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Some aspects of the life of William Fraser Tolmie Stuart, Walter Henry

Abstract

Dr. William Fraser Tolmie was a representative figure in early Pacific Coast history. With an Old World medical education in Scotland, he came to the New World, at the age of twenty, in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company. The business, of fur-trading, however, promised more advancement than medicine, and Tolmie was quick to adapt himself. In eight years he had mastered the Indian trade, and developed a scientific and humanitarian interest in Indians that was to continue throughout his life. Ethnology and anthropology were his chief interests in his studies of the aborigines, and in 1884 he collaborated with Dr. G. M. Dawson in the publication of an exhaustive vocabulary of Pacific Coast Indian dialects. Long an employer of Indian labour and closely associated with the various tribes in fur trading, Dr. Tolmie assumed the position of a local champion of the Indian cause, and advocated forward policies of Indian management that are still applicable at the present time. When he returned to the Columbia Department in I843, after a furlough in Europe, Tolmie was appointed to the local superintendency of the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company. It was a position for which, by interest and ability, he was well qualified. Between I856 and 1841 he had learned much about the practical management of agriculture under Dr. John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver. Until 1859 he was a large figure in the agricultural development of Puget Sound, but the rising tide of American immigration inevitably forced the Company to yield its large holdings, and headquarters were moved to Victoria. Between 1860 and 1870 the doctor was a busy man. Apart from his heavy responsibility as managing director of the Hudson’s Bay Company, he was very active in the unsuccessful fight for free education. In politics, too, he asserted a keen interest in the affairs of his community, serving in the Vancouver Island House of Assembly from i860 until the union of the colonies in 1866. His long experience with the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company made him an invaluable sponsor of local agriculture. On his farm at Cloverdale, the doctor bred imported stock, and built up a herd which was to win top prizes for the next thirty years. Upon retirement in 1870 he continued his interest in community affairs, holding a seat in the provincial legislature from 1874 to I878, and actively participating in educational administration, for which a life of serious study and reflection well qualified him. A man of broad human sympathies, at one time in his younger days he had embraced the socialism of Robert Owen, but the conflict of this Old World social philosophy with the pioneer aggressiveness of the West was never reconciled in his thinking. As a result, he lacked the necessary conviction of a great political leader, but the humanitarian aspect of his philosophy found expression in his work with the Indians and his championing of public education. His death in 1886 ended the long and useful career of a representative figure in British Columbia history, who, if not a man of outstanding ability, was yet a sincere, hard-working and public-spirited citizen.

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