Born near Niagara Falls in 1843, Robert Burns McMicking made his way to British Columbia in an overland party headed by his brother Thomas McMicking in 1862. The party was motivated by the goal of reaching the gold fields of the Cariboo. When they arrived, Robert soon found work in the telegraph industry in which he had prior experience(1). After working for the Collins Overland Telegraph Company, McMicking joined the Dominion Government Telegraph company and he and his wife Margaret were transferred to Victoria in 1875.(2)Robert McMicking became the representative for the Bell Telephone Company. In the spring of 1878 he invited local notables to see the first telephone calls between the his office and the newsroom of the British Colonist. However, a conflict emerged for Robert because the Dominion Telegraph had no interest in selling telephones. Robert left the telegraph company and focused his energies on developing the Victoria and Esquimalt Telephone Company(3). The company began service in 1880 with thirty-six subscribers. By 1882 the number of subscribers had doubled, and by 1887 there were three hundred and fifty subscribers.(4)
When the city of Victoria became embroiled in a dispute with the Victoria Gas Company over the cost of gas lighting, McMicking suggested the city move to electricity for illumination instead. He then provided electric lighting by erecting lights at the top of three 150 foot poles erected in central Victoria. Later, he was involved in illuminating buildings as well.(5) Robert McMicking was the driving force for the adoption of electrical lighting and telephone services in Victoria, in fact, Victoria was only the third city in Canada to use telephone service.
Robert McMicking was extremely active in his community. Along with serving on City Council and the School Board, Mr. McMicking also was a Grand Master of the British Columbia and Yukon Masonic Lodge. His involvement with the church was also substantial. For twenty years he led the musical services of St. Andrew’s, he was regularly elected to the Board of Managers, was ordained as an Elder and became a member of session in 1890. He also was one of the congregation who pushed for the construction of the new church building that stands today.
(1) Overland from Canada to British Columbia, 58-59.
(2) Biographical Dictionary of Well Known British Columbians
(3) The Invisible Empire, 76-75.
(4) Dave Obee, “Telephone service quickly embraced,” Victoria Times-Colonist, Nov 23, 2008, p D11.
(5) The Kirk That Faith Built, 56.