BC Premier #18 – The Premier Who Is Not On the Daily Show With John Stewart

Name John Oliver
Born: July 31, 1856 in Hartington, England
Died: August 17, 1927 in Victoria, BC
Party: Liberal
Held Office: March 6, 1918 to August 17, 1927
  • from a farming family that immigrated to Maryborough Township, Ontario, Canada in 1870
  • his mother died from rheumatic fever in 1875
  • moved west at age 20 and found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway, where he worked for a summer to save enough money to buy a farm in Surrey, BC
  • while building his farm, he also became involved in community affairs (e.g., establishing a rural school, becoming municipal clerk and tax collector), then sold his land and bought a farm in Delta, where he also became involved in community affairs (e.g., as a school trustee and later as a reeve on municipal council)
  • ran for the seat in Westminster-Delta in the June 1900 provincial election – was one of only 6 people from the Joseph Martin faction to be elected
  • the snooty politicians liked to make fun of his “unsophisticated clothes, heavy boots, and often crude use of the English language”1 – but he was determined to show them that a regular person could be part of the political process, so he studied parliamentary procedures
  • when the party system came to provincial politics, Oliver ran as a Liberal – he was “an anti-establishment figure, yet his own brand of liberalism was shaped by his rural conservative roots”2
  • 3 Oct 1903 – re-elected in Delta, served in the Liberal opposition
  • 2 Feb 1907 – re-elected again in Delta, again as part of the Liberal opposition
  • he reluctantly became the Liberal leader in autumn 1909 when the then-leader, James Alexander MacDonald3 was appointed to the bench, leaving Oliver with not much time to prepare for the upcoming election against a popular Conservative party
  • 25 Nov 1909 – lost his seat in Delta, as well as the seat in Victoria for which he also ran
  • he went back to the farm, but couldn’t stay out of politics for long – he was soon elected to school board, then served as a reeve again, followed by running in – and losing – in the 1911 federal election and the 1912 provincial election
  • 14 Sept. 1916 – the Conservative party, suffering from a worldview recession at the start of WWII as well as charges of corruption,  lost the government to the Liberal party, with Oliver winning the seat in Dewdney and being appointed to cabinet in two positions: agriculture and railways4
  • wrote the “Land Settlement [and Development] Act,” which provided soldiers returning from war the opportunity to own their own rural farms, when he was inspired in the middle of the night – it was dubbed the “nightshirt act” because he wrote it in his nightshirt
  • 6 March 1918 – was elected Liberal Party leader and became Premier after Premier Brewster died on 1 March 1918
  • his government introduced “social legislation that limited work to an eight-hour day in certain industries, improved working conditions, […] minimum wage for women, mothers’ pensions […], maintenance for deserted wives, and improve[ments in] both health and educational services […] All of these initiatives were based on the belief that direct government intervention was the best way to deal with the problems that beset the province.”5
  • some turmoil arose during this time, including farmers forming their own party (the aptly named “United Farmers of BC”), workers striking in sympathy with the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and complaints that he should have immediately called an election upon becoming Premier to let the voters decide if they really wanted him as their leader.  He eventually called for an election on Dec 1, 1920 and this would be the first election in which women could vote.  “Women would be casting ballots for the first time in British Columbia and Oliver had been advised that an earlier date in the autumn would be inconvenient for them because it coincided with church fairs and the making of preserves.”6.  The Conservatives came out for a big fight and Oliver and his Liberals barely held onto power.  Oliver would find opposition from both the young people within his own party and the business-y types who supported the Conservatives
  • 20 Oct 1920:  referendum on Prohibition was defeated, with a preference for the government-controlled sale of alcohol; the government stores that were allowed to sell booze became known as “John Oliver’s drug stores”
  • 20 June 1924 – leaders of all the provincial parties, including Oliver, lost their seats in the provincial election; the Liberals held on to the government with a very slim minority government and Oliver won a seat Nelson in a by-election on Aug 23 , 1924; the economy got better, however, and Oliver and his Liberals held on for a while
  • passed Old-Age Pension, which he considered one of the most important things he did, on March 7, 1927
  • July 1927: tearfully resigned, having found out that he had incurable cancer; his colleagues refused to accept his resignation, and so he stayed on as Premier until his death, with “J. D. MacLean, his long-time lieutenant, […] named premier designate”7
  • Stuff that’s named after him:
    • John Oliver Secondary School (Vancouver)
    • Mount John Oliver8 in the Cariboo Mountains
    • Oliver, BC (a town in the Okanagan)

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

Wikipedia, the reference of champions
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

  1. source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography online []
  2. source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography online []
  3. not to be confused with John Alexander MacDonald []
  4. agricultural, presumably, due to his farming background and railways because he’d been a big opponent of the Conservative government’s railway policy []
  5. source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography online []
  6. source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography online []
  7. source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography online []
  8. which kind of sounds like an instruction: Hey, you, mount John Oliver already []

Comments |8|

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  • Interesting! When I was a kid in the Okanagan Valley there was constant talk about someone named "Charlie Oliver" — don't remember what he was famous for but everyone liked him and had a story. I wonder if he could have been a relative. This article doesn't talk about family but John Oliver had a huge influence on the Okanagan Valley. The town of Oliver BC was named after him because he was instrumental in putting in the "ditch" that turned the area from a desert into orchards and vineyards.


  • Charlie Oliver was one of John Oliver's sons. He was a lawyer in Penticton and I think he had an orchard as well. There were two or three more sons and I think three daughters, one of whom was my grandmother.


  • This coming year 2012 is the 100th anniversary of John Oliver Secondary School.
    As the Parent Committee Chair this year I am dearly trying to locate descendants of John Oliver and would be glad to make contact.


  • I have been looking for two cousins, Bill and Bob Taylor whose mother was a granddaughter of John Oliver. Her name was Mary and she married my father Frank’s
    brother Charlie Taylor. If anyone can help, I would surely appreciate it. Farrell would probably be interested also regarding the John Oliver 100th anniversary.


  • Joan – Not sure I can really help here.
    I did make contact with another of John Oliver’s grand-daughters back East – Prof. Donna Runnalls – and will continue the search for other family ties here in Vancouver BC.
    The VPL has a biography of J O and you may find a reference to Mary there.
    The 7 kids of John Oliver for the record were: Alice(Callow), Nellie(Runnalls), Dr Robert, Arthur, John, Charles and Mildred(Savage).

    Good luck and let me know what you find.


  • My parents were friends of son Jack (john) Oliver and his wife Daisy.
    They lived on the old Oliver farm. The farm was located where Highway 91 and 99 intersect. Their is a couple of rugby fields there now. The barn which had “GOLF” written on it was dismantled and to be relocated but that never happened. When I was a young boy I used to play in the barn with my cousins. We also rode the big Clydesdale horse. They had one adopted son who was killed in WW2. The house was located right next to a grove of trees a few hundred yards from Highway 10. The farm stretched fro Hwy 10 to Mud Bay. A shame the barn wasn’t resurrected as was promised.


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