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William W. Foster

(1875-1954) (courtesy Lindsay Elms)

William (Billy) Washborough Foster was born in Bristol, England in 1875 and educated at Wycliffe College, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire from 1887 to 1889. In 1892 at the age of seventeen Foster immigrated to Canada to work as an engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railroad in Revelstoke. In 1905 he became a Justice of the Peace and then in 1908 the Police Magistrate in Revelstoke. Foster entered the Parliament of British Columbia as Deputy Minister of Public Works in 1910. It was under his energetic administration that British Columbia gained a Dominion-wide reputation for the efficiency of its highway system. In 1913 Foster was elected a member of the B.C. Legislature.

Then came the first Great War, and he enrolled for service as Captain Foster of the Canadian Mounted Rifles. He became an infantry battalion commander in 1917, and in 1918 he had, as a Brigadier, the proud distinction of leading the Canadian Army into Mons. After four years service in France, Foster returned to British Columbia with three wounds and five ?mentions?. Few Canadian soldiers have had a more distinguished career then Brigadier Foster. He received the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) with two bars, the Military Cross and both the French and Belgian Croix de Guerre and is said to have refused the Victoria Cross (V.C.) for gallantry when commanding the 52nd Ontario Battalion on Paschendaele Ridge, requesting that it should go instead to one of his officers. It is not for nothing that a man is given such distinctions by three grateful countries. After the War, Foster visited his old Wycliffe College and gave the school the ?Foster Rifle? for competition for the best shot.

On his return to Canada he was appointed Honorary Colonel of the 15th Battalion Canadian Artillery and became President of an engineering firm. He was also the Honorary Aide-de-Camp to three Governor-Generals, President of the Canadian Legion, the Canadian National Parks Association and the Alpine Club of Canada from 1920 to 1924.

In 1935 he was appointed chief of the Vancouver City police department and on one occasion entered unarmed a building in which a gang of armed criminals had taken refuge, and personally arrested them. In 1937 Brigadier Billy Foster returned to Europe in charge of a large Canadian contingent which was attending the dedication to the Canadian War Memorial on Vimy Ridge. He again visited Wycliffe College where he was the Guest of Honour on Speech Day.

At almost sixty-five years old, Foster again served his country during World War II. He was appointed chairman of the Canadian Officers? Selection Board and later was promoted to the rank of Major-General in charge of the Northwestern area of Canada. For his services he received the Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (C.M.G.) With the ending of the war in 1945 he was asked to become head of the British Columbia Hydro-Electric Power Commission, a post he held until 1953, in which he was largely responsible for many great engineering projects which gave cheap power to British Columbia.

However, it was as a mountaineer the Billy Foster first gained national and international fame, when in 1913, with Albert MacCarthy and Conrad Kain, he made the first ascent of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Thirteen years later in 1925 he made the first ascent of Canada?s highest mountain, Mount Logan, with Albert MacCarthy, Allen Carpe, Norman Read, Fred Lambert and Andy Taylor. Although he will be remembered for those two ascents, he is also remembered on Vancouver Island as the man who initiated and organized the logistics, during the winter of 1911/12, for the Alpine Club of Canada expedition to the newly established Strathcona Provincial Park. This expedition, led by Edward Wheeler, made the first ascent of the Strathcona Matterhorn in August 1912 which they christened Elkhorn Mountain. Unfortunately, Foster couldn?t participate in the climb, but in his honour they named a peak near the head of the Elk Valley after him. Mount Colonel Foster is perhaps the finest mountain on Vancouver Island for technical climbing and seen some of the worlds best climbers attempting its summit.

William Washborough Foster died in Vancouver on December 2, 1954 at the age of seventy-nine leaving behind his wife, three sons and two daughters. At the time he was the Honorary President of the Alpine Club of Canada and the club said he was the man most deserving of a book on his life.

At Wycliffe College in England, Major-General William Washborough Foster is one of their most distinguished and most-to-be-admired of all Old Wycliffians, while in Canada, Foster is more than just a distinguished soldier. An editorial in the Vancouver Sun said: ?General Foster had every manly quality to command the respect and willing obedience of his officers and the admiration of the public. In addition he possessed that subtle presence by which a gentleman may be identified. ?All who knew him are proud to do him honour.?


In Memoriam. The Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 39. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1955. p. 52_53.

Wheeler, E.O. ?Mount Elkhorn, Strathcona Park.? The Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 5. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1913. p. 44-48.

Wheeler, A.O. ?The Alpine Club of Canada in Strathcona Park.? The Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 5. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1913. p. 82-95.

The Speech Day. The Wycliffe Star. Gloucestershire, England. August 1936. p. 13-17.

In Memoriam. The Wycliffe Star. Gloucestershire, England. September-December 1954. p. 4-5.

Additional obituary notice. The Wycliffe Star. Gloucestershire, England. January-April 1955. p. 10.