George Walkem: Cariboo Lawyer and Politician

George Walkem: Cariboo Lawyer and Politician

George Walkem: Cariboo Lawyer and Politician

It’s hard to believe that a Canadian trained lawyer would be denied to practice law in British Columbia, but such was the case for George Walkem.

The Walkem family emigrated from Ireland to Canada East (Quebec) in 1847, when George was thirteen. His father was a member of the Royal Engineers. After he graduated from school, George attended McGill College in Montreal where he studied law. Walkem was called to the bars of both Upper and Lower Canada in 1858 and 1861.

As soon as Walkem heard about the Cariboo gold rush, he ventured west. At first, Walkem advertised his services a lawyer, but Chief Justice Begbie would not hear of allowing Canadian trained lawyers. As a result, Walkem plied his trade unofficially.

Perhaps as a result of being denied his profession, Walkem became interested in politics and no doubt fought to have his education recognized. In 1863, Governor James Douglas passed the Legal Professions Act which allowed non British lawyers to practice. This made a huge difference for Walkem and his business grew.

In 1864, Walkem was elected to the Legislative Council as a representative for Cariboo East which included the gold rush town of Quesnel Forks. From 1862 to 1865, the Cariboo was divided into two parts, Cariboo East with a Gold Commissioner at Quesnelle Forks, and Cariboo West with a Gold Commissioner at Williams Creek (Richfield).

Over the years, Walkem rose in political stature. After British Columbia entered Confederation, he held the position of chief commissioner of Lands and Works, followed by a term as attorney general. From 1874 to 1882, Walkem served as the third premier of the province.

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