Grant, Walter Colquhoun (1822-1861)

Grant was born into a military family in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1822 and at age 24 was named a captain in the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys). Upon retirement from the army in 1848 he entered into an agreement with the Hudson’s Bay Company to bring settlers to Vancouver Island and paid for the passage of eight men from London who were to establish and operate a farm in the new colony while he turned his attention to surveying the lands adjoining the Fort. ‘Grant’s Men’, as they came to be known, arrived at Fort Victoria on the last day of May, 1849 and had two full months to become restless and ill-tempered before Grant arrived on August 8. From his first day in the colony, Grant insured that he would be a much talked about figure throughout the two years of his residency. Father Lempfrit described the day of Grant’s arrival as a ‘red-letter day’ for he brought with him mail from Europe including five letters for the priest, one of which was from his ‘beloved mother’. Angus MacPhail, the fort’s dairyman, also had cause to remember Grant’s arrival for, as he walked the few kilometres to the Fort from Clover Point, where his canoe landed, Grant shot and killed one of the fort’s best milk cows mistaking it for a buffalo. Nevertheless, the following week Grant and his men, guided by James Douglas and Joseph McKay, set out in a pair of canoes for ‘Soke', some 40 kilometres to the west where they selected a site and began clearing land. Grant, it seems, had anticipated the clearing project would yield abundant raw material for a sawmill and promised lumber to some San Francisco interests who dispatched a ship to Fort Victoria in September expecting to load Grant’s lumber. Though, eventually he was able to establish a mill on his property it would be well into 1850 before he produced lumber in marketable quantities. By October of 1849, Grant was reported to be settled at ‘Soke' Harbour (though it would be May of 1850 before a treaty was concluded between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the indigenous people of ‘Soke’) where he and his men had cleared thirty four acres and built some ‘log houses for present use’. He was then expected to take up his surveying duties nearer the Fort. However, it wasn’t long before the tension between his two main tasks became apparent and his shortcomings as a surveyor were noted. In fact it was November 22 when Eden Colvile who had visited Grant at ‘Soke’ in late October wrote: “I am inclined to think that it will be necessary to send out a surveyor, as it appears to me that Captn. Grant, allowing him to be a good practical surveyor, of which I am somewhat dubious, will have quite enough to do attending to his own property…” For Grant, things took a turn for the worse only two weeks later when Colvile wrote: “His flightiness amounts almost to lunacy, & if the island is not surveyed till he accomplishes it you will have to wait some time.” Grant acknowledged the isolation of his farm made travel to and from Fort Victoria, where he was engaged as a surveyor, to be arduous and time-consuming and it also imposed a hardship on the naturally gregarious and social Grant who wrote: “I soon got tired of my own society & except when a stray ship came along the coast, never saw a creature save my own men and a few rascally Indians.” He resigned from this position in March of 1850 but agreed to complete the work he had already begun which included a map of the area which, though flawed, was an improvement of the one produced by Adolphus Lee Lewes in 1842. He then turned his attention to building a water-powered saw mill. This provided the youthful and restless Grant with extensive travel opportunities as he went in search of markets for lumber. Eventually, however, the isolation of his estate at ‘Soke’ became too much for him and he sold his property to John Muir and left the island in 1853. Four years later, Grant presented a lengthy paper titled "Description of Vancouver Island" to the Royal Geographical Society in London in which, despite his claim to having good relations with indigenous people, is notable for his conclusion that they weren't "worthy [of] the inquiry of an ethnologist". After leaving Vancouver Island, Grant rejoined his old regiment and was on his way home to Britain from India when he contracted dysentery and died on August 27, 1861.


  • Bowsfield, Hartwell, ed. Fort Victoria Letters (1846-1851). Winnipeg: Hudson's Bay Record Society, 1979.
  • Gordon, Katherine Made to Measure: A History of Land Surveying in British Columbia. Winlaw, B.C.: Sono Nis Press, 2006.
  • Gough, Barry M.. "Grant, Walter Colquhoun." Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
  • Hendrickson, James E. “Two Letters from Walter Colquhoun Grant” B.C. Studies, Vancouver, Summer, 1975.
  • Layland, Michael The Land of Heart's Delight (Early Maps and Charts of Vancouver Island). Touch Wood Editions, 2013.
  • McKay, Joseph William. “Last of the Mullachard Grants” The Daily Colonist, Victoria, April 28, 1935.
  • Meyer, Patricia (ed.) Honoré-Timothée Lempfrit, O.M.I.: His Oregon Trail Journal and Letters from the Pacific Northwest, 1848-1853, Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1985.
  • Rich, E. E., ed. Eden Colvile's Letters (1849-52). London: The Hudson's Bay Record Society, 1956.
Graham Brazier