Vancouver Island Masonic History Project

David William Higgins (1834-1917) was a member of Victoria-Columbia Lodge No. 1.

He came to Victoria in 1858 and became the owner and publisher of The British Colonist (now the Times-Colonist) when he purchased the newspaper in 1865. The British Daily Colonist had been founded in 1858 by Amor de Cosmos, a Charter member of Victoria Lodge No. 1085, the first Masonic Lodge in Victoria in 1860.

He also represented Esquimalt in the B.C. Legislature, serving as Speaker of the Legislature between 1890-1897.

Here are the local newspaper reports of David Higgins’ death:

“Pioneer Journalist Succumbs After Long Career of Usefulness In British Columbia —83 Years Old,


At One Time Publisher and Editor of The Colonist, He Led Many Movements for City’s Welfare

Terminating a notable career closely linked with the progress of British Columbia, Mr. David William Higgins died here yesterday morning at 7 o’clock, on his eighty-third birthday.

Mr. Higgins, who came to the Pacific Coast in the gold rush days of 1858, lived in This Province almost sixty years. During part of that time he was publisher and editor of The Colonist, member and speaker of the Provincial Legislature, founder of the city’s electric light and tramway system, owner of Victoria’s first theatre, and prominent in many movements inspired by the desire to make Victoria a bigger, better city. As a writer he was known throughout the Northwest and his work was widely copied.

His death was not unexpected. For the past year be had been in failing health, and his condition became serious a few weeks [ago], since when he gradually sank.

He is survived by two sons and two daughters, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild. The sons are: Mr. Frank Higgins, barrister, and Mr. C. Paul Higgins, both practicing in Victoria. The daughters are: Mrs. J. L. Raymur, of Victoria, and Mrs. Maude Corman, Los Angeles, Cal. He was predeceased by his wife several years ago. A nephew is Mr. Kenneth Raymur, who was wounded in France and is now in the city.

Funeral services will be private, and it is requested that no flowers be sent. Burial will be in Ross Bay Cemetery on Sunday.

Continued on page 4″

(Source:  Colonist, 1 December 1917, page 1)


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Death has removed the oldest representative of Journalism on the Pacific Coast in the person of the late D. W. Higgins, whose fortunes have been associated with those of British Columbia since early in 1858, the year of destiny for this Province, although gold had been discovered in small quantities in Vancouver Inland and Queen Charlotte Islands in 1850 and in 1851 and 1853 an incipient mining boom had taken place on account of the discoveries in Gold Harbor, it was not until 1858 that the discoveries on the Fraser River and tributaries brought the first big rush, on account of which Victoria was translated from a Hudson’s Bay Co. trading post and a departmental head¬quarters to a city of tents, containing possibly 25,000 people.

Among those who found the lure too strong for them and who joined the throng of adventurers was Mr. D. W. Higgins, who in 1858 was a resident of San Francisco and the proprietor of The San Francisco Daily Call, which he founded in 1856 and which he sold in 1858. Mr. Higgins was the fourth son of William B. Higgins, a native of Manchester. Eng., who settled in Nova Scotia in 1814 and subsequently moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 1834. At that time Mr. Higgins was two years old, having been born in Halifax. N.S., November 30. 1834. In Brooklyn he was, as a youth of 13, apprenticed to the printing trade, and there became a journeyman printer. In 1888 he joined the throng of fortune seekers and sailed on March 5 from New York for San Francisco, which city he reached after twenty-one days, crossing the Isthmus of Panama. San Francisco was then the Mecca of all the adventurers of the West, and times were lively in the extreme.

