R.W. Bro. William Stewart (1834-1904) was one of the leading Freemasons of 19th century Vancouver Island. He was a Charter Member of Caledonia Lodge No. 478, a Charter Member and 1st Worshipful Master of St. John’s Lodge No. 21 and District Deputy Grand Master of District 5, which encompasses the Nanaimo area.
Here is some biographical information on R.W. Bro. William Stewart (1834-1904), taken from various sources:
“THE LATE WILLIAM STEWART
The obituary notice published last week of the late William Stewart, Chief of Police, who died suddenly in the court house on Wednesday during the progress of the assizes, was incorrect in several particulars, the emendations given below being obtained from sources of information to which access has since been obtained. The late Mr. Stewart was born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 15, 1834 and had therefore just completed his 70th year when called hence. His father was a soldier in the Rifle Brigade, First Battalion, but Mr. Stewart himself, so far as can be ascertained, was never in the service. He came out to the province in the early sixties attracted by the gold discoveries, and spent some time in Cariboo. In 1866 he was appointed a provincial constable under the Vancouver Island government and continued as such after the union of the two colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. His beat included Comox, which he visited every month, and extended as far to the south as Cowichan. His duties were multifarious. he was collector of school and revenue tax, he made out the voters’ lists and upon occasion he took the census of the population of whom he was the guardian of the peace. He also acted as jailer when necessary. As the work extended other constables were appointed but he remained the head of the force in this district, although the formal title of Chief was not used until 1893, when he became officially known as Chief Constable and Jailer. In 1899 the latter title was raised to that of Warden, and Chief Constable and Warden he remained until his death, which occurred as already fully told, while he was at his post on active duty.
In 1880 the late Mr. Stewart was offered the Indian agency at Cowichan by the Dominion government, but declined the appointment which was accepted by the late Mr. Lomas.
The deceased gentleman became a Mason while a young man, becoming a member of St. John’s No. 562 in Charlottetown, P.E.I. in 1858, that Lodge then being under the Grand Lodge of England. After his arrival in this province he signed the petition for the formation of Union Lodge of New Westminster.
When he settled down in Nanaimo he was largely instrumental in the founding of Caledonia Lodge, under the English charter [note: this is wrong. Caledonia Lodge was under the Grand Lodge of Scotland], of which he was one of the charter members and the chair of which he occupied as Master. In those early days another Lodge was formed, the two amalgamating as Ashlar Lodge, No.3, under a charter granted by the new Grand Lodge of British Columbia. Of this lodge also Mr. Stewart occupied the chair. About eleven years ago he became the first master of St. John’s, a lodge formed at Wellington. Mr. Stewart kept a very careful record of Masonic events and there is in existence a complete history of Masonry in Nanaimo compiled from notes he had taken. He also kept memoranda of every public event of importance including every sudden or mysterious death to occur within his own territory, all of which, if preserved, should form splendid material for the historian of Nanaimo who will one day appear to perform a task which many of the older inhabitants of the city would like to see brought to a successful issue.
Mr. Ralph Stewart, a son of the deceased, is at the post office at Lethbridge, and not on the jail staff as previously stated, and another son is named Albert and not Alfred.
WITH MASONIC HONOURS
As befitting a Mason of many years standing, a Past Master of Ashlar and St. John’s lodges, and Past Junior Warden of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia, the remains of the late Chief Stewart will be interred with full Masonic honors. The three local lodges, Ashlar, of which he was a devoted member for many years, St. John’s of which he was one of the founders and was the first master and of which was the mentor and adviser to the last, and Doric, will follow the body of the old Master Mason to the grave. The pall bearers will be six Past Masters, Messrs. F.McB. Young, M. Bate, S. Drake, John Frame, Geo. Thomson and Alex Grant. The Grand Lodge will be represented by Messrs. E.B. Paul, Victoria and W.W. Lewis of Nanaimo.
The cortege will leave the Lodge room at 1:30 p.m. to-morrow and proceed to the residence of the deceased gentleman, Newcastle Townsite. The procession will then go to the cemetery, pausing at St. Paul’s Church where the Anglican Burial Service will be read by the Rev. C.E. Cooper, M.A.
The Masonic ritual will be read at the graveside.”
(Source: Nanaimo Free Press obituary and Nanaimo Community Archives files.)
William Stewart is buried in Bowen Road Cemetery, Nanaimo, B.C.
