As part of our Vancouver Island Masonic History Project, with its sections on Vancouver Island Cemeteries – Masonic Interments and Deceased Brethren, here is a page on Robert Burns McMicking (1843-1915), Past Grand Master, who is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
Robert Burns McMicking was a member of Vancouver-Quadra Lodge No.2 in Victoria, B.C.
In partnership with Edgar Crow Baker, also a Past Grand Master, Robert Burns McMicking set up the first company to bring electric lighting to Victoria as well as establishing Victoria’s first telephone exchange.
Here are links to some historic photographs about Robert Burns McMicking:
- BC Archives photo C-05457 – Robert Burns McMicking, circa 1860
- BC Archives photo G-07555 – Mrs. R.B. McMicking, circa 1875
- BC Archives photo F-00186 – Robert Burns McMicking, circa 1880
- BC Archives photo I-68921 – Robert Burns McMicking and his family, circa 1880’s
- BC Archives photo B-02231 – Interior of McMicking home, circa 1890
- BC Archives photo C-02395 – Robert Burns McMicking, circa 1900
- BC Archives photo A-00541 – Mrs. R.B. McMicking circa 1900
Here is some biographical information on Most Worshipful Brother Robert Burns McMicking, taken from local newspaper reports of his death and funeral:
“ROBERT BURNS McMICKING
Ald. R.B. McMicking has responded to the roll call and joined the great company of pioneers of British Columbia now registered “on the other side.” Mr. McMicking was in very truth a pioneer. He arrived in British Columbia before the days of railways, being one of a company of intrepid pathfinders who crossed the great plains on foot, and after varied experiences finally established himself in Victoria, where he had been a well known, cheery and esteemed figure for a period longer than the mind of the present generation “runneth not to the contrary.” He took a keen interest in everything connected with the prospects and welfare of Victoria, serving for years on the school board, and was a member of city council up to the time of his death. In every relationship, public and private, he had gained, and always maintained, the confidence of the public. He was man upon whose record, public or private, not a breath of suspicion ever rested for a moment. His death will be sincerely regretted. His widow and family have our sympathy and the sympathy of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances in their bereavement.”
(Source: Victoria Daily Times, 27 November 1915 page 4 -editorial page)
“ALD. M’MICKING PASSED AWAY TODAY
Father of Telephonic Communication in Province Died at Ripe Age
WAS PAST GRAND MASTER OF B.C. FREEMASONS
One of the Last Survivors of the Overland Trek of 1862
The death took place at his residence, 464 Kingston street, at 2 o’clock this morning, of Alderman Robert Burns McMicking, one of Victoria’s best known citizens, and the pioneer of telephonic enterprise in British Columbia.
Mr. McMicking’s death was not unexpected. For months he had been failing. Early in the year he had a serious attack of heart trouble, but he recovered sufficiently to return to his position in the council chamber. For a few months he was about again, his genial manner and ready wit being the admiration of his younger colleagues. It was a source of wonder to other men to see the vivacity he brought to the council board, to public excursions and to street conversations. Then the old complaint returned, and since August he has never been in a fit position to take his share in council proceedings.
During his prolonged illness he was comforted by the tender solicitations of his family. He was regarded by all with the greatest affection and it is given to few men to pass from earthly interests possessing so completely the regard of his business and public associates. There is not a man who knew him but heard the announcement of his demise with the sincere regret of parting from a tried friend.
The late Alderman McMicking was born on July 7, 1843 and was the son of a farmer in the township of Stamford, Welland county. His father, Wm. McMicking J.P., died at the farm. His grandfather came from Scotland and located there about 1780.
At the age of thirteen he started the study of electricity, with the development of which in after years he was to be so intimately associated. He was later employed in the operating department of the Queenston office of the Montreal Telegraph company. Of the trip to the Pacific coast, in which he participated, he told the following story to the Times last fall:
“In 1861, living as I was in the border county of Welland, we were all dwelling of the invasion from the United States side and drilling constantly, ready for an attack. Early in 1862 I heard that a party was gathering for the trip to the Cariboo mines, about 150 in all and I decided to join with my brother Thomas, who was subsequently elected captain of the combined party before leaving Fort Garry, now Winnipeg. We started on April 23 from Queenston as the Queenston party, and traveled by the usual stage route to St. Paul. We then proceeded to Georgetown on the Red river, and had to wait for the completion of a stern wheeler which was building for that trade. When it was ready we started, and it was a strange voyage, as no one knew how strong the vessel was or what trouble we should have from the Indians.
