Quiet Reformers: The Legacy of Early Victoria’s Bishop Edward and Mary Cridge

Quiet Reformers

The Legacy of Early Victoria’s Bishop Edward and Mary Cridge

by Ian Macdonald and Betty O’Keefe


  • Autumn 2010
  • ISBN 978-1-55380-107-8
  • ebook ISBN 978-1-55380-120-7
  • 6″ x 9″ Trade Paperback, 200 pages
  • Biography

This lively biography of Bishop Edward Cridge and his wife Mary paints a vivid picture of early Victoria as it developed from an isolated Hudson’s Bay Company post into the bustling capital of British Columbia. Recruited from England by Governor James Douglas in 1854 to be the Church of England chaplain of Fort Victoria, Edward Cridge became an important figure in the spiritual life of the city as the rector of Christ Church.

The Cridges also became two of Victoria’s foremost social reformers, leaving an indelible mark on British Columbia’s social institutions. Living through the terrible smallpox and black measles epidemics, the latter taking four of their own children, the inseparable pair worked to create the first hospital, beginning with a few beds in a rented cottage and living to see it transformed into the Royal Jubilee. As the first superintendent of education, Cridge played an essential role in B.C.’s early school system. When abandoned children were left at the parsonage door, Mary created Victoria’s first orphanage.

The biography also tells of Cridge’s very public argument with Bishop Hills, a dispute that caused him to break with the Church of England to found and build the Church of Our Lord, a Reformed Episcopal church, which is today an historic Victoria landmark. Included also are cameos by many of the notable people of the day, such as Emily Carr, who as a young girl lived opposite the Cridge family.

“Bishop Edward Cridge and his beloved wife Mary are two of the most interesting characters from the turbulent years of British Columbia’s early history. Meticulously researched and written with eloquence and grace, Quiet Reformers provides a stirring testament to their legacy that anyone who cares about B.C. will want on the bookshelf.”
— Stephen Hume, author of Simon Fraser: In Search of Modern British Columbia