We received the photo below from Rod Stewart (not the singer), a descendant of William Stewart. The photo shows the William Stewart grave circa 1904. The broken column on the top of the grave is a common feature of Masonic graves. A similar broken column was originally on the nearby grave of Samuel Hudson but we do not know what happened to either column. It is likely both grave markers were targeted by vandals at some point, along with other Masonic graves in Bowen Road Cemetery including those of Joseph Foy and Mark Bate.
The photo of William Stewart below appears courtesy of St. John’s Lodge No. 21 in Ladysmith, B.C.
Rod D.C. Stewart has done historical research on William Stewart and has allowed us to use his research, which appears below:”
Descendents of William and Harriet Ann (Sabiston) Stewart, of Nanaimo, BC
(Compiled and edited by Rod D.C. Stewart; Oct. 2017)
William Stewart was born May 13, 1834 in Halifax, England and emigrated in about 1841 as a young lad with his parents (father’s name also William). They landed originally in Halifax, then farmed in Charlottetown PEI. He grew up and became a Mason as a young man. In about 1858 at age 24 he left Charlottetown travelling by ship down the east coast, across the Panama Isthmus by railway, then by ship up the west coast to Victoria, lured by the Caribou gold rush.
He moved from Victoria to Nanaimo in about 1866, where he was appointed the first police Constable of the area, and ultimately held the position of Chief of Police from 1874 until his sudden death (while on duty) on May 18th 1904, having just turned age 70. He was laid to rest in Bowen Rd. cemetery after a large procession of about 150 lodge members, his 5 surviving sons, town dignitaries, and several senior officials from Victoria marched behind the hearse wagon to the burial site, accompanied by many more wagons thereafter. It must have been quite a sight. There is a large red granite headstone placed in his (& 3rd son Charles) honor. William belonged to several Masonic lodges including Ashlar, and Caledonia lodges. [note: He was also a Charter member of St. John’s Lodge No. 21, Ladysmith, B.C.]
William was instrumental in saving several historical buildings from destruction, one being the “block house”, or Bastion, which overlooks the harbour to this day. He was well known and highly regarded within Nanaimo, and Stewart Ave as you come off the [Departure Bay] ferry is named after him.
In 1867 William married Harriet Ann Sabiston. (Though she had an Anglo name, she appears to be 50% native ancestry, quite possibly Cowichan.) They had six boys, and Herbert Duncan Reynard Stewart (“HDR”, my grandfather) was the 2nd born on Aug 22, 1873.
Their names (in order of DOB):
- Vernon William Stewart (b. 1871; lived in Victoria then Nanaimo after 1933) [note: Vernon Stewart was a Freemason. We will add a page about him to this website in due time]
- Herbert Duncan Reynard Stewart (b. Aug 22, 1873; d. Jan 2, 1957; age 83) [note: also a Freemason. We will do some research and add a page about him in due time]
- Charles Edward Stewart (b. 1875, died in an accident 1891; age 16)
- Wallace David Stewart (b. ~1877; may have died about 1905 in his 20’s)
- Albert Stewart (b. ~1880; of Mssrs. Bennett and Stewart in Nanaimo)
- Ralph Victor Maurice Stewart (b. ~1882; worked for a time at the post office in Lethbridge, lived in Departure Bay in 1957; likely the last surviving son)
The oldest son Vernon William Stewart (b. 1871) is shown on the 1904 Nanaimo voters list as a machinist (Age 33.) Father William is not shown on this list, as he had already died by this time. Vernon then moved to Victoria and joined the fire department, becoming Deputy Chief by 1909, and Chief shortly thereafter. After retiring from the Victoria Fire Department in 1933 he moved back to Nanaimo, and was alive until at least 1953, age 82. He was a member Noble of the Order of the Shrine, Gizeh Temple and a retired Knight Templar.
HDR had left home about 1900 and was living in Medicine Hat, AB by 1903; at age 30. Charles died young in an accident in 1891. Wallace died in his 20’s apparently. Albert, of whom little is known, may have moved out of the area by 1904, as he is not listed in the 1904 voters list. Who knows? The youngest son Ralph V. M. Stewart is thought to have been living in Departure Bay at the time of HDR’s death in 1957; as he is mentioned in the obit. He would have been mid 70’s at the time. Their mother Harriet survived HDR’s death in 1904; her DOD is not known.