“While we reached Fort Garry in May after a six days’ trip, enlivened by social pleasure and without incident, it may be mentioned that we really escaped danger because the third trip of the stern wheeler resulted in tragedy – the vessel was captured by Indians, the captain and several of the crew and passengers massacred. Among the passengers on the trip was Archbishop Tache, the great Catholic theologian. We had an address on the journey from Governor Dallas, who had married the second daughter of Governor Douglas at Victoria, and had been appointed to succeed Sir George Simpson as governor of the company’s territory of Rupert’s Land, while we were at Georgetown awaiting the completion of the steamer. We arrived at Fort Garry on May 18, 1862.
Left Fort Garry
“Subsequently the whole expedition left Fort Garry on June 2. It was organized on a military model and all of us, except the officers of the expedition, took turns on guard, two hours each on watch being allotted. We had Red River carts for the carriage of our material, drawn by oxen, mules and horses, most of the carts being covered in. At night we formed a triangular group, with the wagons drawn up in a wedge shape, leaving sufficient room for the animals to pass inside the area so provided, our tents being established around the triangle. As we were a large party and well armed, we reached Fort Edmonton without molestation, the journey across the prairie being pleasant at that time of year. Often the wagon wheels got stuck and we had to take a turn to pull them out of the mire of the trail. Fort Edmonton was reached on July 21, the 900 miles of prairie having thus been safely accomplished.
“Here an exchange of wagon for pack saddles was made and a guide secured to pilot us to Tete Jeune Cache on the Fraser river. We rested a week there, and gave a minstrel entertainment to the residents of the Hudson’s Bay fort. As we approached the foothills of the Rockies the herds of buffalo and the numerous species of wild game gave place to the mountain sheep and the furred inhabitants of the hill lands. By forest and swamp Jasper House was reached and thence the party proceeded by the valleys of the Athabasca and Mayette rivers to the Yellow Head Pass. Tete Jeune Cache was reached on August 28, and there the parties divided, I staying with the larger party that decided traverse the rapids of the Fraser river on rafts.
Navigated on Rafts
“Five of these were built, and with the experienced French-Canadians in the party, the navigation of the unknown river was attempted, as Simon Fraser had done in canoes many years before. I was in the last of the rafts to leave the cache, and with my comrades took many risks, one night continuing to move down stream without any idea of the nature of the river. We found next morning that we had passed all the other rafts in the darkness, and were ahead of the party. Three men in a small party who followed were lost by drowning. However the party reached the mouth of the Quesnel by September 11. The second party, it may be added, were more adventurous and one raft was engulfed in a canyon of the Thompson river, and lost, two men being drowned.
“Owing to the fact that when our party arrived at the mines the mining season had expired, most of the men proceeded to New Westminster to winter.”
In the summer of 1863 he entered the employment of the Armstrongs at New Westminster, among the leading grocers then in the province. Remaining there until November, 1865, Mr. McMicking again entered the telegraph service on the lines of the Collins Overland Telegraph company, the object of which was to reach Europe by way of the Behring straights. The work ceased on the successful completion of the second Atlantic cable in 1866. He was recalled to New Westminster shortly afterwards by the drowning of his brother Thomas, leader of the overland party, in a vain attempt to rescue his son from the Fraser river. Later Mr. McMicking went to Yale to take charge of the telegraph office. He used to tell interesting reminiscences of his adventures in those days.
In June, 1869, he married Miss Margaret Leighton, who had been residing with her uncle, Thomas R. Bule, J.P., at Lytton.
In the following year Mr. McMicking was transferred to Victoria, where he assumed charge of the Western Union telegraph office and Barnard’s British Columbia express. In 1871 he was appointed superintendent at Yale, after the government took charge of the telegraph lines. During that time he had charge of the submarine cables connecting the island and mainland. Public offices began to come to him at this time, and he was appointed J.P. and coroner at Yale.
From 1875 to 1880 he continued in the government telegraph service, with headquarters at Victoria. In 1878 he received the first two telephones imported into the province, using them for connection to his residence. On leaving the telegraph business he organized the Victoria & Esquimalt Telephone company, of which he became manager. In 1883 he secured a franchise to introduce the arc electric lights for street illumination. In 1887 he managed the formation of a company for the production of the incandescent electric light for domestic lighting. The introduction by Mr. McMicking of the subdivided arc light for commercial purposes, followed in 1889, when a 50 light plant was set in motion from the Victoria Electric Illuminating company station in October of that year. In 1881 he built the first electric fire alarm in British Columbia for Victoria city, and nine years later he installed the first Gamewell fire alarm here.
