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First weathermen in BC were military men

January 22, 2015

The way the wind was blowin’

The earliest reports of severe weather conditions came from the memories of aboriginal people who had lived through them. Written records were kept by Hudson’s Bay Company employees. Weather knowledge was critical to survival and for knowing when to travel.Governor James Douglas was reported to have kept a "weather book" from the age of 17.

Official weather observations, to be shared and published, were first kept in British Columbia by the military forces of the United States and Great Britain.

Weathermen of Camp Semiahmoo

The first official meteorologists in British Columbia were the United States Army surgeons assigned to the US Army escort at Camp Semiahmoo, established in July 1857. Under a protocol instituted by Joseph Lovell in 1818 to track the relationship of climate and disease, army surgeons were required to keep meteorological registers. This led to the establishment of the US Weather Bureau in 1870.

Company F, Ninth Infantry, US Army was stationed at Camp Semiahmoo in 1857 to provide protection for the North West Boundary Survey.

beach at  Camp Semiahmoo

Lewis Taylor

The first medical officer at Camp Semiahmoo was Assistant Surgeon Lewis Taylor, whose term of service from July 1857 to June 1858 pre-dated the Colony.  Dr Taylor was next stationed at Fort Hoskins. He served during the Civil War and was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel "for faithful and meritorious services." Lewis Taylor died at Fort Wadsworth, Dakota Territory January 5, 1868.

John Hunter Berrien

JH Berrien, born December 27, 1835 in Savannah GA, graduated in 1856 and joined the army as a surgeon.  He was just  22 years of age when he came to Camp Semiahmoo in July 1858.  Doctor Berrien stayed until July 1859. His loyalty lay with the South and at the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the Confederate Army, serving as a medical director. After the war he moved to Mexico, where he  died at St Louis Potosi, March 18, 1868. He was unmarried.


Horace Raguet Wirtz

Doctor HR Wirtz served at Camp Semiahmoo from August 1859 to July 1860. Wirtz was born in Philadelphia, October 1, 1823.  He  served as US Army Surgeon at Steilacoom for 2 and 1/2 years during which time he achieved some notoriety for refusing to treat civilian members of Colonel Casey’s family, for which he was court-martialled. On his departure for Semiahmoo in August 1859 he was lauded for his devotion to medicine and his "literary acquirements and tastes of a high order."  Wirtz served as a Medical Director during the Civil War, promoted to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel and Surgeon in 1865. He  died at San Francisco January 24, 1874.

What’s that sound? According to ethnologist George Gibbs,  the local name for the large woodpecker inhabiting the vicinity  of Semiahmoo translates as "the doctor,"  so-called from its action resembling that of aboriginal doctors who tapped on the chests of their patients.

Weathermen of Queenborough Camp

The first Royal Engineers arrived at Langley in the Colony of British Columbia in November 1858. In February 1859 they moved downriver to Queenborough on the right bank of the Fraser River, a spot chosen chiefly because of the presence of the aforementioned U.S. forces on Semiahmoo Bay. Observations at the RE camp were taken by Sappers under the supervision of Captain RM Parsons from 1859 to 1863, when the military left the Colony.  AR Howse was the first observer, followed by John M Shannon, who died of disease in 1860 at the Camp hospital.  Later observations are credited to PJ Leech and J Conroy.

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