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 Paterson Rithet, a member of Vancouver & Quadra Lodge, No.2, who is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
Robert Paterson Rithet (1844-1919) was born near Lockerbie, Scotland in 1844 and came to Victoria by way of San Francisco in 1862.
He became one of the leading figures in Victoria business and commerce. Robert Rithet’s former business premises are still a prominent feature of Wharf Street in downtown Victoria. His farm north of the city is now the Broadmead neighbourhood in Saanich. The nearby Rithet’s Bog, a wildlife sanctuary, is named for him.
Here are links to some historic photographs of Robert Paterson Rithet:
- BC Archives photo A-01734 – Robert Paterson Rithet, circa 1862
- BC Archives photo G-01067 – Robert Paterson Rithet, circa 1870
- BC Archives photo G-07665 – Robert Paterson Rithet, circa 1880
- BC Archives photo A-07390 – Robert Paterson Rithet, circa 1900
- BC Archives photo A-01733 – Robert Paterson Rithet, circa 1910
- BC Archives photo A-01735 – Hollybank, Robert Rithet’s home at 952 Humboldt Street, Victoria.
Here is a brief biography of Robert Paterson Rithet taken from local newspaper accounts of his death and funeral:
ONE OF VICTORIA’S FOREMOST CITIZENS PASSES TO HIS REST
R.P. Rithet Took Large Share in Building Up Commerce of City
FILLED WITH ABILITY MANY PUBLIC OFFICES
Robert Paterson Rithet, one of the most prominent men in public and commercial life in Victoria, died suddenly last night at his residence on Humboldt Street after a lingering illness. Mr. Rithet took a leading part in the public life of the city, as well as built up a most successful commercial enterprise here.
The late Mr. Rithet, fourth son of John and Agnes R. Rithet, was born at Cleugheads, Applegarth, near Lockerbie, Scotland, on April 22, 1844.
He was educated at Annan Academy, at which Thomas Carlyle had been a pupil, and later mathematical master. His business training began in 1859 in a merchant’s office in Liverpool, and was thorough and characteristic of that application to details to which the success of his later commercial ventures was due.
Came to British Columbia
Mr. Rithet came out to British Columbia in 1862 via San Francisco, and quickly obtained employment here. After various engagements with early pioneer firms, in 1870 he entered the office of J. Robertson Stewart, who conducted a business on the present site of the building of R.P. Rithet & Co. The Victoria business was a branch of the San Francisco one as was the case of many similar businesses at that date. Eventually Mr. Stewart sold out his interests to Welch, Rithet & Co. The business prospered under the new partnership. In 1889 Andrew Welch died, as a result of which Mr. Rithet became head of the firm with which he was so long identified.
Mr. Rithet took an active interest in the old Victoria Chamber of Commerce, and when it was reorganized as the British Columbia Board of Trade in October, 1878, he became its first president, continuing office during the succeeding years to 1885. In this year he was elected Mayor, defeating the late James Fell. He served one term in the Mayorality.
In 1884 he was elected to the provincial Legislature for Victoria city, and sat during the whole of the Parliament, the principal political issue with which he was identified being the British Pacific Railway. This railway had in view the resuscitation of the old Bute Inlet route, and would have secured that rail connection of Vancouver Island with the mainland, which was promised under the terms of Confederation. The issue occupied a great deal of political attention during the life of the Davie and Turner administrations, but eventually the opposition of mainland members gave the wavering ministries an excuse to fail to complete the terms of the proposal.
Mr. Rithet, while in the House, took a great interest in the financial relations between the Dominion and the Provinces, and was practically the first man in British Columbia to draw attention to the subject.
Builds Outer Wharf
With the enthusiasm which he had displayed in his connection with the British Pacific question Mr. Rithet started to build the Outer Wharf. Through his foresight and never-failing faith in Victoria the city has remained the port of first and last call for all trans-Pacific steamers. The importance of the harbor for coast and deep-sea shipping was recognized more recently by the Dominion Government in the construction of a breakwater, piers, and general harbor improvements costing $3,500,000. The Outer Wharf [note: now Ogden Point] as constructed by Mr. Rithet’s firm has remained for the present and is still the only facility for deep-sea bottoms here actually is use.
Interest in Navigation Co.
Mr. Rithet did not, however, confine himself to the business of his firm or to the question of the British Pacific. He held a large interest in the old Canadian Pacific Navigation Co., which was formed in 1883 and of which his brother-in-law, Capt. John Irving, was promoter and manager. It was capitalized for $500,000 and the incorporators were John Irving, R.P. Rithet, William Spring, P. McQuade, M.W.T. Drake, William Charles and Alexander Munroe.
The late Mr. Robt. Dunsmuir was one of the directors. The company was a consolidation of the Irving and Hudson’s Bay Co.’s lines, and took over the steamers R.P. Rithet, the Princess Louise, William Irving, Western Slope, Enterprise, Reliance, Otter, Maude and Gertrude, to which was added shortly afterwards the old Yosemite. The C.P.N. Company was sold to the C.P.R. and was now known as the B.C. Coast Service, of which Capt. Troup is general manager.
Mr. Rithet was also one of the leading promoters of the building of the old Victoria Theatre in 1885. He was interested in mining, and also a director of the Albion Iron Works which, for many years, was one of the city’s leading industries. He was also the principal owner of the Enderby Milling Co., a firm which did a large local business when the Okanagan valleys were producing considerable wheat.
Farm at Royal Oak
At Royal Oak Mr. Rithet developed a large farm [note: now the Broadmead residential district in Saanich], on which he spent big sums of money in clearing, fencing and on general improvements. As a result of this generous expenditure it has become one of the model farms of the district, and its yearly development was one of the owner’s chief delights. Mr. Rithet owned what is known as the Wellington Farm on the Delta, where he conducted extensive agriculture.
Sojourn in San Francisco
It was unfortunate for Victoria that after the death of his partner Mr. Welch, it was necessary for Mr. Rithet to spend most of his time in San Francisco as President of the California and Hawaiian Sugar Refinery Co., and also of Welch & Co. After the death of his partner the business in Victoria was reorganized, several of his old and trusted employees being admitted as directors and shareholders. Of these Mr. Seabrook succeeded him as general manager here, and after him the late J.H. Lawson.
In 1875 Mr. Rithet married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the late Alexander Munro, of the Hudson’s Bay Company. He is survived by Mrs. Rithet, his son John Alexander, and a daughter Gertrude Alice, Mrs. L. Genge, whose husband is vice-president of R.P. Rithet & Co.
(Source: Victoria Daily Times, 20 March 1919, page 3)
“RITHET – On March 19, 1919 at the residence, Robert Paterson Rithet, aged 75 years; born at Lockerbie, Scotland.
The funeral will take place from the residence, 952 Humboldt Street, on Saturday at 2,30 p.m., proceeding to St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Douglas Street, where service will be held at 2.45. Interment in the family mausoleum at Ross Bay Cemetery.”
(Source: Victoria Daily Times, 20 March 1919, page 16)
“The remains of the late Robert Paterson Rithet will repose at the B.C. Funeral Chapel until Friday afternoon when they will be conveyed to the family residence. The funeral will leave the residence on Saturday at 2.30 proceeding to St. Andrews Presbyterian Church where service will be held at 2.45. Interment will be made in the family mausoleum at Ross Bay Cemetery.
(Source: Victoria Daily Times, 20 March 1919, page 17)
Robert Paterson Rithet is interred in the family mausoleum in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
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