His work for electrical development, subsequently with the B.C. Telephone company, from which he retired only a short time ago, placed him in the front rank of those associated with electrical enterprise in the province.
He was elected to the city school board in 1897, and was again a member of the board from 1898 to 1899. He was returned to the city council at the bye-election August 1914, at the head of the poll, and re-elected in January.
Mr. McMicking was a Liberal in politics, and an adherent of the Presbyterian church. Among well known members of the family in Scotland are Major McMicking, M.P. and Col. McMicking of the Royal Scots.
Mr. McMicking was a prominent Freemason. He was a past master of No. 1, A.F.&A.M., of which for several years he was secretary, retiring some three years ago. He became junior grand warden in 1892 of the grand lodge of British Columbia and next year deputy grand master. In 1894 he received the highest office in the gift of the jurisdiction, when he was selected as grand master.
The surviving members of the family are Mrs. R.A. Renwick, Robert McMicking, captain of the tug Point Ellice; Walter B. McMicking, electrician at the fire headquarters; Mrs. Boys, Miss Ellaine McMicking, and Dr. A. Edgar McMicking.
The funeral arrangements are in the hands of the B.C. Funeral Furnishing company. With regard to the Masonic participation in the arrangements, after consultation with the family today, the grand master, W. C. Ditmars, of Vancouver, was applied to by wire for his directions, which will arrive today. It may be assumed, however, that, whatever arrangement is made, Mr. Ditmars will attend.
Speaking of the late Alderman McMicking, Mayor Stewart said this morning: “It is seldom an alderman has died in office. To the province, through his interest in telegraphy and telephony, he has rendered a remarkable service. To those who knew him, he was a sincere friend. To his business associates he was loyal and respected by all. He had one of the most genial and even tempered characters that I have ever known.”
Alderman McNeill: “The council has lost a true colleague. I was a teacher under him when he was on the school board, and now later on the council, my esteem has grown. He was a most straightforward man, and always considered what was the best thing to do before acting. Of all men I know, perhaps he as much as any, tried to live up to the teachings and obligations of Masonry.”
When a member of the Times staff called up F.C. Paterson, manager of the B.C. Telephone Co. to inform him a Mr. McMicking’s death, the information caused a feeling of the deepest sympathy and regret to spread all through the different departments of that company, where Mr. McMicking labored so many years. His kindly smile and genial disposition will long be remembered by many employees of the Telephone company. The Victoria manager informed Mr. Farrell, the president, and Mr. Halse, the secretary-treasurer, of Mr. McMicking’s death. While the officials were aware for some months of Mr. McMicking’s failing health, it came as a surprise to find that one who had been with the company so long, and held in such high esteem, had passed away.
Mr. McMicking came to the B.C. Telephone Co. as a valued executive officer when the company purchased the business and goodwill of the Victoria Telephone company some years ago.
The officials and members of the staff all join in expressions of sympathy to the members of Mr. McMicking’s family.
One of the oldest and truest friends of the late alderman, Mr. Crow Baker, paid a tribute today to his memory. “Forty years of association with the deceased gentleman, “ he says, “have been among the happiest of my life. With him I founded the Victoria Telephone company and the Victoria Illuminating company. He was the technical expert, while I looked after the financial side, being the secretary-treasurer of the company, while he was manager. When we sold out in 1899 provision was made for Mr. McMicking to remain as manager, which he did till his retirement. In his early days he was the best submarine cable expert on the coast. He was a loyal and true friend.”
(Source: Victoria Daily Times, 27 November 1915, page 7)
“R.B. M’MICKING CALLED TO REST
Was Pioneer of Development in British Columbia, Where He Resided for Past Fifty-Three Years
Robert Burns McMicking, one of the pioneers in the development of British Columbia, as his forefathers were pioneers in the development of the Province of Ontario, passed away early yesterday morning at his residence, 464 Kingston Street.
The deceased was born on July 7, 1843, near the site of the present town of Queenston, where his father, William McMicking, J.P., was born in 1805, and where he lived and died, engaged in farming land that came into the possession of the family as a land grant for services rendered to the Crown in connection with the war of 1812.
