File A/E/P87/A-W - Correspondence inward

Records digitized in 2022.

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  • 1865-1903 (Creation)

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Biographical history

Israel Wood Powell, doctor, politician, Indian superintendent, and businessman was born 27 April 1836 in Colborne, Norfolk County, Upper Canada. He was the son of Israel Wood Powell, a merchant and Melinda Boss. He married Jane (Jennie) Branks in Victoria in 1865 and they had five sons and four daughters.

In 1860, Powell graduated a medical doctor from McGill University. He arrived in Victoria on 13 May 1862 and two weeks later opened an office in the Anglo-American Hotel. During his early years in the city, Powell volunteered as the surgeon for the fire department and served in the Victoria Rifle Volunteer Corps, the local militia. From April 1864 until 1872 he was surgeon to the hospital operated by the French Benevolent and Mutual Society. A freemason, Powell became the first grand master of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia in 1871.

In 1863, he was elected to the House of Assembly of Vancouver Island. In 1865, Powell was appointed to the General Board of Education and served as chairman from 22 June 1867 to April 1869. Powell lost he seat in 1866.

Because of his longstanding support for confederation, Powell was appointed the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in British Columbia on 17 Oct. 1872. Since the federal government believed that military authority was necessary in dealing with Indigenous peoples, he was also made a lieutenant-colonel in the militia. Powell occupied the superintendent’s post for 17 years.

Powell was also known for his business acumen, and while he held office he continued with his ventures. Anticipating the selection of Coal Harbour as the eventual terminus of the transcontinental railway, in 1877 he and some associates, of whom David Oppenheimer was probably one, purchased 330 acres that now comprise downtown Vancouver, and he belonged to a syndicate known as the Vancouver Improvement Company which included Charles Thomas Dupont, David and Isaac Oppenheimer, and John Robson and which consolidated this land. With the assistance of friends in the provincial and federal cabinets, he helped broker a deal that made the lands part of the Canadian Pacific Railway terminus.

The names of various places in British Columbia, including Powell River, commemorate this pioneer of the province.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The file consists of correspondence received by Israel Wood Powell between 1865 and 1903. Correspondence relates to a variety of matters, and the file also includes a cabinet card of the Princess Louise, which was sent as a thank you to Powell for the Indigenous artifacts that he sent her.

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Archives code(s): A/E/P/87

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