spirit, although that would be more Amor de Cosmos/Mackenzie King style. (de Cosmos was big into spiritualism, right, and Mackenzie King communed by seance with his dead mother if I recall correctly. If I don't I suspect Sarah will correct me.)

    I'm not sure we thank someone for the creation of UBC. 🙂


  • Hey Dr. Beth – just thought I would point out something that we historians call 'presentism.' That is where you judge the actions of people in the past by today's standards/beliefs. Being racist, xenophobic and paternalistic towards First Nations was just how it was. This happens a lot with feminist scholars when they write about women in the suffragist movement. What would have been noteworthy was if someone had not been a racist in those times.


  • Also I've noticed something about your theme: it doesn't display the date a post was made on individual entry pages. That might be good to add.


  • His dead mother and his dead dog…

    He wasn't the weirdest of the prime ministers. I think that goes to Deifenbaker who used to keep official documents under his bed as he didn't trust anyone.


  • Thanks for noticing that – I've fixed it now. Stupid Wikipedia didn't have “held office from ___ to ___” like, if I'm recalling correctly, it did for the Canadian Prime Ministers, so I have to fill it in as I find the dates in my reading (poor me! all this research work!). And clearly I forgot to do that when I finally found his resignation date.


  • Actually it does, just not at the top like when you look at the main “Blog” page. Right at the bottom of the posting, directly above the comments, it says: “This entry was posted on Sunday, July 5th, 2009 at 12:33 pm…”


  • Not being an historian, I was unfamiliar with the term “presentism.” But that is why I mention things like “though both of those [racism and sexism] seemed to be quite common at the time)” – I think it's useful to point out that we do have a legacy of things like sexism and racism (although I guess it could come across that I'm blaming these individuals more than everyone else at the time who held the same views). I find that people often think of Canada as “less racist” than, say, the US with its history of slavery, but we certainly have our fair share of racism too!


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