Charles Dupont

While Major Charles T. Dupont never lived in Oak Bay, he left an indelible mark on the district. He was chairman of the board of the Oak Bay Land and Improvement Company and a director of the National Electric Tramway and Lighting Company. The article Farmland to suburb: development of a South Oak Bay neighbourhood tells the story.

Dupont’s home, Stadacona, which he built about 1877, occupied land purchased from Benjamin Pearse’s Fernwood estate.

Dupont, horse at Stadacona bca lo“The Major C. T. Dupont residence.” BC Archives call no. B-01504, catalogue no. HP029814. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation. The shadowy figure posing with his mount is likely Major Dupont — he was an avid horseman.

Victorians know the property, with its magnificent Garry oaks, near the Oak Bay Junction, as Stadacona Park.

Stadacona oak lo

Dupont made major contributions in several fields to the life of the city and the province. He was a player in land speculation in B.C. with a hand in many development schemes — notably the Vancouver townsite. But he remains curiously unremembered. Herewith, a profile of an extraordinary individual.

1. Ancestors, Families, Descendants

Charles Thomas Dupont was born in Quebec City — the name of an old Iroquois settlement there was Stadacona — in 1837, one of thirteen children of Mary Ann(e) and William Dudley Dupont:

Ancestry.com - Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin CollectiBaptême (Baptism) of Charles Thomas Dupont, Quebec (Quebec City), Québec, 1838, Cathedrale Anglicane. Ancestry.com. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line].

Charles’s father, William Dudley Dupont, was born in London, England, in 1799, the second child of Frances Dudley and Francis John Dupont. The family moved to Quebec in stages in 1814-15 (information from Jean F. Milne). On his 1828 marriage record William was identified as an auctioneer and broker in Quebec. He gave his profession as merchant on Charles’s birth record. In the 1855 state census of New York the family was living in Brooklyn and he was recorded as a bookkeeper, age 55, born in England. William died in 1857 at Trois Rivières.

Charles’s mother, Mary Ann(e), was the daughter of Elizabeth White and Thomas Bird Ahern, or A’Heron. He was a “Lieutenant and Quarter Master in His Majesty’s Hundredth Regiment of Foot” (so the 1828 marriage record of Charles’s parents). The 100th Regiment of Foot (Prince Regent’s County of Dublin Regiment) was raised in Ireland in 1804, transferred to Nova Scotia in 1805, then garrisoned in Quebec City (Wikipedia). Thomas Bird Ahern appears in Officers of the British forces in Canada during the war of 1812-15 as an adjutant in the Montreal Incorporated Volunteers 1812-14, transferred to the 1st Battalion Select Embodied Militia, Lower Canada on April 12, 1814; he resigned June 8 and was awarded a Prince Regent’s land grant for services during the War. He died two years later, age 46.

There’s a spot of confusion in Charles’s birth record, above, identifying his mother’s family of origin as Chillas. In fact, William’s elder brother Jonathan married Mary Ann Chillas (information from Jean F. Milne).

On a 1920 pioneer questionnaire  Charles Dupont provided a résumé of his ancestry :

On Paternal side, a direct descendant from Huguenot Emigré from France on Revocation of Edict of Nantes [October 1685] — on paternal and maternal side all his [=my?] ancestors having held commissions in Imperial Army & fought at siege of Madras [1758-9] — Battle of Vanderwash [1760?] — Siege of Ascott [Arcot? 1751][battle of] Pondicherry [1759] — Siege of [illegible] — took possession of citadel of Manila, captured the citadel, struck the Spanish colours & hoisted the British — took the Spanish general prisoner [1762]

On maternal side — grandfather fought at Waterloo a Captain under Wellington

Vertical file, BC Archives; details added.

To consider the last claim first, more than likely Thomas Bird Ahern/A’Heron was not in Europe at the time of the Battle of Waterloo (1815).

