Helmcken, John S.
b. 1824-06-05
d. 1920-09-01
Doctor John Sebastian Helmcken was a prominent and important figure in British Columbia from the union of Vancouver Island with BC to confederation with Canada.
In his youth, Helmcken attended an English and German school in London.1 He apprenticed as a druggist and chemist in 1839 and began his medical studies in 1844 at Guy's Hospital in London.2 Towards the end of medical school, Helmcken travelled on the Hudson's Bay Company ship Prince Rupert as a surgeon, and after graduating (in 1848) he spent 18 months aboard a vessel travelling through India and China.3
In 1849 Helmcken was posted as a surgeon and clerk with the HBC, and in 1850 he arrived in Esquimalt to begin his life on Vancouver Island.4 James Douglas was the Chief Factor of the HBC upon Helmcken's arrival, and he stationed the doctor first at Fort Rupert, and then at Fort Victoria.5 Helmcken and Douglas would remain close; Helmcken married Douglas's eldest daughter, Cecelia Douglas, in 1852.6 In 1855 he transitioned from medicine to politics, becoming a speaker of the legislature and remaining in this post until the unification of the Colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island in 1866.7 Helmcken was discerning and decisive, which allowed him to thrive as a politician and be popular with voters.8 One of only three confederation delegates to represent British Columbia during discussions in Ottawa, he fervently fought for good and fair terms for British Columbia upon their union with Canada.9
After Confederation in 1871, Helmcken retired from politics and returned to his post as a surgeon for the HBC, though he continued to work behind the scenes during the first few years of BC's political life as a Canadian province to ensure proper support and treatment of British Columbians.10 Helmcken then became director of the Royal Hospital in Victoria, (known today as the Royal Jubilee), and eventually became the first president of the BC Medical Society.11 He died on 1 September 1920 at ninety-six years of age. After his death, Helmcken's House was turned into a museum to commemorate his achievements and the profound mark he left on Vancouver Island and British Columbia.12
  • 1. Daniel P Marshal Helmcken, John Sebastien, Canadian Dictionary of Biography.
  • 2. Royal BC Museum, Dr John S Helmcken 1824-1920, RBCM.
  • 3. Marshal Helmcken, Canadian Dictionary of Biography; Eric J. Holmgren Helmcken, The Candian Encyclopedia.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Helmcken, Royal BC Museum.; Marshal Helmcken, Canadian Dictionary of Biography.
  • 9. Eric J., Holmgren Helmcken, The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  • 10. Marshal Helmcken, Canadian Dictionary of Biography; Holmgren Helmcken, The Candian Encyclopedia.
  • 11. Marshal Helmcken, Canadian Dictionary of Biography; Holmgren Helmcken, The Candian Encyclopedia.
  • 12. Holmgren Helmcken, The Candian Encyclopedia.
Mentions of this person in the documents
People in this document

Douglas, James

Vessels in this document

Prince Rupert

Places in this document

British Columbia


Fort Rupert, or T'sakis


Vancouver Island