Holbrook, Henry
b. 1820-07-11
d. 1902-05-11
Before his 1858 arrival in Victoria, Henry Holbrook worked as a merchant in Liverpool and contractor in Odessa, Ukraine during the Crimean War. After relocating to the colonies, Holbrook continued to thrive as a businessman. However, he also developed a passion for politics. Within months of his arrival, Holbrook moved to New Westminster and championed the mainland. During the early 1860s, Holbrook joined New Westminster’s municipal council and later became mayor.1
Despite his political involvement, Holbrook strongly opposed anything that resembled government censorship. For example, alterations to an 1862 winning essay led to vocal protests from the New Westminster politician. Holbrook, Henry Press Wright, and W.E. Cormack had originally judged the contest (whose theme was the capabilities, resources, and advantages, of British Columbia) and selected the winning entry.2 Later, colonial officials contacted the author and requested a shortened version that could be reproduced as promotional pamphlets. The new version offended Holbrook, who took exception to heavy edits in sections that criticized British Columbia. In protest, Holbrook and Cormack compared excerpts of the original and pamphlet versions in the local newspaper. Officials dismissed their concerns, however.
Holbrook continued his political career as a pro-confederate for the union of Canada. By 1864, he joined Seymour’s Legislative Council, and his presence helped tip the vote in confederacy's favour. Afterwards, Holbrook mostly concerned himself with the transcontinental railway, and argued in Ottawa that the route be built through the Fraser Valley. Holbrook also used his position to advocate for Indigenous rights: he constantly put forward motions that would protect and acknowledge Indigenous groups. Holbrook believed the government should respect Indigenous presences throughout the colonies. Unfortunately, he was almost always outvoted on these matters.3
While Holbrook’s political career advanced - taking more terms as mayor and acting provincial legislature for New Westminster - his business life flourished as well. Holbrook acquired a cannery business in 1874, which won a prize at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition. He later became chairman of the Salmon Canners’ Association, developed salmon hatcheries, and pioneered herring packing at Burrard Inlet.4
In the 1880s, Holbrook returned to England for health purposes and stayed there until his death on 11 May 1902. On news of his death, New Westminster put its flags at half mast. Although Holbrook never married, he had two children. His son - Thomas Ovens - followed in his father’s footsteps and became mayor of New Westminster from 1898 to 1899.5
Mentions of this person in the documents
The Colonial Despatches Team. Holbrook, Henry. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/holbrook.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)