Founds Great Newspaper

As stated, The Call was established in 1856, and from the very first it was a financial success. Today it is one of the great dailies of the Pacific Coast. Mr. Higgins was In San Francisco during the exciting times of the Vigilance Committee, which established law and order, and remembered clearly up to the day of his death the events connected with that organisation and the circumstances which gave it birth. In 1866 San Francisco was a mudhole at certain seasons of the year. The side¬walks were only rough planks, and there was no street paving, nor were the streets lighted. It was unsafe, especially for strangers, to be abroad after nightfall, and Mr. Higgins used to tell how at 3 In the morning, after the paper was out, he used to take the middle of the street with a revolver in hand, upon which and a strong right arm he depended for his safety from assault.

Mr. Higgins sold out The Call In 1858 and, on board the Sierra Nevada, sailed for Victoria, leaving on July 8 with a sum of money ”under his belt”. Landing in Victoria on July 15, he left for Yale In August. The head of navigation then was Hope and from there he proceeded in a canoe to his destination. Yale was the centre of the mining excitement and in a sense the capitol of the Mainland, and there he remained for nineteen months, keeping a store on Yale Flat and managing several mining camps in which he was Interested. The first season, however, demonstrated that the bars of the Fraser were not up to expectations and the influx from the United States soon faded away, leaving but a remnant of the first arrivals.

There were many privations to be endured and the mixed state of society, which included all grades of people, was anything but desirable. Mr. Higgins has told us in his abort stories thrilling tale of his experience In Yale and of the experiences of others which came within his ken, and history has recorded many more.

No Place for a Christian

It was no place for a Christian to reside in those days and no place, except for the comparatively few, in which to make money. He, accordingly, came to the Coast and joined the staff of The Victoria Colonist on February 16, 1860. The Colonist was then owned and edited by Mr. Amor de Cosmos, who had established it in 1858, and at was, with exception of two short-lived predecessors, the pioneer paper of British Columbia.

Mr. Higgins has described how he first came in contact with the late Mr. Amor de Cosmos and how he came to be connected with The Colonist. Both these men, who for such a considerable period occupied a prominent place in Victoria, curiously enough came from Nova Scotia, both were engaged in the newspaper business and both had been for some time in California.

Until the particular time of meeting on a boat having passage for Semiahmoo. Mr. Higgins and Mr. De Cosmos had not heard of each other. In those days Semiahmoo, Whatcom, Sehome, Port Townsend and Seattle were cities “in nubibus” with illimitable possibilities. They had been promoted through the gold mining excitement and Mr. Higgins had invested a large sum in Semiahmoo, about which he had never any subsequent news as to returns, and was on his way to view his possessions. At that time his idea was to return to California and there to re-engage In Journalism, but he was persuaded by Mr. De Cosmos to remain in Victoria and join his staff. Seattle, by the way, was then a place of two hundred, while Victoria had over 2,000 of population.

Variety of Duties

On The Colonist Mr. Higgins was a reporter, business manager, compositor and anything else that occasion demanded. There was no telegraph, and the earliest news was obtained for some years by boarding incoming steamers in the Royal Roads and getting the latest newspapers from San Francisco and other coast cities, and efforts in that respect were often quite as enterprising as they are today. Much against the will of Mr. De Cosmos, Mr. Higgins parted company with The Colonist and established The Daily Chronicle on October 8, 1862. From that time onward, as long as Mr. De Cosmos remained in public life, there was a bitter feud between these two; men and the way they belabored each other in their respective newspapers was quite equal to the best traditions of old-time journalistic warfare.

In the year 1864 Mr. De Cosmos sold out The Colonist to several of his employees, who formed a Joint stock company. They were Mr. W. A. Harries, a Capetown barrister; Mr. William Mitchell, of Ontario, who later fell down a mining shaft in the Cariboo, and was killed; Mr. McKenzie, accountant; Mr. W.K. Oughton, manager of the printing department, and Mr. John B. Laurie, of The Toronto Globe, pressman and all round machinery man. The venture was not a success and Mr. De Cosmos foreclosed on a mortgage, and The Colonist was purchased by Mr. Higgins in 1865 and amalgamated with The Chronicle, continuing under the name of the older paper. There were many editorial contributors, though not of any regular editor, outside of Mr. Higgins him¬self, who looked after the news and business end of the paper. Frequently men like Dr. Helmcken, Mr. W. Sebright Green, H. E. Seelye and others would write letters which were turned in as editorials. One clever writer was Mr. J. W. Disette, a Quebec man.