Charles’s maternal lines can be traced through his grandmother Elizabeth White to the family of John Benoui White who was (according to a Dupont family tree compiled by Charles’s son) “a descendant of the Le Blanc family who were expelled from Acadia in 1750. He became an officer in the British Navy at the time of the American Revolution and one Winter carried dispatches on land from Quebec to Halifax.” White married Elizabeth Newton at Windsor, N.S., November 5th, 1775. He died in 1786. No corroborating information has turned up on that. The same family tree holds that Thomas Bird A’Heron was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1770 — again, there’s nothing to back that up.

Charles Dupont’s paternal lines are, on the other hand, well documented.

In the 1891 census we find Charles T. Dupont, Gentleman, age 53, a native of Quebec:

dupont 1891 census lo

Charles’s wife Margaret Jessie is noted as a native of Nova Scotia, age 60. She was actually twelve years older than that. When she died in 1903, she was 84 — some seventeen years Charles’s senior. According to the memoirs of Charles Dupont, Jr., her family name was Morris — “one of the one of the oldest families of Eastern Canada” (obituary, Colonist, March 5, 1903). Charles and Jessie married in Halifax in 1858; she would have been close to 40, he barely 21; they had no children.

Charles remarried in 1906, to Mary Louisa Wilmot, in Toronto. Mary was 29, nearly forty years Charles’s junior. A granddaughter of Robert Duncan Wilmot, a “father” of Confederation and lieutenant governor of New Brunswick 1880-85, she appears in the 1901 census as a domestic in the Rockland Avenue household of Robert S. Day. In Dupont’s son Charles, Jr.’s memoirs, “My mother became a companion to [Charles’s] first wife … who became an invalid soon after 1900.”  Charles Thomas, Jr. was born in 1908. The family sold Stadacona and moved to England in 1913 to further Charles, Jr.’s education but returned to Victoria during World War I. They bought a new home in Saanich and called it Mount Eden.  (All this from the same memoirs in the custody of Charles, Jr.’s son Bill Dupont.) After Charles, Senior’s death in Victoria in 1923, his widow removed to Ontario, where she died in 1926.

Dupont’s westward migration in 1872-73 (about which more  follows) prompted several siblings and at least one of their offspring to follow. 

Major and Mrs. Dupont had visitors during the 1891 census — nieces Mary Ann and Jeanie or Jennie Bell from Ontario.

dupont 1891 census detail lo

This is a not insignificant detail. During this time Dupont, chair of the Oak Bay Improvement Company, had extensive dealings with the Pemberton family, especially with Fred Pemberton, who would soon take over Pemberton and Son, the family real estate business.

The following year, Fred Pemberton and Mary Ann Bell were wed in a big Toronto society wedding.

1892 11 25 TO weddingColonist, November 25, 1892, p. 3

The bride’s mother was Charles’s sister. She and her husband, Peter Bell, a retired Hudson’s Bay Company chief factor, moved to Vancouver. Sometime after his death in 1901 she moved to Victoria. Her obituary:

Mrs. Ellen Sarah Bell, aged 72 years, relict of Mr. P. B. Bell, passed away at the Jubilee hospital Sunday night … a well known lady in this city … a native of Quebec … Two daughters … three sons … two sisters and two brothers, including Major Dupont and Miss Dupont of this city survive …

Colonist, May 30, 1911, p. 7.

Their sister Clara Elizabeth Dupont (1843-1923) was principal of Angela College for many years.

A brother, Arthur Dudley Dupont, appears in the 1911 census at the home of Fred and Mary Ann Pemberton.

A Dupont family album.

2. Civil Service Career

Charles Dupont held several positions in the federal civil service, beginning with his appointment as Superintendent of Indian Affairs on  Manitoulin Island, Province of Canada, following the treaty of 1862. There is evidence he manipulated and coerced First Nations into moving from their reserves, then bought the land they had vacated, on the hope it would acquire commercial value. (The treaty apparently included the fine print that lakefront property in reserves could be sold and developed.)

