Edgar Dewdney’s Competing Agenda

“How did you come to know Mr. Lytton?”

“My father is a close friend of Charles Kerneys-Tynte, who as you know is a respected Member of Parliament. Subsequently, he introduced me to the Colonial Secretary E.B. Lytton. So here I am,” Dewdney gave a half smile.

“We are a new colony and there is much to do in the way of town planning which the Royal Engineers are busying themselves with,” Douglas scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps you could be the Colonial contribution to the planning of our newest settlement at New Westminster.  It would be good to have someone who could report to me what those Royal Engineers are up to.”

Pleased with himself, Dewdney went back to his hotel and with the help of one of Douglas’ staff, he procured an outfit similar to the one worn by the Sappers consisting of serge trousers and a serge shirt with pockets.

The next day, Douglas brought him to the wharf where Colonel Moody was about to board the steamship for the Fraser River.   Moody barely looked at Douglas while he introduced Dewdney.  On the ship, Moody told Dewdney to meet him after supper.

“I understand that Mr. Douglas wants you to help with the town’s layout,” Moody said without preamble. “This is all very good you understand, but seeing as you’re a civilian, you will be paid as such. Furthermore, you will report to me as your commander, not Mr. Douglas.”

“What salary will that be?”

Moody’s eyes flickered for an instant. “It depends on many factors, our budget for one.  I will let you know soon enough.”

He didn’t see Moody for the next three days so Dewdney took it upon himself to start surveying.  He didn’t have any equipment with him other than his sextant so he borrowed a telescope from one of the Royal Engineers.

He was hammering a wooden post into the ground when one of the engineers came around with Moody.

“I see you’re keeping yourself busy,” Moody said.

Dewdney stood up. “This would make a great road, don’t you agree?”

Moody looked around. “It’s too close to the Fraser River at this point. The river is known to rise precipitously with the summer freshets.  If you care to look at this draft, I believe this would make an excellent seaside park.”

Dewdney looked the two soldiers up and down.

“I believe the Governor’s instructions were to plan roads and that is what I intend to do. Look at this mess!” He gestured with his arm at the jagged stumps and fallen trees lying as far as the eye could see.    The first opportunity he had, he wrote a note to Governor Douglas, requesting to have better accommodation.

Within a couple of days, he received an encouraging reply asking for more information.  Over the course of the next few weeks,   Dewdney proceeded with his own plans and submitted them to the governor’s office for approval.

Several letters were exchanged back and forth and he noticed that Moody and his men left him to do his own planning without any further interference.  One morning, in the middle of June when the sun was shining after several days of rain, Dewdney was summoned to the main house for a meeting with the colonel and his lieutenants.

They were all silent when Dewdney arrived and none of them offered any greeting of any sort. Moody looked like he hadn’t slept in a while.

Moody surprised him by being conciliatory and commending him for his work so far.  “The governor has been so pleased with your plans that he has officially approved them.”

Dewdney smiled, “I’m very pleased to hear that sir.”

“I’m also offering you a proposition.  As you know we are in need of hay for the horses and I understand that there is excellent hay to be had from the valley east of here. We are quite willing to increase your salary substantially.”

Dewdney nodded as he listened to the terms of this offer.  The pay was substantially more than what he was currently earning as an engineer and he couldn’t help wondering if this was just a scheme to get him out of the way.

At the end of August, Dewdney was told the contract for hay had finished and he was no longer needed.  He took the next steamer to Victoria and asked to speak with the Governor.  He was told the Governor was busy and after walking around the house several times, he spotted Douglas puffing on his pipe in the garden, with his brows firmly crossed.

Normally, he would have waited for a more opportune moment, but Dewdney hadn’t heard from the Governor and he was getting anxious.

Unlike Moody, Douglas didn’t mind small talk and he wasn’t immune to flattery so Dewdney used both.

“I’ve just come back from Rock Creek,” Douglas said after a time.  “We can’t be having all these gold seekers travelling back to the American side of the border with all that gold dust. There’s a need for a good road there from Fort Hope. Do you think you could commit to it? I’m considering putting it out to tender.”

“Yes! I would be very eager to embark on such a project, your Excellency.”

“The Royal Engineers will be doing the bulk of the work of course. I don’t have much use for them but at least England is paying for them.  Everybody keeps saying there is so much gold out there but we’re not collecting revenues like we should.”

“If I were granted the tender, could I hire my own workers?”

“There is no guarantee that you will receive it, but if you think you can afford to do so, go ahead.”

The conversation left him doubtful, and on the advice of one of Douglas’ clerks, Dewdney submitted a proposal with the lowest possible bid.

He had pictured in his mind a road 12 feet wide, bridged and graded to allow wagon travel.  He didn’t know then that it would be the worst months of his life.

Not all the money was forthcoming as he had hoped; instead he was given a much smaller portion that would hardly cover his own needs rather than the supplies for a project of this scope. At Fort Hope he met some of the Sappers he was assigned to oversee.  Several of them had been with the border commission and brought along various types of astrological equipment.

Beyond Fort Hope was a river that cut through the mountains.  Dewdney proposed they follow this river. The idea seemed straight forward enough until it was realized the plateau above the river soon became a series of ledges.

“We’ll have to blast this out,” Dewdney said.

Immediately, the response was negative.

(to be continued)