Paper Becomes Successful

Under Mr. Higgins’ management the Colonist, as had The Chronicle before always paid, even in bad times, and in good times paid well. When Confederation with Canada became an important issue in British Columbia, he was able out of his own resources to take his wife and daughter and go on an important mission to Ottawa to interview Sir John A. Macdonald and his colleagues on the subject. His services in that connection, in informing the Government on conditions In the Colony, were most valuable to the cause. While east he took quite an expansive trip through Canada and the United States, and the letters ha sent to The Colonist as he proceeded from place to place form most interesting reading. The people of British Columbia at that time had a very imperfect knowledge of conditions In Eastern Canada and in the Eastern States.

In 1870, when the British Columbia delegates went to Ottawa to arrange the terms of union with Canada. It was felt that some decided effort should be made to secure responsible government coincidentally with union. In accord¬ance with the policy of Mr. Higgins, expressed through The Colonist, and others of the leaders of the movement at the time, a meeting of Messrs. D. W. Higgins, John Robson and H. E. Seelye was held, at which it was concluded that one of their number should proceed to Ottawa to inform the Government there that, unless responsible government wore assured, they would oppose the adoption of the terms as a whole and thus delay confederation. Mr. Seelye, who was a personal friend of Sir Leonard Tilley. Minister of Customs, was selected, and he travelled with the delegates to Ottawa. His entire expenses were paid out of the pocket of Mr. Higgins.

At this stage of his career an important alliance was made with Mr. John Robson, who was the founder of The New Westminster Columbian, and that time a member of the Legislature. Backed by the late Hugh John Nelson, later Lieutenant-Governor, to the extent of 10,000, Robson moved his paper to Victoria for the wider field which it afforded. The Columbian, though strongly edited, was not a financial success, and through the efforts of the late Mr. P. J. Barnard, Robson and Mr. Higgins were brought together to better bring about Confederation, to which cause both were ardently attached. The result was that The Columbian offices were locked up and Mr John Robson joined The Colonist staff In 1870 as editor, and remained In that position until the first general election after 1874, when he accepted the position of comptroller of the Canadian Pacific Railway surveys in British Columbia.

Organized Fire Department

Mr. Higgins, as a young man, in fact, all through life, was exceedingly active, and physically strong. In early Journalism on this Coast, where there was little division of labor and “all were for the state,” only such men as he could succeed. His activities were not only as a newspaperman, but as a public man, were numerous. He organised the first Fire Department in Victoria in 1860. He was a member and chairman of the Board of Education from 1866 to 1869, inclusive, and a member of the school hoard of Victoria from 1884 to 1886. He was also a member of the City Council In 1888. His most important business venture, outside of his newspaper, was the National Electric Tramway Co. of Victoria, of which he was president, and which was incorporated in 1890. This company operated the first line of street railway In British Columbia. The enterprise promised at first to be a splendidly paying one, but Victoria had not then reached the pro¬portions in population and was too scattered to place a tramway on a dividend paying basis, and eventually it went into liquidation and cost Mr. Higgins the greater part of his fortune.

Having spent twenty five busy years as editor and proprietor of The Colonist Mr. Higgins turned his attention to politics, for which his long experience in journalism in Victoria peculiarly fitted him. He was a candidate for Esquimalt, and was first returned to the legislature during the general election of 1886. A member of Parliament who is also editor of a newspaper is really very much handicapped In both respects. Mr. Higgins, realising this, sold The Colonist to Ellis A Co.—W. H. Ellis, A. O. Sargison and W. Higgins—in 1886.

