Amor De Cosmos
1825 - 1897
Amor De Cosmos was born William Alexander Smith in Windsor, Nova Scotia on August 20, 1825. He attended a private school in Windsor before continuing his studies at King's College School. Around 1840 the family moved to Halifax, where De Cosmos joined the Dalhousie College debating club, attended a grammar school by night and took a day job as a clerk in a wholesale grocer.
In 1852 he left Halifax to join the California gold rush traveling via New York and St. Louis. Once in California he began work as a photographer. It was while in California, in 1854, that he changed his name to Amor De Cosmos, out of his desire to express, as he said, his "love of order, beauty, the world, the universe."
De Cosmos moved to Victoria on Vancouver Island in 1858 and in December of that year founded a newspaper, the British Colonist. He used his newspaper as a vehicle to demand the union of the two west coast Colonies, (Vancouver Island and British Columbia), to campaign for responsible government, and to advocate Confederation. De Cosmos was an outspoken critic of the upper class in Victoria.
He ran for office twice before being elected to the legislative Assembly of Vancouver Island, where he served from 1863 to 1866. After the union of the two west coast colonies, he served in the Legislative Council of British Columbia from 1867 to 1868 and from 1870 to 1871.
Following British Columbia's entry into Confederation in 1871, De Cosmos was elected to both the new provincial legislature and the federal parliament. He maintained both seats until 1874, while also acting as a member of parliament. In 1879, frustrated by the slow progress on the transcontinental railway, he put forward a motion in the House of Commons calling for the separation of British Columbia from Canada. During the latter part of his career, he was also much concerned with racial issues in British Columbia. He left the Commons and public life in 1882, after losing in that year's federal election.
Amor De Cosmos was always considered an eccentric individual whose unconventional behavior increased in his later years. He was reported to be afraid of electricity and refused to have it in his house or even ride on electric streetcars. He became a heavy drinker and was known to be involved in street brawls. In 1895 he attempted to return to politics but was declared insane. He died two years later on July 4, 1897, at the age of seventy-two.
Today, Amor De Cosmos is still well remembered for his role in early British Columbia history as a politician and for the newspaper he founded which is still in existence. In his honour there is a peak on the north side of the Nanaimo River on Vancouver Island named Mount De Cosmos and a creek north of Campbell River called Amor De Cosmos Creek, both fitting reminders of the man who desired to express his love of the world he lived in.
Shelton. George. Ed. British Columbia and Confederation. Victoria. BC. Morriss Printing Company. 1967.