By Danda Humphreys
Though born in France, one of our first Lieutenant-Governors was well suited to BC through his love of responsible forestry.
Curving and rock-wall-enclosed Lotbiniere Avenue in 2008
How many times have we passed by— even passed through—the gates of Government House without noticing the narrow lane that marks its western border? The street sign says “Lotbiniere Ave.” Even without the accent over the ‘e,’ anyone from Quebec would recognize its origin right away. The man that it honours hailed from there. He died 100 years ago this month.
Government House, home of the Queen’s representative in British Columbia, is one of the jewels in Victoria’s crown. The orig- inal structure on the site, a small castle erected by attorney-general George Hunter Carey in 1860, became Government House in 1864 when Governor Arthur Edward Kennedy moved in.
Several subsequent occupants and two fires later, little was left of “Carey’s Castle.” The second major fire, in May 1899, drove Lieutenant-Governor Dr Thomas McInnes and his family out into a home (now the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria) that had been rented for them on Moss Street. Soon after, McInnes was dismissed from office by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier after one political skirmish too many. His successor was Sir Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière.
Born in France in 1829, Henri-Gustave Joly was schooled in France and in Canada. He studied law and moved to Quebec where his family held a seigneury—a parcel of land on the St Lawrence River called Lotbinière.
Henri-Gustave was passionately interested in forestry. He lobbied strongly for conservation and controlled management of resources, which led to the establishment of a network of provincial parks in Quebec. On the Pointe Platon Domaine, he dabbled in silviculture, experimenting with several tree plantations. Of particular interest to him was black walnut, which at the time outsold hardwoods such as mahogany on the world market.
A well-known and respected politician, he held increasingly impor- tant provincial and federal government-level positions, and in 1895 was knighted by Queen Victoria. Five years later he attended a cabinet meeting, and to his great surprise emerged from it with a new title— Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia.
When Sir and Lady Joly stepped ashore from The Islander at Victoria on June 29, 1900, their official residence was still in ruins. Premier James Dunsmuir escorted them into town. They stayed at the Driard Hotel (now the site of The Bay Centre), at one time owned by Sosthènes Driard, himself a native of France and a co-founder of the French Benevolent Society in Victoria. When the McInneses finally moved out of the Moss Street mansion, Sir Henri and his wife moved in for the duration.
The rebuilding of Government House, under the watchful eye of local designers and architects Samuel Maclure and Francis Rattenbury, took longer than anyone anticipated. Not until August 1903, three long years after his arrival, was the lieu- tenant-governor able to move into his official residence.
His wife was in her element, able at last to entertain on a grand scale and to host the ladies’ gatherings of which she was so fond. Lady Joly belonged to the National Council of Women in Canada, and as the wife of BC’s lieutenant-governor, was named President of Honour of the provin- cial council. Keenly interested in promoting women’s education, she created a “cercle de lecture,” a reading club similar to ones she had started in Quebec and Ottawa, for the study of Shakespeare’s works.
Sadly she did not live long enough to enjoy this most gracious and fulfilling time of her life. Soon after moving into Government House she became unwell, and in August 1904, she died at the age of 67.
It was a terrible shock for Sir Henri. They had been married for 48 years. Lady Margaretta had borne him eleven children, six of whom survived to mourn her. Sir Henri took her body home to Quebec, then returned to Victoria, but was unable to reconcile his great loss. Resigning his position the following year, he returned to his Pointe Platon Domaine, and died in November 1908.
He was sorely missed in Victoria. Courteous, non-controversial, and a gentleman to the core, he was also way ahead of his time, thinking about BC’s commercial forest policy and forest education long before the founding of the BC Forest Service. His main legacy, however, was the number of fine specimen trees he planted on the Government House grounds.
Thanks to the Friends of Government House Society volunteer gardeners, and to La Societé de Francophonie and L’Association Historique Francophone de Victoria, he will not be forgotten. Either side of the vehicle exit onto Rockland Avenue, towering black walnut and butternut trees, soon to be marked with a commemorative plaque, still flourish not far from the narrow lane named for the Father of Arboriculture in Canada, BC’s first Francophone lieutenant-governor— Sir Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière.
Danda Humphreys has written four books about Victoria and hundreds of articles on the historic origin of our street names. www.dandahumphreys.com.
This story was published in the November 2008 edition of Focus Magazine.