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We are now venturing into the first five premiers of British Columbia, and we begin with John Foster McCreight, the first person to hold that post.

McCreight was born in 1827 in Ireland to James McCreight and Elizabeth Foster, who were a well-established family. Little is known of his early years, but by all accounts he grew wanting for very little.

He completed his law studies at Trinity College in Dublin, and was called to the Bar in 1852.

He never practiced in Ireland though. His father died when McCreight was in school, and soon after graduating he moved to Melbourne, Australia.

In 1859, he left Melbourne and sailed to San Francisco, then on to Victoria hoping to take advantage of the Fraser Gold Rush.

Arriving in Victoria in 1860, he came at the perfect time. The community was the capital of the Colony of British Columbia, and it was a thriving place to be as gold seekers were flooding into the city.

In 1862, McCreight was able to pass the British Columbia bar and he opened up a law practice in Victoria.

For the most part, he worked most of the time, spent his off hours alone apart from his visits to the Masonic Lodge. He was not known to take part in dinner parties or dances in Victoria society. It was said he had only two loves in his life, horses and law books. Why did he join the Masonic Lodge? Likely out of ambition to improve his business and make connections.

While British Columbia did not join Confederation in 1867, it did so in 1871. The province was across the continent from the new country of Canada, but the government wanted to span from sea to sea. As a result, the offer of building a railroad was put forward and on July 20, 1871, British Columbia joined Canada.

McCreight decided to join the transitional cabinet as an attorney general.

In October 1867, he ran for a seat in the legislature in the province’s first election. He won his seat and then was made the first premier of the province by Lt. Governor Joseph Trutch.

Suddenly thrust into the most important job in the province did not suit him. He was not suited for public life and he was described by Henry Crease as,

“bad tempered…by fits and turns extremely credulous and extremely suspicious…excessively obstinate in the wrong places, close and reserved in his daily life, and utterly ignorant of politics.”

Many felt it was an odd choice to put McCreight in as premier, and it was an unpopular decision.

Even though he was not suited for politics, by all accounts his time as premier was productive and he was able to get three dozen pieces of legislation passed within a year, among 56 pieces of legislation that were put forward.

Unfortunately, his solitary nature meant that he didn’t form alliance with MLAs and he slowly began to lose support.

On Dec. 23, 1872, he lost a motion of no confidence after the Speech from the Throne, and he resigned. It is likely that the vote would have failed but many of McCreight’s supporters were not on hand to vote.

After leaving the post as premier, he stayed on as an MLA until Sept. 11, 1875.

From 1874 to 1880, he was the first treasurer of the Law Society of British Columbia.

In 1875, he returned to practicing law.

In 1880, he was made a justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, a position he held until 1897 when he chose to retire.

Interestingly, he was never knighted for his service to the law community or as premier. The Vancouver Daily World wrote,

“No man worthier for knighthood ever lived than John Foster McCreight, a pioneer of pioneers. The strength of that venerable personage has been the purity of his heart.”

That same year, he retired as a judge. The Victoria Daily Times wrote,

“The retiring judge is now well on in years, and for some time has been anxious to lay aside the cares of office.”

He eventually returned to the United Kingdom, and passed away in East Sussex on Nov. 18, 1913 at the age of 86.

Today, McCreight Lake near Campbell River is named for him.

Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Wikipedia, Free Masonry, Vancouver Daily World, Victoria Daily Times,

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