George Simpson – Making Administration Cool Since 1787

Two bad ass facts about this man to get out of the way right off – just in case you decide that administration isn’t the edgy topic that you’re looking for this morning and wand off without reading the rest of this post:

  1. George Simpson is known as the first person to have “circumnavigated” the world by land
  2. With the exception of voyageurs and their Serbian equivalents few men, even to this day, have spent as much time travelling in the wilderness


George Simpson, administrator extraordinaire. Photo from

George Simpson, administrator extraordinaire. Photo from

Yet another Scot who travelled over to North America in the employment of the Hudson’s Bay Company, George Simpson would become a central figure in the company during the years of its greatest level of power in Canada.  Not having the most ideal start in life, Simpson was born in 1787 the illegitimate son of his father George Simpson Sr. and an unknown mother who would be raised predominantly by two of his aunts and his paternal grandmother.

Sent, in 1808, to London in order to work for his uncle in the sugar brokerage industry George would come into contact with the HBC when his uncle’s firm merged with that of the one belonging to Andrew Colville who was a director of the company itself.  It appears that Coleville was impressed by what he saw because within eight years of this merge, he would name Simpson Governor-in-Chief, locum tenens of Rupert’s Land. (locum tenens means something close to ‘place holder’ making this a situation where Simpson would be temporarily filling this position in place of the permanent occupant)

George happened to be recruited into the HBC at a time when the company was at a continuous high level of conflict with the Northwest company which couldn’t have been a comfortable arrival for the Scot but it wouldn’t last long as the companies merged in 1821.  After three years working around Hudsons Bay, particularly at what was known as York Factory, Simpson was sent to the Pacific in 1824.  Making his way across what would become Canada, he decided to take an unconventional route which ended up being a fantastic call.  He arrived at Fort George after only an 80 day journey which was at least 20 days quicker than the previous recorded record.

George Simpson

Simpson in later years.


While no events of particular note occurred while Simpson was employed by the Hudsons Bay Company, this is perhaps a greater indication of his skill as a leader and administrator than any dramatic deed.  It is also worth while to note that during his time with the company, the HBC often returned a 10% profit which was a far less likely occurrence under other leadership.

On his retirement from the company, George and his wife settled in Montreal where he got into transportation and began to invest in railways and canals.  Travelling to the end, his health would eventually falter and he died at his home in August of 1860, aged 73, after suffering from a massive stroke.



B.C. Industries: Coal Pt.1

Next week I’m going to get into coal mining within British Columbia specifically but, while trying to write that particular post, I discovered that I know next to nothing about the mining and use of coal and so I thought I would add in a preliminary post going over the basics.

This is what coal looks like when people decide to make Photoshop improvements to rocks... Image from Wikipedia.

This is what coal looks like when people decide to make Photoshop improvements to rocks…
Image from Wikipedia.

Since the 1880’s coal has been valued for its energy content and used to generate electricity, particularly within the steel and cement industries.  While reserves are available in almost every county in the world, it is only mined in slightly over 50 of those although it can probably be expected that those remaining countries will be pressured to start coal mining activities in the near future.

Coal miners from West Virginia in 1908. Image is from Wikipedia.

Coal miners from West Virginia in 1908. Image is from Wikipedia.

Since its discovery as an efficient energy source, coal has been a popular choice in most countries of the world for several reasons:

  1. It is the cheapest known available source of energy
  2. It is an incredibly stable source
  3. It is often seen as benefiting the economy due to job creation

If the current levels of production are maintained, the planet’s coal reserves could be expected to last as long as another 150 years.  However, these production levels have never been especially stable and it is predicted that countries in Asia and North America could run out as soon as 2030. This is unlikely to be alarming to any of the world’s other miners of this fossil fuel as the vast majority mined is used within its country of origin with only an average of 16% being exported.  As of 2010, Canada was ranked as the 15th coal producing country of the world while ranking 12th in regards to the level of its reserves.

Despite the popularity of coal, and the benefits and convenience of its use for many countries, there are many dangers connected to it particularly when it comes to the mining process.