The family represents the old Ayrshire and Wigtownshire MacMickings. The MacMickings of Killantringan held one of the most ancient baronies of Ayrshire, and at various epochs of Scottish history were more or less distinguished. One of their members in 1427 lost his life through his adherence to the Lord of the Isles, in a rebellion against King James of Scotland. At the reformation the family took a very prominent part in Ayrshire, and during the reign of Charles II many of them suffered imprisonment and fines in the cause of civil and religious liberty. Ninth in descent from Mahun Rusid was Sir Gilbert MacMichan, who married Angus MacDonald, daughter of John, son of Angus, Lord of the Isles. His son, John MacMichan, was grandfather of John, who sold his estates and died in France in 1507.
The Call of the West
Robert Burns McMicking is believed to be the last but one of that party of adventurous spirits who in 1862 made the trip to British Columbia across the plains and down the waterways of the Province, the sole survivor being John Andrew Mara of this city. In April 1862, when the gold fever ran through the settlements of Ontario, Mr. McMicking was a lad of eighteen years, and at this time had mastered the comparatively new science of telegraphy. The lure of gold and the call of the West prompted him to cast in his lot with a Queenston party of twenty-four, who made up their minds to commence a trek across the continent to participate in the gold discoveries of Cariboo.
The story of this trip has been often told, and probably none of the men who made it retained in their minds so many of the details as did Mr. McMicking. It is not wide of the mark to say that so many of made it left their impress upon the development of British Columbia that the records of the trip have become an integral part of the history of the Province.
Leaving the town of Queenston in April, the party made its way to Detroit and across the middle states to the present site of St. Paul. From this point the direction was north to the upper reaches of the Red River. A point then known as Georgetown was reached, where the welcome information was received that the first steamer to be constructed for the navigation of the Red River was receiving its finishing touches. It was decided to delay the journey to assist the owners of the steamer in making a show of force with the Indians, who resented the introduction of steamers on the river. Ten days saw the steamer ready for its maiden trip, and it also saw considerable additions made to the number of the party in that by the time Fort Garry was reached the muster showed upwards of 100 persons. Fort Garry was reached without mishap, but the one trip proved to be the only one the steamer was destined to make, as on the return voyage it was attacked by the Indians, the boat destroyed and the members of the crew murdered. News did not travel very fast in those days, and the members of the Queenston party had reached Cariboo, months later, before they learned the fate of the members of the steamboat crew.
Reach British Columbia
Some time was spent at Fort Garry in making the final outfit, and when the fort was left behind on June 2, 1862, the transport of the expedition, now swelled to 130, consisted of some ninety Red River carts, each drawn by an ox, some fifty saddle horses and a number of mules. The expedition followed the northern route between the Hudson’s Bay forts, situated some 200 miles apart across the prairie, and the road was such as had been made by the passage of the company’s carts from fort to fort in the transport of furs and supplies. While on the march the party made about twenty-five miles a day, but there were frequent stops and Edmonton was not reached until late in July, and Tete Jeune Cache on August 28. At this point the party divided, one section deciding to make across the country to the headwaters of the North Thompson River, and the other electing to take their chances of navigating the Fraser River on rafts. Mr. McMicking was in the party which decided upon the Fraser River route and, although none in the party had any knowledge of the river or the canyons and rapids which mark its course to the sea, so expert were the men who made up the party that they completed their trip with the loss of but four men, three of whom were drowned in the river and one who died of exposure when the party reached Fort George, where the body was buried. The party made the trip from the cache to Fort George in six days, leaving the Cache on September 2 and arriving on September 9.
The last leg of the journey from Fort George to Quesnell was made in three days, all of the rafts successfully negotiating the Fort George and Cottonwood canyons. Quesnell was reached on September 11 and here the party disbanded, some going into the mines at Barkerville while others made their way on down to the Coast over the Cariboo wagon road, which at that time was the most traveled highway in the Province. Mr. McMicking decided to have a look at the mines he had made such a trip to see, but he found most of them were closing down for the Winter, and as prospecting was new to him, he decided to continue on to the Coast, eventually arriving in New Westminster, where he remained until 1863.