In the fall of 1888 he took a trip back to Eastern Canada and, incidentally, was commissioned by Ellis & Co. to re-commend an experienced editor for The Colonist. The result of Mr. Higgins’ enquiries was that the late Henry Lawson, of the editorial staff of The Montreal Star, was engaged, and rendered admirable editorial service until the time of his death in 1897. Miss Marla Lawson, so well known as the editress of the Woman’s Page of The Colonist, is his daughter.

Political Career

Mr. Higgins’ career was rather a protracted one. and had it not been for the troublous era of politics Into which the Province entered after 1894, he undoubtedly would have become a member of the administration; but from about 1895 until 1903 may be regarded as the transition period of our politics in which new and old-time conditions and, to some extent, Mainland and Island, were struggling for ascendancy and several promising careers went to the melting pot. Higgins was re-elected for Esquimalt in the general elections of 1890, 1894 and 1898 and at the opening of the session of 1890 was elected Speaker. In the capacity of presiding officer of the Legislature, he fitted the office with great judicial ability and much dignity. His decisions, as incorporated in the rules and order of the House, have always had the respect and support of succeeding Speakers, and were arrived at as the result of careful study of the authorities and a first-class knowledge of parliamentary procedure. During the greater part of his terms as Speaker he had to cope with points of order taken by the Hon. Robert Beaven, whose intimacy with the rules of procedure have been unrivalled in the Legislature so far.

Mr. Higgins split with the Government and resigned the Speakership in the session of 1897. In the next general election he cast in his lot with the Opposition under the leadership of the Hon. C. A. Semlin. There followed that remarkable series of kaleidoscopic changes and political upheavals, in which political allegiances were the most uncertain of all quantities, the net result of which to Mr. Higgins was that whatever further political ambitions he had failed, as did those of many others.

Literary Work

After retiring from the political arena in 1900, Mr. Higgins devoted himself to literary and editorial work for several years. He wrote a series of reminiscent stories about the early days in British Columbia which were published in The Colonist, and which were afterwards published in book form bearing the title of “The Mystic Spring” and “The Passing of the Race,” both of which had a large sale and a wide reputation. The Mystic Spring” entered a second edition. After the publication of these books. Mr. Higgins became editor of The Vancouver World, a position he occupied for two years. Politically his editorial policy was bitterly opposed to the McBride administration, but some years later he became an ardent admirer and warm friend of Sir Richard [McBride].

During the boom of 1887, the late Mr. Higgins invested heavily In Port Angeles, a city in which he continued to have undiminished faith as to its future. For several years before his death he was a resident of Port Angeles, looking after his interests, and was much buoyed up over railway construction, the pulp and paper industry to be established and the prospect of striking oil. For most of the time he occupied the position of British Vice-Consul at that port.

In conclusion let it be said that the history of Mr. Higgins for sixty years was the history of Victoria and Vancouver and to a large measure that of British Columbia, and in its every phase of development and its political and moral progress he was keenly interested to the very last moment of his life. His memory of bygone days and of the men and women who were associated with its affairs, in all these respects was remarkable. His knowledge of political events, from 1860 to 1900 in particular, was almost encyclopedic. He delighted in reminiscences, and his talks in his retrospective mood were always worthy of being chronicled. Mr. Higgins was a successful business man in the profession of journalism. Unfortunately, many of his outside speculations and investments proved to be losses. As a writer he was vigorous and very well informed and in his editorial policy be was progressive and in the business of running a newspaper enterprising. In his going, he leaves but a few of his earliest contemporaries behind, and his death signifies the passing of the race of British Columbia pioneers.”

(Source:  Colonist, 1 December 1917, page 4)

Here are some websites with more information on David William Higgins:

David William Higgins is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.

David William Higgins grave, Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C. (photo by Temple Lodge No. 33 Historian)
David William Higgins grave, Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C. (photo by Temple Lodge No. 33 Historian)
David William Higgins grave inscription, Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C. (photo by Temple Lodge No. 33 Historian)
David William Higgins grave inscription, Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C. (photo by Temple Lodge No. 33 Historian)

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