Collection RBSC-ARC-1761 - Oscar Orr collection

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Oscar Orr collection

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Physical description

59 cm of textual records and other materials

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Biographical history

James Oscar Fitzalan Harley McConnell Orr was born July 27, 1892, on the Red Pheasant Cree Reserve, which is south of North Battleford in Saskatchewan. He was the first son and fifth child born to Oscar Fitzallan Orr and Alvretta McConnell. At 10 years old, Oscar ran away for 3 years and joined the circus and rode the rails down to Galveston, Texas. In 1908 he joined his mother in Vancouver and would become a lifelong resident of the city.

In 1914 Oscar married Marjorie McMillan with whom he had two sons, Oscar Jr. and Alexander. When war broke out Oscar enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy but due to seasickness he was discharged. However shortly after he joined Tobin's Tigers, the 29th Battalion based out of Vancouver. In September 1915 The Battalion went to Belgium and on July 16, 1916, Oscar was hit by shrapnel and evacuated from Ypres, France, to England. During this time he spent time at the King Edward VII Hospital in London and also at the homes of the Duke of Norfolk and Mrs. Margaret Greville, the richest woman in England at the time. He had tea with King George V and Queen Mary at the palace.

In October 1916 he returned to Canada and was called to the bar in November. What followed was an extensive career in law, becoming Vancouver's City Magistrate and serving on the Canadian War Crimes Commission in Japan in 1946. In 1945 Oscar became a King's Counsel and the next year was made a member of the British Empire. He retired in 1962, and Vancouver made him a Freeman of the City and Oscar served on the Oakalla Prison parole board for many years. In 1988, he became the second person to receive the Law Society Begbie Award from the Law Society of British Columbia and in 1990, he became a member of the Order of British Columbia.

Oscar was very interested in history, keeping an extensive library of historical documents and his family history. He lived until he was 101, and died November 1, 1992.

Custodial history

The records were kept by Oscar Orr's daughter, who donated the collection to UBC Rare Books & Special Collections in September 2016.

Scope and content

The collection contains records related to Oscar Orr’s career in law, his professional and political affiliations, and records relating to his role as a prominent resident in the province of British Columbia. There are also historical records that Orr gathered as part of his collection. The collection consists of five series: British Columbia records; American records; Canadian provinces and politics records; Britain and Europe; and Books and miscellaneous records. The series contain correspondence, autographed clippings and notes, invitations and miscellaneous documents of prominent political individuals, businessmen, and royalty.
The series British Columbia records contains Orr’s correspondence with prominent and political members in British Columbia in the early to late 1900s. The series includes the autographs of BC political members as well as prominent BC court officials. Also includes a letter from Dan Cranmer of Alert Bay regarding a possible potlatch. The series American records contains documents and autographs of prominent US political, literary, and war figures. Records in this series date back to the 18th century and were part of the collection Orr gathered as part of his interest in history. The series Canadian provinces and politics records include early 19th century documents relating to the Canadian political landscape as well as Orr’s own correspondence with Canadian politicians and court officials. The series Britain and Europe contains records and autographs of British and European political, literary, and military figures, dating back to 1698. Books and miscellaneous records include books, newspapers, photographs and other records from Orr’s collection that relate to his interest in history.

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The records in this collection were arranged by the archivist but mostly follows the geographical arrangement that the records arrived with at RBSC. File names were created by the archivist.

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  • English
  • French

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Books that arrived with this collection will be catalogued separately.

Orr also donated materials related to the 29th Vancouver Battalion CEF to the City of Vancouver Archives.

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An accrual of one box was gifted to UBC in 2017.

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Photographs stored in box 5

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Includes 15 photographs

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The collection was described and processed by Jessica Tung and Jacky Lai from December 2016 to January 2017.
The finding aid was updated by Ashlynn Prasad in November 2017.

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