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CHARLES DOBIE : GENEALOGY

This article appeared in the Victoria Times-Colonist on May 27, 2001. It was written by Danda Humphreys, local historian and author of the book series, On The Street Where You Live. It is reprinted here with her permission.



On the Street Where You Live looks at the
Milne brothers, a doctor and customs
collector, who left their mark on a downtown
building, a James Bay house, a street in Vic
West and a lane in Metchosin.

Milne brothers

It may be short, but Milne Street in Vic West is long enough to remind us of three Scottish brothers who lived in Victoria more than a century ago. Our story today focuses on two of those brothers, who first saw the light of day in Garmouth, Morayshire, in 1850.

Alexander and Isabella Milne brought their boys to Canada in 1856. George was six years old when their ship sailed from the port of Aberdeen. The Atlantic crossing took six weeks. The family settled in Meaford, Ont., where his father took up business as a merchant and grain dealer.

George studied medicine. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1880, and decided to practise south of the border, in Kansas City. It was intended as a long-term venture, but two factors conspired to change his mind. First, his landlady wouldn't let him hang out his shingle. Second, a fellow physician warned him that Kansas City, at the junction of two rivers, was rife with malaria and that its treatment required large -- eight times the usual -- doses of quinine. Balking at the prospect of having to ingest equally large amounts of the substance himself, George decided to move on.

At San Francisco, he boarded the SS Mexico and arrived on Vancouver Island in late 1880. Victoria was still a city of saloons and sawmills, but soon a railway line would march across the country from the east. Telephones were ringing in the city for the first time. Soon, there would be electric lights. The 7,000-strong population was growing, and there would always be room for another doctor.

Two of George's brothers had preceded him and were already well established here. Little is known of John, other than that he worked at Joseph Spratt's Foundry. Alexander Roland (A.R.) had travelled overland in 1863 to try his luck as a general merchant in the Cariboo, then had moved to Victoria in 1874 and was now an appraiser with the Canadian Customs Service. A.R. subsequently married Annie, the widow of former colleague and Port of Victoria Customs Collector George Fry, and in 1890 assumed the position of customs collector himself.

An active Freemason and Knight Templar, A.R. was also a keen developer. A few years after the Victoria terminus of Robert Dunsmuir's E&N Railway first focused attention on the foot of Johnson Street, A.R.'s fine new building, designed for him by Thomas Hooper in 1891, became the latest addition to Johnson Street's hotel district. The $12,000 Empire Hotel and Restaurant, with its distinctive central fourth storey and arched upper windows, proudly proclaimed (as it does to this day at 546-548 Johnson) its owner's name: "MILNE."

A.R. didn't take part in public affairs, preferring to concentrate his energies on the Masonic fraternity and benevolent societies. He and Annie lived for many years on Queens Avenue until his death, at 65, in 1904. Annie died in Vancouver in 1919.

George, meanwhile, had moved to James Bay [*]. Married since 1882 to Nellie Kinsman, he had first set up a home and a medical office on the west side of Douglas Street, between Broughton and Fort streets. In 1885 he was appointed medical health officer for Victoria. Seven years later, after a difference of opinion with provincial health officer Dr. J. C. Davie about the management of the 1892 smallpox epidemic, he resigned.

Other activities quickly occupied his time. He served as registrar and secretary of the B.C. Medical Council, and was a member of its examining board. He had been instrumental, with others, in starting the Jubilee (later Royal Jubilee) Hospital. In 1903, he became the Port of Victoria's immigration officer, responsible for medical examination of new arrivals, in an effort to protect the health of the local population.

A member of the school board, he also was involved with Victoria's tramway system. Elected to the provincial legislature in 1890, he was president of the B.C. Liberal Association for many years but failed in an 1896 bid for a Dominion Government seat.

George bought a home at 618 Dallas Rd. (now 617 Battery St.). The tall, pointed tower of the Queen Anne-style Pinehurst dominated the James Bay skyline. A driveway curved up from Dallas Road to the entrance. A huge porch afforded views across the Strait. Tiled fireplaces, wood panelling and hand-painted ceilings graced the interior.

The Milnes wintered at Pinehurst and summered at their waterfront estate called Speyside, in Becher Bay, until George's death in 1933, at age 82. Nellie died eight years later. A.R.'s downtown building. Dr. George's James Bay home, Milne Street in Vic West and Speyside Lane in Metchosin remind us of the Scottish brothers who made names for themselves in the Victoria of days gone by.




[*] Both James Bay and Metchosin are suburbs of Victoria, BC. -- C.D.

In an email, Danda Humphreys told me: "My information about the Milnes came from two primary sources: Provincial Archives of B.C. (vertical files - news clippings, Pioneer Society, obit, etc. info on microfilm), and Victoria City Archives (files and library)".



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