A recent account from a point of view sympathetic to First Nations recounts his stormy relationship with the locals:

In early 1867, Dupont requested permission to purchase 400 acres of land in Manitowaning, Assiginack Township. Land agents were forbidden by law to purchase land, and Assiginack Township was reserved for natives. He claimed that only four or five “mostly Catholic” families remained at Manitowaning, and that the Church of England mission was leaving. He proposed that the $200 he had spent repairing his house — coincidentally the value of 400 acres — be credited to him for the land.

This request immediately drew suspicion to Dupont’s four years of land negotiations. Rev. Jabez Sims, the Church of England’s Manitoulin missionary, publicly accused Dupont of desiring the natives’ land. Subsequently, 20 settlers and 43 natives petitioned the Indian Department to remove Dupont.

By 1867, the land issue had become so contentious that most of Manitowaning’s residents joined the peaceful Sheguiandah settlement and formed a village of 129 residents.

Rev. Sims moved his family to Sheguiandah in 1867 and secured land for the mission on the southwest corner of the Bay. He reported that the natives “would never have left Manitowaning but for the tyrannical and unjust conduct of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs who coveted their clearing.”

Dupont’s conduct was investigated, and in May he was released from his duties. William Plummer, a middle-aged former mine manager who replaced him, investigated Dupont’s land sales. He reported that Mr Dupont and his friends had claimed more than 1,000 acres of land at Manitowaning — everything but the narrow strip of shore where the department’s and Indians’ houses stood. They had also accumulated extensive acreage at Little Current.

Sheguiandah after the Treaty of 1862 by Shelley J. Pearen. Manitoulin Treaties website.

A curious publication appeared the following May, the twelve-page “A Reply to Certain Charges Preferred by Rev Jabez Sims Against Charles T. Dupont, Visiting Superintendent at Manitoulin Island; and to the Report of S. H. Strong Thereon” wherein Dupont lodged strenuous objections both to Sims’s charges and the investigation of Samuel Henry Strong. Addressed to secretary of state T. L. Langevin, Ottawa, the broadside appears to have been of Dupont’s publication. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography article on Sir Samuel Henry Strong has this about the incident:

Strong… journeyed to Manitoulin Island in 1867 to investigate a series of charges, including mistreatment of the native population and assault, brought by the Reverend Jabez W. Sims against Charles T. Dupont, the local Indian affairs superintendent. He completed the inquiry in haste, the result of his desire “to put an end to a discussion which was consuming time uselessly, and which involved irritating recriminations.” Disturbed by the lack of opportunity Strong afforded him to reply to charges which Strong appeared initially to downplay, Dupont protested the tone of his report. He dismissed Strong as “manifestly, utterly and entirely ignorant of the Indian character.”

Dupont landed on his feet, witness his appearance in the 1871 census as an excise officer in Windsor, Ontario. He came west in 1872 as an officer of the Inland Revenue Service, and in March 1873 was appointed District Inspector of Inland Revenue. An editorial in the Colonist (“Federal Provincial Patronage,” May 13, 1873, p. 2) objected to “gentlemen from other Provinces being sent to occupy official positions in British Columbia.” Dupont retired from the civil service in 1887, citing ill-health, after logging 25 years on the federal payroll. For the next 36 years he drew a handsome annual pension of $1,100. (Obituary in the Vancouver Province, December 14, 1923, in BC Archives’ vertical files.)

3. Military Career

Dupont’s military career appears to have begun with the Fenian Raids of 1866. From a history of the Victoria Battery, Garrison Artillery:

While he was Indian commissioner, stationed on Manitoulin Island, he took part in the activities against one of the Fenian raids and helped to repel an attack from a mining town on the American side of the lake [Huron?] Before receiving his commission in the Canadian Militia he served his term in the ranks with the Victoria Rifles at Montreal and the 15th Battalion at Belleville. 

“Victoria Battery, Garrison Artillery: Organized 18th July 1878—44th Anniversary Last Wednesday,” Colonist, July 23, 1922, pp 18-19.

