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Charles E. Spring (1859-1938) was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, and moved with his family to Victoria in 1867. He was the oldest son of William Spring, a pioneering sealer and trader in British Columbia. Spring attended the Collegiate and James Bay schools in Victoria, as well as St. Louis College. Spring worked for the Hudson's Bay Company from the age of 17, until 1884, when he joined his father in the sealing industry. Following the death of his father that same year, he took over the sealing business at the age of 24. Spring’s fleet at that time included the schooners “Kate,” “Onward,” “Alfred Adams,” and “Favourite.” In addition to his sealing interests, Spring owned several small steamers at Victoria. His business partners included Captain Alexander McLean and Peter Frances.
Spring married Agnes Loretta Dowdall in 1890. Despite the fact that Spring was active in the Presbyterian Church of Canada, he left the church and converted to Catholicism, his wife’s religion, upon their marriage. Although they built a house on Kingston Street in Victoria, they spent their early married life in Kyuquot, B.C., where Spring had a trading post.
In 1885, United States cutters began seizing vessels caught sealing in the North Pacific in order to protect their sealing interests in Alaska. In 1886, Spring’s vessel “Onward” was seized, resulting in a loss of $12,000 of assets. In order to ease tensions between the United States and Great Britain over the Bering Sea controversy, a temporary agreement (the “Modus Vivendi”) prohibiting pelagic sealing in the Bering Sea for the 1891 season was put in place. The “Modus Vivendi” was then renewed for the 1892-1893 sealing season. The resulting loss of revenue financially ruined Spring, who was sued for nonpayment of bills and wages, and lost the vessels “Favourite” and “Kate,” as well as his Kingston Street residence, among other assets.
In 1898, as a result of the 1896-1897 Bering Sea Claims Commission, Spring received a settlement of $33,906 from the United States for financial losses caused by the seizure of the “Onward” and the initial “Modus Vivendi” in 1891. However, settlements were not awarded for losses suffered due to the extension of the “Modus Vivendi” during the 1892-1893 sealing season. Spring continued to pursue his claims for these losses and became an active spokesman for other sealers in their claims. Among his many attempts at receiving settlement, he submitted his claims to a royal commission set by the Dominion Government in 1913 to investigate claims by sealers for compensation for loss of their trade resulting from sealing treaties of 1893 and 1911. The commissioner, Louis Arthur Audette, determined that Spring’s claims were invalid, his losses having occurred prior to 1894.
Following the collapse of his sealing business, Spring became a trader out of Kyuquot for five years before moving back to Victoria and taking up farming. He later moved to Seattle, but returned to Victoria in 1911 to go into the motor-boat business, before moving to Vancouver in 1920 where he lived until his death. Spring died from bronchial pneumonia in Vancouver on February 11, 1938 at the age of 78. He was survived by his wife, one son, four daughters, and three sisters.
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MacGillivray, D. (2008). Captain Alex MacLean: Jack London’s sea wolf. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Murray, P. (1988). The vagabond fleet: A chronicle of the North Pacific sealing schooner trade. Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis Press.
Williams, G. O. (1984). The Bering Sea fur seal dispute: A monograph on the maritime history of Alaska. Eugene, Or.: Alaska Maritime Publications.
Wright, E. W. (1961). Lewis & Dryden's marine history of the Pacific Northwest: An illustrated review of the growth and development of the maritime industry, from the advent of the earliest navigators to the present time, with sketches and portraits of a number of well known marine men. New York: Antiquarian Press.
Adams, John. (2012, April/May). The building of Spring cottage. Homes & Living Victoria, 2(2), 38-42.
(1898, September 22). Sealing men’s money. Daily Colonist, p. 1.
(1938, February 14). Charles Spring, pioneer, is dead. Times Colonist, p. 11.
(1938, February 12). Capt. Charles Spring dead. Vancouver Sun, p. 14.
(1938, February 15). Capt. Spring passes away. Daily Colonist, p. 16.
(1938, February 12). Chas. Spring dead; born 1859 in B.C. Province, p. 3.
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. (n.d.). Charles Spring. Retrieved June 21, 2013, from http://web.uvic.ca/vv/student/st_andrews/spring_c.php