The afternoon of Dec. 3, 1884, was cold and rainy in Victoria, but that didn't stop a large crowd from gathering at the Church of Our Lord, at the foot of today's Blanshard Street, for the funeral of Thomas Harris.
At the time of his death, Harris was the high sheriff of Vancouver Island, but it was just the last of a string of public positions Harris had held. He had also been a member of the legislature of the colony of Vancouver Island and had served as MLA for the Cariboo.
He left his greatest mark, however, when he was acclaimed as the first mayor of Victoria in 1862.
Harris was born in Hertfordshire, England, and moved to California in 1853. Five years later, he came north to Victoria with the Gold Rush.
He started a butcher shop in a borrowed tent. Within a few years, his business, Queens Market, was operating at the corner of Johnson Street and Waddington Alley. The mansion he built at Bastion and Government was perhaps the handsomest two-storey brick building on Vancouver Island.
Harris served briefly on the colonial legislature as the member for Esquimalt, arguing for the grading and surfacing of Esquimalt Road - a project the assembly turned down.
Harris lobbied for the incorporation of Victoria as a city. It was a groundbreaking idea, since no other community on the Island had municipal status, and Victoria was still basically a company town under the thumb of the Hudson's Bay Co.
Nonetheless, the City of Victoria came into being on Aug. 2, 1862, thanks to an act passed by the colonial government of Vancouver Island. A few months later, Harris became mayor of the new city, resigning from the legislature so he could take on the new role.
The British Colonist reported that Harris - "an 'umble tradesman' as he delights to term himself" - would "right nobly" serve as the first mayor.
The first council meeting, held in the police barracks on the site of today's Maritime Museum of B.C., saw Harris and his six councillors approve 13 bylaws. They made it illegal to ride through the city any faster than eight miles an hour, to fire a cannon within city limits, or to throw garbage on the sidewalk, among other things.
Harris served three one-year terms as mayor, warring with his council for most of that time. By 1865, the other council members had voted a want-of-confidence motion regarding Harris's leadership. Harris chose not to run for re-election that year.
Harris lived well for several years, and owned a farm on the Saanich Peninsula as well as his business in the city.
After he stepped down as mayor, however, his finances took a turn for the worse, and he was pushed into bankruptcy in 1867.
In 1872, Harris was appointed sergeant-at-arms in the new provincial legislature. Four years later, he was named to his last public office, as high sheriff of Vancouver Island.
When Harris died on Nov. 29, 1884, the Daily Colonist described him as a "man of fine presence and gigantic status," and "one of the most powerful men in the province."
His funeral reflected his stature. After the burial service was read by Bishop Edward Cridge, the cortege was accompanied to Ross Bay Cemetery by Victoria's mayor, members of council and virtually every senior employee of the city.
The Harris family home on Government Street was torn down in the late 1890s to make way for the Bank of Montreal building designed by Francis Rattenbury, a building that still stands today.
The Harris name lives on in Harris Green, the small park on Pandora Avenue east of Quadra Street.
The city's mayors since 1862: 50 men and one woman
1862-1865 Thomas Harris
1865-1866 Lumley Franklin
1866-1867, 1871 William M.J. MacDonald
1867-1870 James Trimble
1870-1871 Alexander R. Robertson
1872 Richard Lewis
1872-1873 James E. McMillan
1873 James D. Robinson
1873-1875 William M. Dalby
1875-1876 John S. Drummond
1876-1977 William M. Tyrwhitt-Drake
1877-1878 Roderick Finlayson
1879-1881 J.H. Turner
1881-1882 Noah Shakespeare
1882-1883, 1896-1899 Charles E. Redfern
1883-1884 Joseph Carey
1884-1885 R.P. Rithet
1885-1887 James Fell
1887-1891 John Grant
1891-1893, 1896 Robert Beaven
1894-1895 John Teague
1900-1902 Charles Hayward
1902-1903 Alexander G. McCandless
1904-1905 George Henry Barnard
1905-1907, 1909-1911, 1913 Alfred J. Morley
1908-1909 Lewis Hall
1912 John L. Beckwith
1914-1916 Alex Stewart
1917-1919 Albert E. Todd
1919-1921 Robert J. Porter
1921-1922 William M. Marchant
1922-1924 Reginald Hayward
1924-1928 John Carl Pendray
1928-1931 Herbert Anscomb
1931-1936 David Leeming
1936-1944 Andrew McGavin
1944-1951 Percy E. George
1951-1955 Claude L. Harrison
1955-1961 Percy B. Scurrah
1961-1965 Richard B. Wilson
1965-1966 Alfred W. Toone
1966-1969 Hugh R. Stephen
1969-1971 Courtney J. Haddock
1971-1975, 1981-1985 G. Peter A. Pollen
1975-1979 Michael D.W. Young
1978-1981 William J. Tindall
1985-1990 Gretchen Brewin
1991-1993 David Turner
1994-1999 Robert Cross
2000-2008 Alan Lowe
2008-present Dean Fortin
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