Author Tags: 1850-1900, Early B.C.
"Edgar Dewdney represents a type relatively common in the early days of Canada's Confederation: the man of action whom politics emasculates into the ineffectual sycophant." -- George Woodcock
Born in Devonshire, England on November 5, 1835 and trained as an engineer, Dewdney came to British Columbia in 1859 where he immediately gained the approval of Governor James Douglas. As a loyal Brit, he was soon employed surveying for the townsite of New Westminster, the new capital of British Columbia. For the next six years from 1860 to 1865, with the crucial partnership of Walter Moberley, he made a remarkable contribution to the growth of British Columbia by overseeing the creation of the Dewdney Trail, a 576 km. trail that stretched across southern British Columbia from From Hope on the Fraser River to a tributory of the Kootenay River in the Rocky Mountains called Wild Horse Creek. This trail was designed to link gold mining in the Kootenays to the coast, but by the time it reached its eastern terminus, near present-day Fort Steele, much of the gold mining activity in eastern B.C. had finished.
Having proven his capabilities as a manager, Dewdney was elected to the province's legislative council as a representative for the Kootenays in 1868. He became a staunch opponent of the free-thinking Amor de Cosmos. Dewdney was elected federally as a Conservative to the new Dominion's House of Commons in 1872. Re-elected to Ottawa in 1874, and again by acclamation in 1878, he was a strong advocate for the transcontinental railway and a stalwart supporter of Sir John A. Macdonald during the so-called Pacific Scandal concerning the railway. Upon the re-election of Macdonald in 1878, Dewdney was rewarded with the post of Indian commissioner, whereupon he resigned from parliament. After two years, in December of 1881 he accepted the dual post of Lieutenant Governor of the North-West Territories, the name for present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan. During the 1880s Dewdney wielded enormous influence in the development of Western Canada and he ensured Indians were limited to reserves during a period when the buffalo were being exterminated and many of the Indians were starving. "He allowed his personal interest in land speculation to cloud his judgment," wrote historian George Woodcock, "so that he put himself in a very equivocal position in 1882 when it was found that he had acquired large parcels of land in Regina just before it was officially designated the new capital of the North-West Territories."
As much as anyone, Dewdney was responsible for the deterioration of relations that led to the North-West Rebellion of Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont and their Métis comrades because he failed to represent Métis grievances forcefully in Ottawa. If Dewdney had been prepared to grant some control or ownership of traditionally occupied lands to the Métis, Dumont might not have needed to fetch Louis Riel from St. Peter's mission in Montana to help him declare a provisional government of their own. Dewdney continued to dominate Indian policies when he returned to the House of Commons in 1888 and became minister of the interior and superintendent general of Indian Affairs. Dewdney was rewarded for his faithfulness to Ottawa with a five-year term as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia from 1892 to 1897. He died in Victoria on August 8, 1916.
Brian Titley wrote The Frontier World of Edgar Dewdney (UBC Press, 1999), a study of one of the most influential figures in British Columbia history during the late 1800s.
[BCBW 2004] "Early B.C." "1850-1900"