Peter John Leech
1828 - 1899
Leech was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1828 to Peter and Susan Leech.
When the detachment was recalled in November 1863, Leech, then holding the rank of 2nd corporal, took his discharge and remained in the colony. He worked on a contract basis for the British Columbia Lands and Works Department at New Westminster, and he also participated in several privately sponsored expeditions and exploratory surveys. In 1864 Leech was second in command and astronomer for Dr. Robert Brown with the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition (VIEE), which examined the resources of the southern part of the island; the following year he participated in the Big Bend exploring expedition to survey and map a route from Fort Kamloops to recently discovered gold deposits on the Columbia River.
In 1866 Leech was hired by the Western Union Telegraph Company for the line it was constructing to Europe through British Columbia, Alaska, and Asia. Fearing the transatlantic cable laid that July would fail as had its predecessor, the company saw the overland line completed from New Westminster to Kispiox (B.C.) by October. That winter Leech explored the desolate region between the Nass and Stikine rivers. However, the transatlantic cable proved successful and the overland project was abandoned.
Leech probably returned to Victoria in June 1867. Later that year or early in 1868 he was hired by the Hudson's Bay Company to determine whether its trading post near the mouth of the Stikine lay within British territory. The sale of Alaska to the United States by Russia had put an end to the long-standing agreement whereby the HBC could establish stations on Russian soil. Leech found that the post lay some 20 miles downstream from the boundary and, as a result, it was moved in June 1868. He once again returned to Victoria and remained in the service of the HBC for some fourteen years, first as a postmaster and later as a clerk, rising to be in charge of the Esquimalt post. During this time he married Mary Macdonald (1873) and they had one daughter.
After it was closed down in the spring of 1883, Leech applied for the position of city surveyor in Victoria, an appointment he received on March 12, 1884. He became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and built a large house for his family overlooking Beacon Hill. Following his wife's death in 1892, he returned to private practice as a land surveyor. While in Bella Coola to survey a town site, he was appointed Justice of the Peace.
Leech's aptitude for mathematics did not diminish with advancing years. Shortly before his death in 1899 he published a set of simplified astronomical tables. His reports and journals reflect the significant contribution he made to early exploration and mapping in British Columbia, but they unfortunately reveal little about his personality. He is probably best remembered for his participation in the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition, which discovered paying quantities of gold in a tributary of the Sooke River. Both the river and the mining town, (Leechtown) which grew up on it, were subsequently named after him. Peter Leech died on June 6, 1899 at the age of seventy-one.
Hill, Beth. Sappers: The Royal Engineers in British Columbia. Horsdal & Schubart. Ganges, B.C. 1987.
Leech, Peter. "The pioneer telegraph survey of British Columbia" British Columbia Mining Record. Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. 1899.
Spittle, John D. "Peter Leech." Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol 12. University of Toronto Press. Toronto, Ontario. 1990.
Frederick. Travel and Adventure in the Territory of Alaska. John
Murray. London, England. 1868.