Gregory, Francis Brooke, lawyer, militia officer, and judge; b. 23 Aug. 1862 in Fredericton, son of George Frederick Gregory and Marion Birkmyre Beverly; m. there 14 Sept. 1913 Hannah Pickard Thompson, and they had two sons; d. 11 June 1936 in Shawnigan Lake, B.C.
A well-known figure in British Columbia for over 40 years, Francis Brooke Gregory began life in Fredericton, the son of George Frederick Gregory, who would become a prominent lawyer, mayor of the city, justice of the Supreme Court of New Brunswick, and an unsuccessful candidate in federal and provincial elections. Educated at the Collegiate School in Fredericton, Gregory was mentored by its headmaster, George Robert Parkin*, whose later advocacy of imperial federation may have influenced him; they would maintain a lasting friendship. Gregory continued his studies at Harvard Law School and he obtained an llb in 1884 before being admitted as an attorney in Fredericton on 20 October and called to the bar on 29 October of the following year.
In 1890 Gregory moved to Victoria. He was called to the province’s bar on 13 August and initially he practised in the firm Belyea and Gregory with Arthur Louis Belyea. On 1 Sept. 1896 he formed the partnership Fell and Gregory with Thornton Fell. Some of his cases involved defending the owners of Canadian sealing schooners that had been seized by American revenue cutters. While practising Gregory met lawyers Gordon Hunter and Lyman Poore Duff*, future chief justices of the supreme courts of British Columbia and Canada, respectively. For a time the three young men shared a residence on Belleville Street in Victoria.
Like numerous other imperially minded Canadian men of the period, Gregory joined the militia. He became a junior lieutenant in the No.5 (British Columbia) Garrison Artillery Regiment in 1893, rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and commanded the unit from 1899 to 1901. He entered the reserve of officers in 1909. His attachment to the empire was also demonstrated by his membership in a contingent that had attended Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations in London in 1897 and by the letters he would write to Parkin later in his career, which were full of admiration for, and loyalty to, the empire.
Like his father, Gregory attempted to enter provincial politics, but was unsuccessful. He made his first bid to represent the four-member riding of Victoria City during the provincial general election of 1898 as a candidate opposed to the administration of John Herbert Turner*. His second run in the same riding, during a by-election the following year as a supporter of Charles Augustus Semlin*, also met with defeat. His son George Frederick Thompson would serve as a Liberal mla in the 1950s.
Lieutenant-Colonel Gregory drew the ire of the general officer commanding the Canadian militia, Major-General Edward Thomas Henry Hutton*, for a faux pas he had committed in 1898. Apparently, after learning that his commanding officer and certain journalists felt he was not acting impartially in his position, Gregory summoned the men of the 1st Battalion and asked for their opinion of his command and of his candidacy for political office. This gesture was contrary to military regulations, and several senior officers wanted to discipline him. Gregory ignored their attempts and, owing to his political influence with Liberals in the region, he was even promoted to head the regiment the following year.
Besides having military and political interests, Gregory was also a budding businessman. In December 1902, with ship’s captain John Irving and railway owner and shipbuilder Harry Frederick Bullen, he obtained a federal charter to construct the Pacific Northern and Omineca Railway, founded two years earlier, from the coast to the Alberta border. No work ever began, however, and the company was taken over by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1904.
Gregory stayed in his law firm until he was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia on 30 Nov. 1909; he would remain on the bench until he retired in January 1933. After the death of Justice Hunter in 1929, he was Victoria’s sole representative in the court. As a judge, he took part in several important provincial commissions. In 1916 he was named to the commission of claims arising out of riots on Vancouver Island, established to investigate requests for compensation because of damage inflicted by striking coalminers in Ladysmith and Nanaimo in 1913 and 1914. In his report he noted that although he had not been charged with discovering the causes of the disturbances, he had learned that there had been “a general feeling of uneasiness in the communities, and very pronounced and justifiable fears that riots would take place.” He also pointed out that the claimants and other citizens of the region had appealed for help before the events took place, thus implying that action could have prevented the violence.
On Gregory’s retirement the Daily Colonist observed that he had taken an active interest in his work on the bench, travelling miles beyond the courtroom to visit the locus in quo so as to “see for himself” rather than simply listen to the evidence presented. His concern for justice had led him to encourage litigants to visit him in camera to determine whether an amicable solution to differences could be achieved.
Gregory’s passions extended beyond the public sphere. The Vancouver Daily Province noted in 1933 that he had brought the jigsaw-puzzle craze to Victoria. Not only did he enjoy them, but he also made them in the woodworking shop of his Victoria home.
Francis Brooke Gregory was one of many men in Victorian Canada who displayed close connections to the empire through political and military activity. A strong-willed and forceful personality, he was generally appreciated by those with whom he dealt. Over time the brash barrister and military officer mellowed into a well-respected, learned judge.
BCA, GR-2951, no.1936-09-515009. LAC, R231-172-7; R5370-0-5. PANB, RS-141-B4, F-15952, no.2055 (mfm.). Daily Colonist (Victoria), 7, 8 July 1898; 31 Jan. 1899; 31 Jan. 1933; 12 June 1936. Vancouver Daily Province, 3 April 1933. B.C., Commission to inquire into the Vancouver Island riots, 1913–14, Commissioner’s report … ([Victoria, 1919]). Can., National Defence Headquarters, Directorate of Hist., Reports (Ottawa, 1964), no.102 (D. P. Morton, “The Canadian militia, 1867–1900: a political and social institution,” typescript).