Robert Patterson Rithet (1844 – 1919) was born in Cleuchhead, Scotland and at 15 apprenticed with a Liverpool merchant firm. He immigrated to British Columbia in 1862. During his first two years he prospected for gold and worked on road construction in the Cariboo district. In 1865 he was hired by the Vancouver Island shipping firm of Anderson and Company, becoming manager of its Victoria office when his employer, Gilbert Sproat, travelled to England later that year. In 1869 the firm sent Rithet to San Francisco to assess that city’s wholesale market. He returned to Victoria several months’ later, reporting poor prospects. The report made a good impression on Andrew Welch, a business associate of Sproat’s. In 1870 Rithet began working for J. Robertson Stewart Co., a Victoria shipping firm. When Stewart retired, Welch bought the firm and made Rithet his partner.
In 1871 Rithet established R.P. Rithet and Co. to serve as a Vancouver Island liquor and grocery importer and commission agent. The business allowed Rithet to establish extensive connections with the Hawaiian sugar industry.
In 1875, Rithet married Elizabeth Munro, the daughter of a retired Hudson’s Bay employee. The Rithets had three children and built Hollybank on Humboldt Street, with tennis courts, formal gardens, and stables.
In the 1880s shoaling waters off Shoal Point still denied ocean-going vessels from entering Victoria’s Inner Harbour. In 1883, to protect the city’s oceanic trade from the threat posed by Vancouver’s growing harbour, Rithet doubled and extended Victoria’s Outer Wharf, renaming them Rithet’s Piers. Dubbed Rithet’s Folly by Victoria’s shortsighted, the piers proved a great success for Rithet and extremely beneficial for Victoria. In 1898 he established the Victoria Wharf and Warehouse Company to handle the Piers’ burgeoning cargo trade. By 1910 an average of 75 steamships each month were calling at the Piers and freight handling and industrial firms began establishing themselves adjacent to the site. In addition to freighters bringing the world’s commodities and departing with the wealth of the island’s natural resources, passenger steamships brought thousands of immigrants to the island. To process the newcomers, the Dominion Government built its first West Coast immigration facility nearby and established a major quarantine station at William Head. All of this activity prompted the farmers of James Bay to subdivide their lands, creating Victoria’s first housing boom. The city soon extended its trolley line to serve the area. Rithet’s Folly, indeed!
By the late 1890’s Rithet was concentrating on his sugar business. In 1897, while serving as British Columbia’s consul in Hawaii, he made the most out of Hawaiian opposition to American annexation and the sugar trust by organizing the California and Hawaiian Sugar Refining Company, becoming its president.
Rithet maintained sizable farms in both Delta and Victoria, was a president of the Victoria Board of Trade, served as mayor of Victoria from 1885-1886, and represented Victoria as a member of the Legislative Assembly from 1894-1898. During his career he was involved in Victoria’s Albion Iron Works, the salmon-canning industry, the British Columbia Cattle Company, and the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, owned flour mills, and invested in real estate.