Henry Edward Seelye, 1819-1876

March 27th, 2021 1 Minutes
The Kootenay Landing Customs House ca. 1880 in modern day Baker Park Cranbrook B.C. Seelye was posted as the pioneer Collector of Customs for Her Majesty’s Customs Service – Image courtesy of the Cranbrook Archives

One of Cranbrook’s first residents passed away 145 years ago on March 27, 1876. Henry Edward Seelye was born at St. George, New Brunswick, 1819, to a family of United Empire Loyalists. He took those political commitments forward into the actions of his life.

Henry married Lucretia Dawes Howe in 1843. Both families were politically well connected in Eastern Canada. The Seelyes moved west into what is now B.C. about 1861, going first to the Cariboo and then down to Victoria. Henry found work as a journalist with the British Colonist newspaper.

In 1868 there was a growing concern in the west that the United States might annex the landmass of what is now British Columbia. 

Kootenay Landing Customs House ca. 1880 (allegedly built by Michael Phillipps). Modern day Baker Park, Cranbrook B.C.

Henry E. Seelye made a motion at a large public meeting in Victoria that a committee be formed to ensure British Columbia’s inclusion in the Dominion of Canada. He carried that particular concern of the committee’s back to Barkerville, at that time a bustling town with the Cariboo gold rush.

In 1870 Seelye accompanied the western politicians to Ottawa as a “People’s Delegate,” lobbying for the inclusion of B.C. and the right to form a “Responsible Government.” Acting in his role as reporter, he wrote to the British Colonist: “Terms agreed upon: Delegates are satisfied Canada is favourable to immediate union and guarantees the railway.”

As a result of his political work, Seelye was posted in June 1872 to Joseph’s Prairie as the pioneer Collector of Customs for Her Majesty’s Customs Service. Michael Phillipps is reported to have built the log cabin in what is now Baker Park in central Cranbrook.

Henry Edward Seelye passed on March 27, 1876, from injuries thought to have been sustained in pursuing his duties. So, one of the central players in this province’s political history finally came to rest in Cranbrook’s Old General Cemetery.

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