There are likely more Stewart’s descended of the other surviving sons (Vernon, Albert & Ralph at least) on Vancouver Island, maybe Lethbridge, and who knows where?
Back to William’s parents; they are thought to buried in what is now known as Sherwood Cemetery just on the northern outskirts of Charlottetown, PEI. William Sr. may have died about 1857-59. His wife is known to have died in April 1860, though her name is not known. I have a letter written to William Jr. in Victoria, dated May 1860, wherein the writer (a Mason friend) advises William of his mother’s death and that she had been laid to rest beside his dad in Brackley Point Road cemetery, as it was known then. Not much else is known about them. They are rumoured to have originated in Scotland, but the exact whereabouts is not known.
As a young man HDR Stewart first became a Mason in Nanaimo, then joined the CPR as a mail handler. In the early morning hours of April 29, 1903 he was sorting mail in the mail car of a train parked at the mining town of Frank, AB, at the base of Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass. At 4:10 AM a gigantic rock slide occurred, which buried the mine, a large part of the town, and the railway tracks heading east. Knowing that a passenger train from Lethbridge was westbound and would have no way of knowing there had been a slide, he and the brakeman grabbed lanterns and in the dark of night clambered across the debris field and eastwards along the track. When the westbound train came into view they were able to flag it down to a safe stop before it hit the slide debris, and thereby probably saved many innocent lives. (This tale was told to me by Harriet Lynch-Staunton, and augmented with information contained in a letter written by HDR to his mother Harriet Ann, relating the story.)
Later in 1903 HDR was working in Medicine Hat, AB, where he met his wife to be, Ada Jane Collier (b. July 7, 1878). They were married in Sept 1904, had 2 daughters and a son, and by 1913 they moved to Calgary where HDR worked for the post office for the remainder of his career, retiring in 1938 as the Chief Postal Inspector. After moving to Calgary they had one more son while living at 1726-11 St. West. The children in order of DOB:
- Harriet Ellen (Stewart) Lynch-Staunton (b. Dec 14, 1905 Med. Hat; d. Feb 8, 2000)
- Alyce (Stewart) Watkin (b. Dec 04, 1907 Med Hat; d. Aug 31, 1988 Calgary)
- Lewis Everard Stewart (Norah) (b. Nov 21, 1912 Med. Hat; d. July 10, 1997 Edtn.)
- Herbert Collier Stewart (Pamela) (b. Jan 24, 1919 Calgary; d. May 31, 1957 Germany)
Ada Jane died young on Aug 13, 1921 apparently of cancer, age 43. In Oct 1923 HDR subsequently remarried Lovinia May Thornber (b. 1882), who was a registered nurse and had not been previously married. After retiring in 1938 they moved to Vancouver for a few years, then in 1947 to Victoria. Lovinia died in Feb 1956 at age 74 and was buried in Victoria; whereupon HDR moved to Didsbury in Oct 1956 (to be near Harriet & Hardwick), and died Jan 2, 1957 at age 83. He is laid to rest with Ada Jane in Union Cemetery, beside Spiller Road in south Calgary; in Section T, Block 7, Lot 12….
For the four children of HDR & Ada’s, the years 1921 to 1957 must have been a rough stretch. In 1921 their birth mother Ada passed, though Herbert was only 2 at the time. Then in Feb 1956 their step mother Lovinia passed, then less than a year later in Jan 1957 their dad passed.
Then on May 31, 1957 Wing Commander Herbert C. Stewart (the youngest) was killed in an unfortunate RCAF flying accident in Zweibrucken, Germany, at age 38. He is buried in the Royal Canadian Airforce Cemetery in Choloy, France (which is just west of Toul), along with several hundred other Canadian airforce personnel lost in Europe during the cold war years. Each year in Calgary from Nov 1 through the Remembrance Day weekend some 3400+ crosses are displayed along Memorial Drive just west of Center St, beside the Bow River, commemorating the lives of Calgary-born servicemen lost during the wars and the cold war era. The cross of H. C. Stewart AFC is displayed proudly alongside his fallen brethren.
Of the other 3 children born to HDR and Ada, Alyce passed away in Calgary in 1988, leaving one surviving daughter Frances, now living in Palm Desert; Everard in Edmonton on July 10, 1997 at age 84 (no children), and Harriet in Didsbury on Feb 8, 2000; at age 94 (no children).”
Our thanks to Rod Stewart for this information on the Stewart family.
Would you like to leave a comment or question about anything on this page?