Mining dangers:

  • Firedamp explosions – there are several flammable gasses found in coal mines, the gas accumulates in pockets with in the coal and when penetrated the release of these gases can trigger explosions.
  • Coal dust explosions – the fine powdered form of coal which is created by the crushing and grinding of coal can become explosive when suspended in the air (it is susceptible to spontaneous combustion due to a higher surface area per unit of weight).
  • Chronic lung diseases – these are caused by inhaling coal dust and the most common of these are coal worker’s pneumoconiosis or  black lung disease.
Additionally, this image makes me claustrophobic just looking at it. Picture from

Additionally, this image makes me claustrophobic just looking at it. Picture from

There are also a number of environmental concerns involved in coal mining including:

  • Water pollution – water that comes into contact with the coal mining process (particularly during extraction) often demonstrates high levels of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.
  • Air pollution – the process of burning coal for energy produces greenhouse gasses and other pollutants including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury compounds, and nitrogen oxides.
  • It also significantly alters the local ecosystem and the connected wildlife habitats of the area where the mine is built with the introduction of road and clearing of trees.
A look at what the building of a mine can do to the local environment. Picture from

A look at what the building of a mine can do to the local environment. Picture from

All in all, I’d probably say that coal was an excellent source of energy historically but, with the knowledge we have developed and the technological capabilities we have access to today, its probably long past time an effective alternative was found.


John Sebastian Helmcken

Born in London, England on the 5th of June 1845; John Sebastian Helmcken would eventually travel to British Columbia through the same channel as many of his contemporaries, through his employment with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

John Helmcken in 1854. Image from wikipedia

John Helmcken in 1854. Image from wikipedia

Apprenticed as a physician in London’s Guy’s Hospital he became a ship’s surgeon in 1847 on board the HBC ship ‘Prince Rupert’, apposition which allowed him to travel through both India and China.  On his return to England his initial plan was to leave the HBC and join the British navy, however, the company managed to retain his services and convince him to travel to Vancouver Island in 1849 to fill a position of physician and general clerk.  Helmcken had the opportunity to prove his capabilities for the former of these positions even before arriving on the continent of North America when smallpox broke out on board the ship transporting him to his new country.  Despite less than ideal circumstances and access to a very limited amount of resources, the physician managed to pull the occupants of the ship through the crisis with a remarkable level of success; losing  just one individual to the outbreak.

The doctor around 1880. Photo from

The doctor around 1880. Photo from

After this rather adventurous start, Helmcken arrived on Vancouver Island in March of 1850 where he immidiately reported to his first posting at Fort Rupert.  It didn’t take long for him to be promoted to the position of magestrate; a role in which he was tasked with settling a dispute between the company and coal-miners in the region who had gone on strike due to their desire to leave the miner’s life and go south to join the California Gold Rush.  Six months after this crisis, John was directed to Fort Victoria in his capacity of physician in order to attend to the ill Governor Richard Blanshard.  Here he meet his wife, Cecila (who happened to be the daughter of soon to be governor James Douglas) and settled permanently.

Cecilia Helmckan, the daughter of Governor James Douglas; image from

Cecilia Helmckan, the daughter of Governor James Douglas; image from

Possibly due to his connection to then-Governor, James Douglas, Helmcken was elected to the the first Legislateive Assembly of Vancouver Island as the representative of Esquimalt in 1856; a position which he held until the Island merged with mainland British Columbia in 1866.  Until the province joined the Canadian confederation in 1871, he remained a Speaker of the Legislative Council of British Columbia.

While Helmcken had initially been in absolute favor of  the province joining the Canadian confederation, over time this view began to reverse until, by the time the idea was seriously being considered in 1870, he had determined that it was an idea which was against the financial interest of the colony.  While he repeatedly denied being in support of annexation to the United States he did state that he felt the eventual absorption of the province (and the whole of the rest of Canada for that matter) into its southern neighbour was an inevitable future.

On Vancouver Island; photo from

On Vancouver Island; photo from

Regardless of his own personal feelings regarding the confederation, Helmcken was one of three individuals sent to Ottawa in order to negotiate the terms of the colony of British Columbia joining with the country of Canada; the outcome of which ended up being very favorable directed towards B.C.

Photo fron

Photo fron

Once the details of confederation had been settled, John Helmcken retired from politics and became a member of the board of the Canadian Pacific Railway but, despite his less prominent role, he continued to significantly impact the development of the fledgling province:

  • He had a role in moving the capital from New Westminster to Victoria
  • He secured lucrative public work contracts for Victoria companies
  • He was a founding member of the British Columbia Medical Society (1885)
  • He helped found the Medial Council of British Columbia
  • He was the physician on the provincial jail
  • He sat on the board of the Royal Jubilee Hospital

John Sebastian Helmcken died in Victoria on September 1, 1920 at the age of 96.

On a side note; doesn’t he just look like a lovely man?

John Helmcken in 1910; photo from

John Helmcken in 1910; photo from