Click here to read a sample from Quiet Reformers

Gold! Miners Rush In

Life settled into a comfortable rhythm for the Reverend Cridge and
his wife until Sunday morning, April 25, 1858, when the Commodore,
an American side-wheel steamer from San Francisco pulled into Victoria
harbour. Victorians walking quietly home from church gazed in awe
at the jam-packed decks of the steamer as it cleared the point and anchored
at the pier. It was the largest number of newcomers ever to arrive at one
time. Men of every description poured off onto the dusty village streets.
They wore red flannel shirts and carried heavy packs and deadly looking
bowie knives; many had a revolver openly visible in a holster on their hip.
They were a motley group of adventurers with the gleam of gold in their
eyes, and they were hell-bent for the mainland, where they dreamed a fortune
awaited them. These were the first of the thousands of miners and
hangers-on who would pass through the little settlement on their way to
the recently discovered Fraser River goldfields.
For the minister and the community fathers, the gold rush of the next
few years, first on the Fraser and later in the Cariboo, was a tumultuous
time. They knew the visitors would not stay long, but they wondered how
the settlement could withstand the onslaught, particularly when liquor
flowed freely. One observer noted that problems might soon abound because
among the miners were “gamblers, loafers, thieves and ruffians.”1
The Reverend Cridge was well aware of the potential problems. He knew
most of the men were seeking gold, not God, but felt he had an obligation
to minister to them all. He held outdoor services at the fort for anyone
who wanted to attend, and drew a surprising number, as high on some
occasions as four hundred — miners as well as others.
The majority of the newcomers were from the United States, and they
greatly outnumbered the mostly British residents. Their visits might be
short term, but they brought to the fore festering concerns that had until
then been held in abeyance. Since the first news of gold in California and
Oregon in the 1840s, a considerable number of men had slipped away to
try their luck in the south. Many knew that unlike the area under the control
of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the United States had plenty of free
land available. With this recent news of gold along the Fraser River and
in the creeks of the Cariboo, Governor James Douglas knew he must contend
with a double problem: a new and larger exodus by some of his settlers
in search of free land to the south and a major influx from the United
States heading for the Fraser River.
It was impossible to tell how many of the newcomers might remain in
Victoria for any length of time, but when they came, Douglas, ever the old
trader and canny businessman, wanted to capitalize on their presence. He
quickly stocked the Hudson’s Bay Company’s warehouses to meet the
anticipated demand. Astute American merchants also moved supplies into
the colony, looking for their own bonanza. Most miners had packed as
much basic equipment as they could carry, but they still needed food,
clothing and tools, along with transport across the Strait of Georgia to the
mainland. Men arrived in a steady stream to replace the numbers that
daily crossed the strait in every manner of improvised craft. The larger
vessels looked the safest, but they often carried three and four times as
many passengers as they were designed for, and their holds were jammed
with freight for the journey to the interior.
While the men from the Commodore did not pack the pews in Christ
Church or regularly attend the outdoor services, they moved on quickly
and caused little trouble, lessening residents’ original fears. Their only objective
was to buy provisions and then carry on across the Strait of Georgia
to the mainland and travel up the Fraser River. Gold rush fever had infected
men of every occupation and trade, and they left their businesses and
jobs to join in the hunt. Some tried the overland route from the United
States, but with “Indian trouble” in Washington State, the bulk of the gold
seekers chose all sorts of small craft to travel up the coast to Fort Victoria.
Vancouver did not yet exist. The Reverend Cridge contacted the Colonial
Church and School Society back in England, requesting pastors for the
mainland where the miners would settle. He asked for two ministers, one
for the diggings in the Cariboo and one to assist him in Victoria. But help
would not arrive for months. Meanwhile, other denominations were also
sending ministers to serve the burgeoning populace of Vancouver Island
and the mainland.
Victoria’s primitive streets and trails were soon chewed up by the population
that had suddenly doubled. A sea of tents and crude shacks appeared
around the perimeter of the fort, and the need for lumber sharply increased
as two hundred rough-and-ready buildings were thrown up. Muir’s sawmill
in Sooke as well as the one at the fort could hardly keep up with the
demand. When it rained the roads were worse than ever, and drays sank
up to their axles. Residents and storekeepers laid down planks to make
walking easier, but as Mary pointed out to her family, if you went visiting
or to a shop, almost all your clothes then had to be washed. Fresh water
was in short supply, and an awful reek wafted from the latrines that had
been dug for the newcomers.
Prices for seafood soared and some of the Songhees made a considerable
amount of money. Their women sometimes approached the visiting
miners to satisfy their needs. The price of building lots soared from fifty
and seventy-five dollars to three thousand and more. An American company
started the first real newspaper, the Victoria Gazette, and the express
freight company Wells Fargo moved in. Victoria was suddenly transformed
from a sleepy English frontier community to a bustling wild-west
town. When several well-dressed ladies of the night with their own views
on moneymaking arrived from California, the Reverend Cridge and other
community leaders identified new concerns for the permanent residents.
Those first miners who arrived in the spring of 1858 were the forerunners
of an estimated twenty-five thousand who passed through Victoria
during the Fraser and Cariboo gold rushes. At the peak of the rush, in July
1858, in one ten-day period vessels brought an estimated fifty-five hundred
to Esquimalt harbour, the naval base north of Victoria. Most of them stayed
only long enough to vie for scarce and overpriced boat transportation.
Some tried in desperation to row and paddle their way across the cold,
often storm-swept waters of the Strait of Georgia in makeshift craft, hopping
from one island to the next. How many drowned in their efforts to
reach the mainland is unknown. Others, mostly merchants, stayed in
Victoria and established businesses, a few of which still exist.

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Reviews & Awards

*Honourable Mention: British Columbia Genealogical Society Family History Book Award 2010

Quiet Reformers is a fascinating story of a highly influential couple, driven by their values and their vision — and who played key roles in the development of Victoria.”
Times Colonist

“Any account of a thoroughly decent person doing good deeds does not promise a compelling reading experience, but Quiet Reformers succeeds as entertainment due to the inclusion of a running commentary on events from the Colonist, founded by the flamboyant Amor de Cosmos.”
BC Bookworld

Quiet Reformers is a gratifying read, and details much more of the story of Mary and Edward Cridge. It will be an inspiring book to those who have an interest in the history of Vancouver Island, and the role of Christian faith in its development.”
BC Christian News

“Anyone interested in the history of Victoria will appreciate this well-written story of Mary and Edward Cridge and their accomplishments. . . . The authors provide helpful political and social context for the events unfolding and include a welcome chronology.”
BC Studies