James Dunsmuir

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James Dunsmuir
Dunsmuir in 1914
14th Premier of British Columbia
In office
June 15, 1900 – November 21, 1902
Edward VII
Lieutenant GovernorThomas Robert McInnes
Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière
Preceded byJoseph Martin
Succeeded byEdward Gawler Prior
8th Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia
In office
May 11, 1906 – December 3, 1909
MonarchEdward VII
Governor GeneralThe Earl Grey
PremierRichard McBride
Preceded byHenri-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière
Succeeded byThomas Wilson Paterson
MLA for Comox
In office
July 9, 1898 – June 9, 1900
Preceded byJoseph Hunter
Succeeded byLewis Alfred Mounce
MLA for South Nanaimo
In office
June 9, 1900 – October 3, 1903
Preceded byRalph Smith
Succeeded bydistrict abolished
Personal details
Born(1851-07-08)July 8, 1851
Fort Vancouver
DiedJune 6, 1920(1920-06-06) (aged 68)
Cowichan Bay, British Columbia
Political partyNo party affiliation
Laura Miller Surles
(m. 1876)
Children3 sons and 9 daughters
Alma materVirginia Tech
OccupationIndustrialist and politician

James Dunsmuir (July 8, 1851 – June 6, 1920) was a Canadian industrialist and politician in British Columbia. He served as the 14th premier of British Columbia from 1900 to 1902 and the eighth lieutenant governor of British Columbia from 1906 to 1909.

Early life and business career[edit]

Son of Robert Dunsmuir, he was heir to his family's coal fortune. The Dunsmuir family dominated the province's economy in the late nineteenth century and was a leading force in opposing organized labour. Dunsmuir managed his family's coal business from 1876 until 1910, increasing profits and violently putting down efforts to unionize.

In 1905, he sold his Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway to the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1910, he sold his coal mining companies, Union Colliery of British Columbia and R. Dunsmuir & Sons, to Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd (CCD).

Opposition to organized labour[edit]

In the 42 years that the Dunsmuirs owned the collieries, they never recognized their employees' attempts to unionize or create better working conditions. Dunsmuir used threats, spies, blacklists and scab labour to break strikes. When he could not break a strike with scab labour, he used his influence to have the provincial government call in the militia.[1] Dunsmuir stated to a royal commission, "I object to all unions...They simply take the management of the mine...I want the management of my own works, and if I recognize the union, I cannot have that."[2]

Dunsmuir provoked further rage when he ordered workers to relocate their homes at a new pit.[1] Workers also resented low wages and the dangerous conditions that Dunsmuir imposed upon them.[2] Mine owners at the time regularly ignored safety and sanitary conditions, and provincial inspectors were slow to bring them to justice.[3]

Dunsmuir contributed to the mines of British Columbia being among the most dangerous in the world. Between 1889 and 1908, twenty-three men were killed in the production of every million tons of BC coal; the average for North America as a whole was six deaths per million tons.[2] In 1901, while serving as Premier, many men perished in his collieries.[4]

Political career[edit]

Dunsmuir entered provincial politics in 1898, winning a seat in the provincial legislature, and he became the 14th Premier in 1900. His government attempted to resist popular pressure to curtail Asian labour and immigration, not for humanitarian reasons, but to ensure a cheap labour pool for business. It also promoted railway construction and accomplished a redistribution of seats to better represent population distribution in the province.

Dunsmuir visited England and the United States in 1902,[5] but disliked politics after his return and resigned as Premier in November 1902. In 1906, he became the province's eighth Lieutenant Governor. He retired in 1909 and lived out his remaining years at the baronial mansion that he had constructed at Hatley Park.


Dunsmuir founded the town of Ladysmith, British Columbia. He is interred in the Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, British Columbia.

One of his daughters, Jessie Muriel, married, as her first husband, the couturier Edward Molyneux. His second-born son, James A. Dunsmuir Jr., died in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915. His last child, Dola Dunsmuir, married Lieutenant-Commander Henry Cavendish and was rumored to be Tallulah Bankhead's lover.[6]



  1. ^ a b McCormack, A. Ross (1977). Reformers, Rebels, and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement 1899-1919. Canada: University of Toronto Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0-8020-5385-8.
  2. ^ a b c McCormack, A. Ross (1977). Reformers, Rebels and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement 1899-1919. Canada: University of Toronto. p. 9. ISBN 0-8020-5385-8.
  3. ^ McCormack, A.Ross (1977). Reformers, Rebels and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement 1899-1919. Canada: University of Toronto Press. p. 8. ISBN 0-8020-5385-8.
  4. ^ McCormack, A.Ross (1977). Reformers, Rebels and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement 1899-1919. Canada: University of Toronto Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-8020-5385-8.
  5. ^ "Court Circular". The Times. No. 36890. London. 4 October 1902. p. 6.
  6. ^ "From the Archives: Dola Frances Dunsmuir". Royal Roads University. Archived from the original on 15 January 2018. Retrieved 15 January 2018.

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