Duncan incorporation didn’t come overnight, or without rancour

“It means that the citizens of Duncan will be free of the rest of the Municipality”

By T.W. Paterson

Duncan’s incorporation as a city did not come overnight. And it did not come without hard feelings. In its most simplified form, Duncan’s striving for independence resulted from a divide between merchants who favoured the urban amenities necessary to a downtown commercial centre, and farmers in the outlying districts that formed the Municipality of North Cowichan who had other priorities and who didn’t wish to share the costs.

An editorial in the April 24, 1909 Cowichan Leader (whose editor Ormonde T. Smithe would run for, and win, a seat on the first council) shows a detectable edge of frustration in its wish list for progress. Under the headline, “Incorporation – What It Means to Duncan,” he itemized the following perks of city-hood:

“It means that the citizens of Duncan will be free of the rest of the Municipality;

They will not have to rely on men to conduct the affairs of the town, who have no interests at stake in the town;

They [can] borrow money for local improvements without consulting the rest of the municipality;

They can spend the money raised in the town themselves and as they please;

The town would not be hampered and with good men in the right place[s] it would jump ahead and the value of property would increase accordingly;

The town could offer inducements to manufacturers to locate here;

The streets would be properly looked after;

The town would be advertised as a town and as such it would draw business men who will not come otherwise;

At the present time, if the town was incorporated and owned the water works system at present installed the people could have their water at about half the present rate and then the town would be making a good profit every year;

The town could also have its own electric light plant and if private parties can make it pay surely the town could.”

That was three years before Duncan achieved incorporation and some two months after a deputation “representing the incorporation of Duncan” waited upon Attorney-General W.J. Bowser in Victoria to “impress upon him the urgent necessity” of Duncan achieving city-hood.

The deputation consisted of Messrs. A. Peterson, merchant; J. McL. Campbell and Kenneth Duncan, both of whom would sit on the first council, as councillor and mayor respectively. They were accompanied by legal counsel in the form of A. McLean, for the Duncan proponents, C.F. Davie for North Cowichan Council, and Mr. Taylor, KC, on behalf of the Duncan Water Works. (He was there because city proponents had made it plain for several years that this private company was squarely in its sights for expropriation and negotiations were already underway.)

Accompanying them all to make the introductions was newly-elected MPP, W.H. Hayward.

The deputation’s goal, it was reported, was to “see if there was any reason which now held back the incorporation of the present city and to inform the Attorney-General that a complete agreement had been reached between the three parties represented (Duncan, North Cowichan and the waterworks company), and further to assure the Attorney-General that all parties were satisfied that all matters outstanding between the municipality and the proposed city had been satisfactorily adjusted.

“The Attorney-General was satisfied with the contentions of the deputation and stated that Letters Patent would be granted for the incorporation of the new city without delay…”

See page 34 for T.W.’s column about attempts at reconciliation


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