We do not know his name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War

Alfred Penderell Waddington

[ Alfred Waddington, Unknown, BCA PDP00121 ]

Alfred Waddington is best characterized as an unwaveringly optimistic entrepreneur who took an active interest in the early history of colonial Vancouver Island and the province of British Columbia. Born in London in 1801, he split his early years between his native England, where his father was a successful proprietor, and France, where his maternal relatives owned a number of cotton-spinning mills. After completing his education in Germany, Waddington worked in the family mills before leaving Europe in the late 1840s to explore South America and the United States.

In 1858, the aging businessman travelled to Victoria to expand his successful San Francisco-based wholesale grocery firm of Dulip and Waddington. Whereas most men were emigrating to B.C. during this period in search of gold, Waddington's political and commercial aspirations were his driving force. Shortly after arriving in the booming capital, he authored The Fraser Mines Vindicated, the first non-government book ever published in the Vancouver Island colony. In 1860, he was elected to the colonial legislature as a reform candidate who favoured small, local government; religious equality; and of course, greater financial freedom. His term in office, however, was short-lived. Disillusioned and distraught by the political process, the eternal optimist resigned in 1861.

Waddington’s progressive thinking likely contributed to his disillusionment with the political process. According to biographer Neville Shanks, Waddington’s “actions were frequently premature, his ideas too far ahead of the other colonists and his times.” One example of his progressive thinking is a pamphlet titled Judicial Murder which he wrote, published, and distributed at his own expense. It commented on the unfair nature of the trial of a young aboriginal man named Allanche, who was executed for murder. Also in the early 1860s, Waddington fought for women’s rights, asserting that no woman should be forced to adopt the citizenship of her husband’s homeland, a fight that got him “hooted out of the house.” In 1862, Waddington advocated for Victoria’s incorporation and helped draft the city’s charter but he declined a nomination to be Victoria’s first mayor.

No longer a member of the Legislative Assembly, Waddington shifted his focus to a new project: the construction of a wagon road to the Cariboo goldfields. Although several proposals had been made, Waddington immediately and wholeheartedly advocated the Bute Inlet Route. For almost two years he lobbied the press and his political allies for support. Both the financing and the construction of the road proved problematic at times, but Waddington persisted, finally ratifying a draft agreement early in 1863.

After the Chilcotin War and the collapse of the Bute Inlet enterprise, Waddington tried unsuccessfully to recover his expenses. The Bute Inlet Route had virtually bankrupted him. The government's refusal to provide him with compensation, however, did not deter his efforts. In fact, his vision only grew larger. As B.C.'s entrance to confederation neared, Waddington supported the union by developing plans for a transcontinental railway terminating at Bute Inlet. Although he did not witness the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and although his proposal was unlikely to win the contract, the federal government purchased his surveys. which helped create a solid foundation upon which to build what was then the largest railway in the world.

Although Waddington is best remembered for his transportation initiatives, he also enjoyed other successes. Prior to his death in 1872, he returned to the Legislature for a second tour of duty and was appointed superintendent of schools for Vancouver Island in 1865. He died in Ottawa on February 26th after contracting smallpox, the same plague that had devastated the aboriginal peoples of British Columbia prior to the Chilcotin war. Today, Mount Waddington and its adjoining district is a testament to the man's influence on the history of British Columbia.

Secondary Sources

Shanks, Neville. Waddington; A Biography of Alfred Pendrill Waddington. Port Hardy, B.C.: North Island Gazette, 1975.

Lamb, W. Kaye. “Alfred Penderell Waddington.” In Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. X. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1972.

Return to parent page

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History