Yates in Edinburgh
(1819–1900) was born in Linlithgow, Scotland. It is speculated his stepfather, A. Wilson, might have owned a boatyard where James was apprenticed as a shipwright. Yates subsequently contracted with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and was employed as ship’s carpenter on the HBC ship Prince Rupert
on her voyages to Hudson’s Bay. In 1848 he married Mary Powell, daughter of Welsh architect Evan Powell and Jane (Morris) Powell, of Montgomeryshire. Two weeks after their marriage the two sailed to Fort Victoria aboard HBC’s Harpooner
along with the first shipload of immigrants destined for the Fort Victoria in the new colony of Vancouver Island. Yates served as Harpooner’s
carpenter. They arrived at the fort in May of 1849.
The Ship Inn: Victoria’s First Saloon
In 1851, 18 months after his arrival at Fort Victoria, Yates terminated his contract with HBC and arranged to pay an annual fee of £120 for the colony’s first retail liquor license. This relieved the HBC of their liquor sales monopoly. Yates purchased waterfront lots 201 and 202, and built Victoria’s first saloon, the Ship Inn, at the corner of present day Yates and Wharf streets.
Between 1859 and 1860 Yates constructed his second building. Its current address is 1218 Wharf Street and its iron pillars still jut out over the sidewalk. The building’s lower level housed Yates’ second tavern and included a wharf and loading dock, useful in his import business.
Over the years Yates helped control the illegal sale of liquor to members of First Nations.
Land Owner, Activist, and Legislator
With encouragement from the unhappy first colonial governor, Richard Blanshard, Yates became a leader of an anti-HBC group that included Chaplain Staines, Captain Langford, and James Cooper. They drew up a petition with a list of complaints and dispatched it to the British parliament.
In 1856 Yates was elected to the colony’s first legislative assembly, along with Helmcken, Pemberton, Skinner, McKay, Muir, and Kennedy. His proposal to attach the Fraser River to Vancouver’s Island was a factor leading to the establishment of the mainland colony of British Columbia in 1858.
Yates established a number of thriving businesses, of which The Ship Inn was the most profitable. The Yates family moved into a house on 400-acre land holdings along the Gorge waterway, shortly before the town was inundated with miners hot on the trail of the Fraser River Gold Rush. In 1859, the HBC’s authority to act as land agent for the Crown ended when its contract to administer the colony expired without renewal. Yates, like many others, found himself struggling to sort out his land ownership claims that were left in disarray after the colony reverted to the Crown.
Yates returned to Edinburgh with his sons in 1864. Income from his Victoria investments was enough to keep the family comfortable for the rest of their lives. James Yates is listed in Edinburgh census records as landowner, fund holder, and generally known as a person of independent means. Two of the houses the Yates’ lived in were still standing in 1995.
Yates Street, Victoria’s first main street, was named for James Yates.
Maureen Duffus’s Families of Victoria