McKENZIE, KENNETH (in his youth he sometimes spelled his name Mackenzie), Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company bailiff and agent on Vancouver Island, farmer, and provisions supplier; b. 25 Oct. 1811 in Edinburgh, Scotland, son of Dr Kenneth McKenzie, surgeon, and Janet Blair; d. at Lakehill Farm, Victoria, B.C., 10 April 1874.
Kenneth McKenzie spent his youth in Edinburgh where he attended the High School and College of Edinburgh. Probably in the late 1820s he moved to his father’s estate of Rentonhall in the parish of Morham, Haddingtonshire, in the East Lothian District, where he managed the farms, sheep-runs, and a tile works. About 1841 he married Agnes Russell who bore him eight children, six before the family left Scotland.
In spite of his attested abilities in managing the estate, young McKenzie was unable to cope with the encumbrances left by his father. In 1848 he put the lands and estate up for auction, but a sale did not take place; and from 1848 to 1851 McKenzie applied unsuccessfully for positions as factor, bailiff, or land steward on estates in the British isles. Finally, in October 1851, he sold Rentonhall for £4,925, and, through his friendship with John Haldane*, was granted an interview by the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was offered the position of bailiff or overseer on one of the four farms it projected under its subsidiary, the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company, in the Esquimalt district near Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island, and he spent the spring and summer of 1852 recruiting labourers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and a schoolteacher for the venture.
McKenzie’s five-year contract with the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company is dated 16 Aug. 1852. It was to provide a farm of 600 acres, livestock, seed, and implements, and to pay for all improvements. McKenzie was to receive £60 per annum and after three years share 1/3 of the profit or loss. The company stipulated that the relationship was that of master and servant, but in effect it sought to establish a landed gentry or squirearchy surrounded by small landholders, a paternalistic form which proved incompatible with conditions on the frontier of empire.
McKenzie and his party of 73 persons arrived at Vancouver Island on 16 Jan. 1853, and were temporarily accommodated at Fort Victoria. After viewing Craigflower, the farm allotted to him at Maple Point between Esquimalt Harbour and the Gorge, McKenzie moved the carpenters and blacksmiths to the site on 24 January. By 1 April preparations were sufficiently advanced for his family to move to a temporary dwelling; a large manor house resembling Rentonhall was ready on 1 May 1856. During the spring and summer of 1853 McKenzie and his men built additional houses, planted gardens and fields, set up the seven horsepower engine brought from England to run a sawmill and grind grain, and began a lime kiln and a brick works. McKenzie’s men proved to be fractious with frequent instances of drunkenness and desertion. To augment his labour force, he used men from hms Trincomalee then at Esquimalt and he hired several groups of Indians, but these too proved unsteady hands. Evidently in an attempt to provide a measure of authority and justice on the four farms of the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company, on 31 March 1853 Governor James Douglas appointed McKenzie and three others to be magistrates and justices of the peace in the District of Victoria.
On 3 Feb. 1854 the HBC appointed McKenzie agent and superintendent for the agricultural company on Vancouver island with a commission of ten per cent on the net profits of the four farms in addition to his regular salary from Craigflower. Wage disputes and unauthorized salmon trading with the Indians along the Fraser River led to Douglas’ intervention in 1855; on McKenzie’s appeal to London the HBC instructed him to follow the governor’s advice. The company also found it necessary to complain to McKenzie about inadequate accounts and excessive expenses. When McKenzie proposed mills and a brewery, the HBC governor, Andrew Colvile, reminded him that bailiffs should devote their efforts to raising crops and making the farms self-sufficient. Colvile added that McKenzie was to be prepared for a precise limitation on his expenditures.
McKenzie as company agent was instructed to deal with Edward Edwards Langford*, the luxury-loving, lavish, and intractable bailiff of Colwood Farm at Esquimalt. In 1854 McKenzie received orders to terminate Langford’s contract, but Langford refused to give up quietly and McKenzie was chastised for not taking “more active and effective measures for the protection of their [the company’s] property.” The troubles with Langford put McKenzie in an embarrassing position between company officials and the bailiffs, and he was further discredited in the eyes of the company. In 1857 Alexander Grant Dallas* was sent to Fort Victoria, and one of his responsibilities was the administrative supervision of the farms.
In 1855 hospital huts were erected at Esquimalt to receive the wounded from the battle of Petropavlovsk, and thereafter ships of the Pacific Squadron increasingly used the harbour as a base, particularly during the San Juan Island dispute [see Douglas]. Craigflower Farm was ideally situated to supply the naval squadron, and in September 1856 McKenzie reported that he had provided nearly 1,000 pounds of meat and 400 pounds of vegetables per day. Despite HBC opposition, McKenzie erected mills at Craigflower to provide flour for the navy’s bakers, who frequently used his ovens. Continuing to supply the Royal Navy with meat and vegetables, McKenzie undertook to supply bread and biscuit in 1858, and in 1860 he entered into a regular contract with the commander-in-chief of hm Pacific Squadron to supply 10,000 pounds of biscuit within 24 hours of demand and an unlimited quantity within 14 days. The navy’s demand for bread was so great that it took all of the wheat McKenzie could supply from his own farms, and he was forced to import wheat from Oregon. Despite protests from local bakers in Victoria, McKenzie continued to hold the navy’s bread contract until his death in 1874 except for a brief period in the mid-1860s. He installed an engine and biscuit machines at Dallas Bank on Esquimalt Harbour. He also sold breadstuffs to the HBC for its ships, and during the British Columbia gold rush he advertised breads and crackers for sale at San Francisco prices when a loaf of bread sometimes sold for as much as $3 in Victoria.
