UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sir Edmund Walker, servant of Canada Marshall, Barbara Ruth


In the laissez-faire system of the late nineteenth century, Sir Edmund Walker, Canadian businessman, saw his life in terms not of his personal gain, but of his service to his country. His Victorian curiosity and ethic of service prompted him to work for Canada in many varied areas from banking, to the arts, to planning a new imperial structure in the Round Table. By World War I, however, this Victorian ethic could no longer survive in the modern world which had evolved. Government also ended laissez-faire by entering fields which business philanthropy had neglected. While most Canadians seemed to recognize Sir Edmund's achievements, after the war they scoffed at his outdated views of service. Byron Edmund Walker, born in 1848 in Haldimand County, Ontario, was the eldest son of a poor, but educated, middle class, English family. Their love of culture and science was transmitted to him at an early age. Although he started banking at twelve, becoming president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1907, Edmund Walker did not neglect this cultural heritage. The Champlain Society, Royal Ontario Museum, University of Toronto, National Gallery, Art Gallery of Ontario, and Guild of Civic Art in Toronto are some of the institutions which he worked for, or helped to found. During this same period Sir Edmund also built up the Canadian Bank of Commerce, the nation's second largest bank, and as the foremost banker in Canada, he led discussions at the decennial revision of the Bank Act. A self-made millionaire, Walker died in Toronto in 1924. Because his career coincided with Canada's greatest boom, from about 1900 to 1914, it is difficult to establish how much Sir Edmund's efforts actually contributed to his many accomplishments. This is further complicated by the fact that in these ventures he was assisted ably by Zebulon Lash, his enigmatic, corporation lawyer friend. Yet with qualifications, Walker's 'service' to Canada is still outstanding. This thesis, then, is primarily an examination of Sir Edmund Walker's ideas, and how they functioned in his Canadian environment.

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