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Edgar Crow Baker : an entrepreneur in early British Columbia Brooks, George Waite Stirling

Abstract

The subject of this thesis is the nature of entre-preneurism in British Columbia from 187"+ until about 1905. The business affairs of one Victoria entrepreneur, Edgar Crow Baker, are used to examine the character of these men, their business endeavours and the society that they lived in. The era of the entrepreneur in British Columbia began with the Fraser River gold rush in 1858. It continued until about the turn of the century, when the era of the corporate entrepreneur was ushered in with the arrival of large corporations from outside the province that began to buy up the smaller local companies. Victoria was the principal headquarters for these entrepreneurs from 1858 until about the end of the 1880 ' s.i During the 1890*s, control of the province's business affairs passed from Victoria to Vancouver and by the end of that decade, Victoria was no longer a creative business force in the province. The change from an economy that was oriented on maritime lines, largely through the port of Victoria, to a continental system in which Victoria did not occupy a strategic location, was the event that destroyed Victoria's business position. It was the Canadian Pacific Railway that brought about this change and Vancouver Island's isolation from it that caused the decline of Victoria as a business centre. Before the coming of the railway, British Columbia had no director rapid means of' communication with the principal areas of population and business in the western world, and this isolation was an important factor in determining the character of the province's early society. The long and dangerous sea or land trip required to reach the region acted as a deferent to the normal pattern of immigration, a screen that kept out less venturesome settlers. This was also true of California before 1869 and it was from this area that British Columbia drew the majority of its immigrants in the gold rush of 1858. These prospectors, entrepreneurs and confidence men had been attracted to California by the same force that now drew them to British Columbia. In every society there are a number of bolder and more materialistic individuals,- who respond to the opportunity presented by a gold rush; British Columbia in 185 8, and for several decades thereafter, found itself inhabited to a great extent by persons of this type. It was this situation that gave the province's early society such a large proportion of entrepreneurs and created an atmosphere conducive to entrepreneurism. The business and communications link that was thus forged with California gave British Columbia's society a second distinctive feature. This was its strong identification with California and particularly, Victoria's relationship to San Francisco. It is unlikely that the majority of British Columbia's immigrants from California were true Americans (like the government officials, many were British), but nevertheless, they brought to the province a strong belief in the American ideal. This ideal is perhaps the most significant factor in understanding this early era of entrepreneurism. It cast the entrepreneur in the role of a hero in the national epic: the opening of the frontier; the developing of resources and industry; the providing of urban services. Society honoured the successful entrepreneur by social recognition and the approval of his right to economic reward. The presence of an Anglo-American society in Victoria can be traced to the foregoing factors. The upper ranks of this society were more British than American or Canadian in composition and followed the social customs of the English gentry. But in commerce, it was the American tradition of entrepreneurism that governed the conduct of business, and equally as important, society's approach to these activities. Edgar Crow Baker arrived in Victoria from Halifax in 1874, a time when Victoria was well established in her role as the business, as well as political, centre of the province. With considerable determination and skill, he quickly became an accepted member of the upper ranks of the city's society, and after a short period of business setbacks, he began steadily to increase his involvement and influence in business. By these two means, he became either the friend or the partner of the majority of the province's most prominent politicians and businessmen; although, these men were virtually one close knit group. Baker, then, lived and worked with the leading entrepreneurs of the province. His life is the case study that reveals some of the characteristics of these men, illustrates the variety of their business interests and gives some indication of the nature of the society that supported them. Baker left a set of annual journals for the period 1874 to 1920, in which he describes his daily business affairs. It is these records that provide the principal means of analyzing the nature of entrepreneur ism in early British Columbia.

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