Alfred Waddington

1801 - 1872

Author, entrepreneur, railway promoter and educational administrator.

Alfred Waddington Alfred Penderell Waddington was born on 2 October 1801 at Crescent House, Brompton, London, England. He was the sixth son of the banker and merchant William Waddington (d. 1818). He received his early education in England and attended the Ecole Speciale du Commerce in Paris. He also spent spent two years at Leipzig and at the University of Gottingen in Germany.

From the late 1820s to the mid-1840s, Waddington and some of his brothers operated a foundry and managed an ironworks in France, but apparently none of their ventures were financially successful. Waddington had more success in America. He sailed to California in May 1850 in the wake of the California gold rush and became partner in the firm of Dunlip and Waddington, wholesale grocers, in San Francisco.

Following news of the Fraser River gold rush, Waddington moved north and in 1858 established himself in Victoria, Vancouver Island. As W. Kaye Lamb noted in his biography of Waddington, "At this time he was 57 years of age, and he must have been one of the oldest as well as the best educated of the men who joined in the rush." To encourage prospectors, and to promote his business interests, Waddington wrote a book extolling the gold rush. The Fraser Mines Vindicated; or, the History of Four Months (1858) was the first book published on Vancouver Island.

A political associate of Amor de Cosmos, Waddington was critical of the authoritarian ways and powers of Governor James Douglas and the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1860-61, he was elected to the House of Assembly of Vancouver Island, as a representative of Victoria District. He helped to draft the charter of the City of Victoria in 1862 but declined to accept nomination as its first mayor. Instead, he devoted himself to promoting an ambitious, but impractical and ill-fated, scheme of opening a wagon road from the Pacific coast via Bute Inlet to the Cariboo gold fields.

In 1865 Vancouver Island established a free, non-sectarian school system, thanks in large part to the efforts of Waddington's friend, de Cosmos. Under the terms of the new Common Schools Act Waddington was appointed Superintendent of Education for the colony. He was appointed by Governor Arthur Edward Kennedy and was responsible to a General Board of Education. The Board was chaired by Dr. Israel Wood Powell and included Edward Graham Alston as members. Waddington's reports and his school inspection journals attest that he was an able administrator and a great friend to the cause of public education.

In November 1866, the colony of Vancouver Island was annexed by British Columbia and the new governor, Frederick Seymour, was opposed to the principle of free education. According to Governor Seymour, "every man who respects himself would not desire to have his children instructed without some pecuniary sacrifice on his own part. The state may aid the parent, but ought not to relieve him of his own natural responsibility."

The constitution of Vancouver Island was revoked after the union of 1866; Vancouver Island statutes (including the Common Schools Act) were rescinded and Seymour refused to recognise the authority of the General Board of Education. Nevertheless, the Board soldiered on and Waddington encouraged schools to remain open and teachers to remain teaching, even after the governor suspended funds for educational purposes. Waddington persuaded teachers to forfeit their pay and cajoled landlords of school properties to forgo their rents until some alternative arrangement could be made. But given the hostility of Seymour, and the precarious financial state of the colony, the effort was doomed.

Reluctantly, Waddington resigned as Superintendent of Education in September 1867. In November 1867 the Board decided to close all schools on Vancouver Island after Christmas. In the Spring of the following year, on 19 April 1868, the Board resigned as a body in protest against "the hostility of the government towards Free Schools and the continued withholding of funds voted."

Even so, the system teetered along. As F. Henry Johnson has said: "In spite of the Board's decision to close the schools, most of the teachers [including John Jessop and William Burr in Victoria, and Cornelius Bryant in Nanaimo] managed to keep them open by means of voluntary contributions, theatre benefits and local charity, eked out by the occasional hand-out from the colonial treaseury." But a government funded, fully-functioning school system was not established again until the provincial legislature passed the Public School Act of 1872.

Waddington meantime resumed his business interests and became active in the pro-Confederation campaign. He also became a tireless advocate of a transcontinental railway, to be built from Canada to British Columbia and to connect to Vancouver Island via the Bute Inlet. He was in Ottawa lobbying for the Bute Inlet route when he died of smallpox on 26 February 1872. He was 71 years old.

Alfred Penderell Waddington is buried in St. James Cemetery in Hull, Quebec. He is not well known in Eastern Canada, but is commemorated by several toponyms in British Columbia. Waddington Alley in Victoria and Waddington Crescent in Nanaimo are named after him. So, too, is the Waddington Regional District, an area encompassing the entire northern quarter of Vancouver Island, many small islands, and a large section of the Mainland on the opposite side of the water. Mount Waddington (13,260 feet), the highest peak in the Coast Range and the highest mountain wholly within British Columbia, is also named after this educational pioneer.

F. Henry Johnson, A History of Public Education in British Columbia (Vancouver: U.B.C. Press, 1964), pp. 36-37; W. Kaye Lamb, "Alfred Waddington," Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 10 (1972), 697-698; Neville Shanks, Waddington (Port Hardy, B.C.:North Island Gazette Ltd., 1975).

Researched and written with the assitance of Carol Grant Powell, History 350, Malaspina University-College, November 1997.