This photo dates from July 1878:

Dupont Battery of Garrison Artillery lo“The first outing of the Victoria Battery of Garrison Artillery; photo taken before uniforms had arrived.” BC Archives call no. A-03122, catalog no. HP008884. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.

This was in the time of the Russian naval scare, when heavy guns were first emplaced along Victoria’s waterfront.

Major (then Captain) Dupont was said to be responsible for organizing this regiment. From his obituary in the Colonist:

He organized the old Victoria Garrison Artillery during the memorable days when trouble with Russia was brewing … Major Dupont was commanding officer of this unit on its formation …

“Death Summons Maj. C. T. Dupont,” Colonist, December 9, 1923, p. 1.

A history of the Garrison Artillery gives a sense of the urgency of starting a garrison of artillery specialists:

On February 16 [1878] a conference was held in Victoria, composed of representatives of the Provincial Government, the army and the navy. Capt. Robinson, senior naval officer at Esquimalt at the time, stated that he was in hourly expectation of receiving the news of England having declared war against Russia. He referred to the Russian gunboats at San Francisco, and explained that his only two boats available would be of little use in case of attack. It was his opinion that an effort should be made immediately to provide land defences, and offered to lend Palliser converted 64 pdrs. for two batteries, with instructors, if volunteers could be obtained, and hastily trained to man them. Lieut.-Col. Houghton, D.A.G. M.D. 11, concurred in this proposal, and on his request Capt. C. T. Dupont consented to undertake the organization of a volunteer battery.

Daily Colonist, July 23, 1922, pp. 18-19.

An online essay traces the lineage of the 5th (British Columbia) Field Artillery Regiment, RCA before the formation of the British Columbia Provisional Regiment of Garrison Artillery in 1883:

Formed from two existing independent garrison batteries and one rifle company authorized on the following dates: … ‘No. 2 Battery’ at Victoria (half of the Victoria Battery of Garrison Artillery, 19 July 1878), ‘No. 3 Battery’ at Victoria (half of the Victoria Battery of Garrison Artillery, 19 July 1878), and ‘No. 4 Battery’ at Victoria (No. 1 Company of Rifles, Victoria, 13 February 1874).

A Colonist article (February 20, 1878, p. 3) announcing the first drill of the volunteer artillery corps identified Capt. Dupont as commanding officer of No. 3 Company. It’s not clear whether — but seems likely — No. 3 Company and No. 3 Battery were the same.

Captain Dupont is at top centre in the photo, sitting on the rock with arms akimbo:

Dupont, Artillery close up lo

(He’s identified by an anonymous notation attached to the photo. Until Bill Dupont shared a trove of photos of his grandfather Charles — in the family album on this site — this was the best image of Dupont I could find. He seems to have been camera-shy, as evidenced by a statement on his pioneer questionnaire submission: “Do not wish a photograph or picture of self to appear in newspapers.”)

The three following photos, credited to Richard Maynard, appeared with the article “Victoria Battery, Garrison Artillery: Organized 18th July, 1878; 44th Anniversary was Last Wednesday,” in The Daily Colonist, July 23, 1922, pp. 18-19. After a fruitless search through volumes and volumes of Maynard photographs at the BC Archives and a query at the 5th Regiment Museum in the Bay Street Armoury these remain the best obtainable images, copied digitally with  microfilm reader. Perhaps some originals will turn up.

scan0009.jpg“First camp of Local Artillery Corps at Finlayson Point, Beacon Hill. Date about 1880. From left to Right: Capt. C. T. Dupont, O.C. …” He was the near figure, bearded, left of the flagpole; followed by names of the other seven near figures and eight gunners in the background, including Ross Monro, afterwards Lt.-Col. and O.C. of the Regiment. “The camp was pitched alongside the grove of trees immediately in rear of the Finlayson Point battery. The remains of the traverses of this earthwork are still to be seen in the cliff overlooking the straits. The photograph was taken looking north and shows that at this time Beacon Hill Park was bare of broom.”

