Dr. Israel PowellPowell River (the river, not the community) was named nearly 120 years ago after a very prominent citizen of British Columbia, Dr. Israel Wood Powell.
Dr. Powell was born on April 27, 1836 in Port Colbourne, Upper Canada. Raised in Simcoe, Ontario, he expressed an interest in medicine and upon graduation he was accepted at McGill University to study the field. In 1860, at the age of 24 Israel Powell graduated with a doctorate in medicine. Two years later, Dr. Powell decided to sail to New Zealand to practice medicine, but while passing through Victoria he fell in love with our province and decided to stay. Setting up practice in Victoria, he became the first graduate in medicine of McGill to practice on the Pacific Coast, and this notoriety attracted much attention, as well as patients.
He was elected to the House of Assembly from a Victoria seat and from this position he argued strongly for a union between British Columbia and the Canadas, in a time when B.C. was tempted to join the United States. Dr. Powell had strong ties to the East as his brother in Ottawa was assistant adjutant-general and his father was a good friend with John A. MacDonald. In 1867 he moved the main motion to support confederation and became vice-president of the Confederation league, in which capacity he remained until 1871 when B.C. officially became Canada's sixth province. His hard work had paid off and he was offered the position of lieutenant governor of B.C. or a seat in the Senate, both of which he declined. He did however accept the rank of lieutenant colonel in the militia in 1871. In 1872 he accepted the position of Superintendent of Indian Affairs for B.C. and for the next 17 years he fought to bring medicine and better education to First Nations people across the province. He was also honored to be selected as the first president of the Medical Council of B.C.
During the spring of 1881, while journeying up the coast of B.C. on a ship called the "Rocket," a large lake and short river were spotted on the shoreline and were named Powell Lake and Powell River in his honor.
A visionary, Dr. Powell saw B.C. continuing to grow, and imagined that Vancouver would soon be the center of the province's economy. He envisioned Vancouver as a great city before it was even a city, and it was he who convinced the Canadian Pacific Railway to change its Pacific terminus to what has become Vancouver. Throughout his life, Dr. Powell was a strong supporter of education and was instrumental in establishing free education across the province. In the late 1880's he lobbied for better higher educational facilities in B.C. and was one of those responsible for the passing of the act establishing the University of British Columbia in 1890. He was then chosen as the first chancellor of the university. In 1915, he celebrated his golden wedding anniversary with his wife Jane Powell, nee Banks, and their nine children. Less than a month later Dr. Israel Wood Powell passed away, at the age of 78.
Few citizens of British Columbia can compare with Dr. Powell in accomplishments or character, and he will always be remembered as a pioneer for the rights and freedoms of the people in this province. His name is remembered by streets in Vancouver and Victoria and by our small town, 140km northwest of Vancouver, where it is rumored that he never even set foot.