Engaged in Telegraphy
In November of this year he resumed his connection with telegraphy, entering the service of the Collins Overland Telegraph Company, then engaged in constructing a line through northern British Columbia with the object of reaching Europe by crossing the Bering Strait. This project was undertaken following the failure of the first cable across the Atlantic in 1853. Upwards of three millions of dollars were expended by the Collins company in construction, and its crew of 250 men had reached a point 200 miles north of Quesnell when the second cable was laid and its success was assured on July 26, 1866. At this time Mr. McMicking was acting as the company’s agent at Quesnell, and his hand touched off the message to the men at Fort Stager on the Skeena River that their work was useless. The work stopped as if by magic, and inside of a few weeks the entire line north of Quesnel, with huge quantities of materials and supplies was abandoned, and it was not until the Dominion Government many years after undertook the construction of the telegraph line to Dawson, in connection with the Yukon excitement, that the northern country secured the means of communication the enterprise of the Collins company sought to give them in the early sixties.
Transferred to Victoria
The decision of Mr. McMicking to re-enter upon his old calling as a telegrapher had a very important bearing upon his later life and his subsequent investigations and research into electrical matters caused his name to be inseparably associated with many of the utilities which are now of everyday use and essential to Victorians. From Quesnell he was moved to the company’s office at Yale, where in the summer Maggie B., daughter of David Leighten, of Dundee, Scotland, and niece of Thomas R. Buie, J.P., of Lytton. In the following year Mr. McMicking was transferred to Victoria and assumed charge of the Western Union Telegraph Company’s business as well as the business of the Barnard Express Company. In 1871, when the Provincial Government assumed control of the telegraph lines Mr. McMicking was appointed superintendent, with headquarters first at Yale and later at Victoria. This city’s connection with the outside at this time was maintained by six small cables and the supervision and maintenance of these formed no small part of the superintendent’s duties. So successful, however, was Mr. McMicking in this branch of his work that he later was engaged to overhaul all the cables and land lines of the Puget Sound telephone Company, a commission at that time considered to be of the first magnitude.
British Columbia made its acquaintance with the telephone in 1873, when two instruments were consigned to the order of Mr. McMicking by reason of his intimacy with the inventor, Dr. Bell. These two instruments were put in circuit, one being installed in Mr. McMicking’s residence and the other carried about one mile distant. From this humble beginning there was called into the telephone service of the Victoria of today. The first company was known as the Victoria & Esquimalt Company, which in time was acquired by the present company, in whose service Mr. McMicking continued as manager until one year ago, when failing health resulted in his superannuation.
The use of electricity for street lighting received a great deal of attention on the part of Mr. McMicking, and in 1883, while acting as for lighting for the corporation he introduced the first arc lights for street lighting. Most old timers will remember the first plan devised. It called for the erection of three towers, having a height of 150 feet, from the top of which was suspended a cluster of arc lights which could be distinctly seen many miles from the city.
In 1887 Mr. McMicking was the prime mover in the organization of a company for the introduction of incandescent lighting to Victoria in competition with gas. It was quite a fight when it was on but it reduced the price of gas from $4 to $2 per thousand.
In connection with the first department, Mr. McMicking has the honor of devising the first electric fire alarm in British Columbia. This he introduced in 1881 and it remained in operation until 1890, when the Gamewell system was installed under Mr. McMicking’s direction.
Mr. McMicking took a keen interest in municipal matters. He was elected a member of the School Board in 1887, and later served on the board from 1896 to 1899. He was elected to the Aldermanic Board at the bye-election in 1911 by a very flattering vote, and in the election in the following year he was again returned.
Interest in Church Work
In politics Mr. McMicking was a Liberal, in which organization he was for a time a prominent officer. He was a member of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, being an elder and a member of the board of management and in his earlier years he took a very active interest in the Sunday School work, and for twenty years had charge of the musical services of the church.
Mr. McMicking was a prominent Free Mason. He was a past master of No. 2, Vancouver-Quadra Lodge, and for several years filled the office of secretary, retiring a short time ago. He was elected to the office of Grand Junior Warden in 1892, of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia, and the next year was elected Deputy Grand Master. In 1894 he received the highest office when he was elected Grand Master.
Mr. McMicking is survived by his widow and three sons and three daughters, Mrs. Robert A. Renwick, Robert R. McMicking, captain of the tug Point Ellice; Walter B. McMicking, electrician at the fire headquarters; Mrs. Herbert J. Boys, Dr. A. Edgar McMicking and Miss Elaine McMicking.
The funeral will take place from the family residence, 464 Kingston Street, at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow and will proceed to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, where the service will be held.”
(Source: The Daily Colonist, 28 November 1915)
Robert Burns McMicking is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
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