When in 1883 the British Columbia Provisional Regiment of Garrison Artillery was established, Dupont was its commanding officer. Here he appears in the chain of command: 

Ancestry.com - Canada, Militia and Defence Forces Lists, 1832, 1

(Captain Edward Gawley Prior, the man who famously later commanded the 5th Regiment and became lieutenant governor of B.C., commanded No. 4 Battery.)

scan0011.jpg“Artillery Camp, Beacon Hill, 1884” by Richard Maynard, in the Colonist, July 23, 1922. “This Camp Was Located to the East of the Hill, About Where the Park Nursery Is Now Located. Front row, sitting, from left to right, Lieut. A. G. Gamble, Major C. T. Dupont,  Capt. R. Wolfenden,” followed by names of seven captains standing. (I count ten in the picture.)

scan0014.jpg“Major C. T. Dupont,” photo by Richard Maynard, undated, in the Colonist, July 23, 1922. “Who in 1876 was authorized to raise a Volunteer Artillery Corps in Victoria, and the first O.C. of the present 5th Regiment”

Dupont was a keen horseman, as detailed in his obituary:

Old-time residents of the city and district will recall most readily … his famous huntsmanship. He was a lover of horseflesh and a splendid rider. With his grey horse he was known everywhere about the countryside, and on empire Days in the city, he was a leading figure in the race meets of Beacon Hill, when amateur riders competed in furious races about the track. He was a capable man in the saddle, jumped fences like a two-year, and led the pack in the paper chases of thirty and thirty-five years ago, held by the one time Victoria Hunt Club.

“Death Summons Maj. C. T. Dupont”

4. Business Career

To get a sense of Major Dupont’s business acumen, it’s interesting to look at his role in the speculation leading up to the establishment of the City of Vancouver in 1886.

This is Major Matthew’s map showing the layout of the nascent city at the time of the great fire in the summer 1886:

vancouver map 1886 lo

Major Dupont and a number of other Victorians, notably Dr. Israel Powell, ante’d up $17,500 apiece to buy shares in something called the Vancouver Improvement Company. This and other companies and individuals bought land on the knowledge that the CPR was going to establish its terminus on Burrard Inlet, not at Port Moody.

The CPR received from the BC government a gift of nearly 7,000 acres in what became downtown and suburban Vancouver. The CPR received a gift of more than 300 acres from the syndicate of Victoria gentlemen.

To sweeten the pot the Vancouver Improvement Company also donated to the CPR a certain number of lots in every block in the surrounding area.

You can see what the CPR picked up in the darkened squares on Hamilton’s map, plus the townsite south of Burrard

[Map 96] City of Vancouver, Canadian Pacific Town Site, Ross and

The Improvement Company’s investments were concentrated in the area east of the townsite. Dupont’s obituary in the Province detailed streets named for members of the syndicate:

That portion of Pender street east between Carrall and Main streets was originally known as Dupont street … What is now known as Cordova street east was named Oppenheimer street, after the Messrs. Oppenheimer … Streets named after other members of the syndicate whose names still remain are Powell street, after Dr. I. W. Powell; Dunlevy avenue, after Peter Dunlevy of Soda Creek, Cariboo; Gore avenue, after the then surveyor-general of British Columbia, and Jackson avenue after R. E. Jackson of Drake, Jackson & Co., a leading law firm of Victoria …

From a scholarly study, it appears Major Dupont made his own considerable investment in the townsite:

dupont Major real estate owners in Van loThe major owners of real estate in Vancouver in 1887, 1889, and 1891, based on the assessed value of their holdings. In “The Canadian Pacific Railway and Vancouver’s Development to 1900,” by Norbert Macdonald. BC Studies, No. 35, Autumn 1977.

Major Dupont was a major player in 1887. His investment was worth $75,000.

In 1889, during a time of moderately increasing values, his holdings totaled $50,000.

Following the gigantic boom of 1890, with skyrocketing land prices, Major Dupont is nowhere to be found in 1891 — evidently, he had sold off his holdings. At what profit we can only speculate.

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