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DALLAS, ALEXANDER GRANT, HBC administrator and businessman; b. 25 July 1816 in Berbice region, British Guiana (Guyana), son of Murdoch Dallas, md, and Helena Grant; d. 3 Jan. 1882 in London, England.

Alexander Grant Dallas belonged to the Galcantray branch of the family. He was still a child when his father died and the family returned to Scotland; Alexander’s grandfather, John Dallas, was a merchant at Inverness, and Alexander was educated at Inverness Academy, where he won a gold medal. He entered business in Liverpool in 1837. About 1842 he joined the famous trading firm of Jardine, Matheson and Company and spent five years in China. He prospered, but an attack of fever made it necessary for him to leave the Orient, and he returned to Scotland where he purchased the estate of Dunain, near Inverness.

His health restored, Dallas soon became active in London financial circles. In April 1856 he was elected to the committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company which at that time was worried about the state of its affairs on the Pacific coast. James Douglas* was serving as both governor of Vancouver Island, for which the company was responsible, and officer in charge of the company’s Western Department, and it was felt that he was favouring the colony at the expense of the company. In addition, the affairs of the subsidiary Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company were in disarray. Dallas was asked to conduct an investigation and take remedial measures. He left England on 2 Jan. 1857 and arrived in Victoria in May, after stops in San Francisco and Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, Wash.). His arrival was naturally unwelcome to Douglas, but personal relations were sufficiently good to permit Dallas’ marriage to the governor’s second daughter, Jane, on 9 March 1858.

After successfully organizing the affairs of the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company, Dallas was preparing to return to England when in April the Fraser River gold-rush suddenly erupted. Douglas, the only British governing official in the region, was compelled to extend his authority arbitrarily to the mining areas; it soon became obvious that one early result of the influx of thousands of miners would be the end of the company’s trading monopoly on the mainland. In the early stages of the rush the only resources Douglas had available to deal with this population increase were often those of the company, and thus the conflict of interest inherent in his dual position was intensified. His differences with Dallas, who had stayed to protect the interests of the company, seem to have been sharpest over the land question; in Victoria and at forts Langley, Hope, and Yale the needs of the government clashed with the claims of the company. A few years later, in an outspoken private letter, Dallas recalled “the unscrupulous way in which Douglas wished to saddle all the expenses on the Company,” and “his attempts to deprive us of the lands which he himself [had] made over to me as Company’s property. . . .”

In August 1858, when the crown colony of British Columbia was created, Douglas was offered the governorship on condition that he sever his connection with the HBC. Anticipating Douglas’ acceptance, the company sent Dallas a commission naming him “representative of the Company for the Western Department.” The new colony was duly proclaimed on 19 November and Douglas became its governor, but he chose to ignore the direction to cease acting for the company. “Mr. Douglas,” Dallas wrote on 14 December, “has I think little idea of giving up control of the Company’s business.” With considerable forbearance Dallas held his commission in abeyance, but in March 1859 the company sent specific instructions to both Douglas and Dallas ordering the transfer of authority to Dallas.

Sir George Simpson*, the company’s governor-in-chief in North America, died on 7 Sept. 1860. Some months before his death Simpson had suggested that Dallas should succeed him, and the company decided to act upon the recommendation. Dallas, anxious to discuss matters with the committee, left Victoria for London on 24 March 1861. In London he was busy with various company affairs, notably its land claims in British Columbia, until the end of the year. The fair and reasonable terms he proposed in a memorandum submitted in August became the basis for a formal settlement between the crown and the company in November.

Dallas’ commission as “President of Council and Governor in Chief in our Territory of Ruperts Land” was dated 3 Feb. 1862. He left for Canada in March, arrived at Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg), where he was to make his headquarters, in May, and presided over his first council at Norway House in June. Later in the year, and again in 1863, he made far-ranging inspection tours of the company’s establishments that were comparable with Simpson’s celebrated travels. Dallas saw clearly that great changes would soon take place in the west. Population would flood in, and he was anxious to see the company relieved of its responsibility to govern Rupert’s Land. In July 1863, in a letter to the company’s governor, he emphasized “the importance . . . of the immense districts . . . suitable for settlement being administered as a Crown Colony”; and, in the light of his experience with Douglas, he also emphasized “the impropriety of allowing the offices of Crown Governor and Hudson’s Bay Company representative to be held by the same individual . . . .” In a second letter, in October, he raised the question of Indian land claims, which would be the basic cause of the Red River disturbance six years later, and warned that there would be “serious trouble hereafter with the Indians and half-breeds unless the local government is better supported . . . .”

By 1864 Dallas was anxious to retire to his estates in Scotland, and he sailed from Quebec on 9 July. To have the benefit of his advice, the company retained his services in an advisory capacity until 31 May 1866. He continued to take a lively interest in the affairs of Vancouver Island. When it was proposed that the island colony should be absorbed by British Columbia, with Gilbert Malcolm Sproat* and Donald Fraser* he formed the London Committee for Watching the Affairs of British Columbia in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the plan. He met with better success later when he was a member of an influential lobby that secured the transfer of the capital of the united colony from New Westminster to Victoria in 1868.

Dallas spent his last years on the Dunain estate, which he improved greatly. He was interested in sport and particularly enjoyed riding and hunting. He is said to have been an accomplished water-colour painter. One of his nine children, Major-General Alister Grant Dallas, who was born in Victoria, had a distinguished military career in India, the South African War, and World War I.

W. Kaye Lamb

[Alexander Grant Dallas’ activities for the Hudson’s Bay Company may be traced in the HBCA at PAM, notably in series A.1 (minutes), A.7 (London locked private letterbooks), A.11 (London inward correspondence), D.8 (Dallas’ inward and outward correspondence), and F.12 (correspondence of the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company). See also James Dallas, The history of the family of Dallas, and their connections and descendants from the twelfth century (Edinburgh, 1921); E. W. Watkin, Canada and the States; recollections, 1851 to 1886 (London and New York, [1887]); F. W. Laing, “Hudson’s Bay Company lands on the mainland of British Columbia, 1858–1861,” BCHQ, 3 (1939): 75–99; and B. A. McKelvie, “Successor to Simpson,” Beaver, outfit 282 (September 1951): 41–45.  w.k.l.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

W. Kaye Lamb, “DALLAS, ALEXANDER GRANT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 18, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dallas_alexander_grant_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dallas_alexander_grant_11E.html
Author of Article: W. Kaye Lamb
Title of Article: DALLAS, ALEXANDER GRANT
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: September 18, 2014