During this period, Craigflower became a social centre for naval and colonial officials, and the McKenzie girls were much courted by visiting officers. When Lady Jane Franklin [Jane Griffin] visited Victoria in the spring of 1861 the season’s most colourful social event was the picnic in her honour at Craigflower.
The farm at Craigflower was not large enough for both cropland and pasturage for the sheep from which McKenzie hoped to get a profitable wool clip. In 1855 he established a sheep station at Lakehill, near Christmas Hill, north of Victoria; and in 1856 and 1857 he acquired lands there in his own name along with 825 acres for the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company’s new Lake District farm known as Broadmead.
Craigflower began to show small and intermittent profits after 1857, but the agricultural company remained concerned by McKenzie’s “confused and incorrect” accounts. Despite the fact that Craigflower was its only profitable farm, it became increasingly critical of the capital debt charged against the operations. In 1861 McKenzie’s second five-year contract as bailiff was cancelled and he was given a two-year lease (renewable on a year-to-year basis for a total of five years) on the cultivated acreage of the farm with the rent set at £500 per annum so long as he held the naval bread contract. If McKenzie lost the biscuit contract, the rent was to be halved. The livestock and implements of husbandry at Craigfiower were to be sold, and McKenzie’s Lakehill farm was used as security for his purchase of the stocks of flour, biscuit, growing crops, and equipment. At the termination of this contract, McKenzie was to leave Craigflower. In 1864, McKenzie, still beset by financial problems, was notified that his lease on Craigflower farm would terminate on 31 Oct. 1865; on that date he mortgaged his Lakehill and Dallas Bank properties to the company to secure his indebtedness to them of more than £3,000. He moved his family to Lakehill during 1866. Although the company was patient, the burdensome debt plagued him for the remainder of his life.
Kenneth McKenzie’s position and experience led him to accept minor legal positions and to assume leadership in the agricultural community. He served as a justice of the peace from 1853 to 1855 and again from 1867 until his death. During the 1860s he was a road commissioner for the Esquimalt District and for Victoria, and in 1871 was appointed to the Court of Appeal for the Esquimalt and Metchosin Road District. In 1861 he was a founder of the Vancouver Island Agricultural and Horticultural Association, serving at various times as director and president. In 1865 McKenzie, considered to be a protectionist, was a candidate for the legislature, but he stepped aside in favour of John Ash*, a free trader. Again in 1869 he supported protection and opposed confederation with Canada in seconding the nomination of James Lowe as a candidate for the Legislative Council.
McKenzie died at his home of heart disease. Beset by the effects of overcapitalization in a developing economy, he nevertheless had done a great deal to encourage agriculture and milling on Vancouver Island as the colony moved from the limitations of the fur trade to become the entrepôt for the mining rush and the base for Britain’s Pacific naval operations. So far as the company was concerned, its agricultural enterprise on Vancouver Island was a “mistake” conducted at “fearful expense,” but families such as the McKenzies “did much good to the colony in the shape of keeping it at a high standard of civilization . . . .”
PABC, Kenneth McKenzie papers (catalogued collection and unsorted uncatalogued collection); Robert Melrose, “Royal emigrant’s almanack concerning five years servitude under the Hudson’s Bay Company on Vancouver’s Island” (copy of a diary, August 1852-July 1857, handbound). British Colonist (Victoria), 21, 22 March, 8 June, 5 Sept. 1861; 10 March 1862; 24 July 1863; 11 June 1864; 6 June, 12 July, 29 Sept., 2, 21 Oct. 1865; 6 June 1866; 3 May 1867; 19 March, 29 July, 21 Oct., 30 Nov. 1869; 5 Feb., 26 March 1871; 11, 15 April 1874; 8 April 1884; 15 June 1897. N. de B. Lugrin, The pioneer women of Vancouver Island, 1843–1866, ed. John Hoise (Victoria, 1928). S. G. Pettit, “The trials and tribulations of Edward Edwards Langford,” BCHQ, XVII (1953), 5–40.
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Cite This Article
William R. Sampson, “McKENZIE, KENNETH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mckenzie_kenneth_10E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||William R. Sampson|
|Title of Article:||McKENZIE, KENNETH|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1972|
|Year of revision:||1972|
|Access Date:||March 21, 2023|