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WAKEHAM, WILLIAM, physician and office holder; b. 30 Nov. 1844 at Quebec, son of George Wakeham and Mary Davidson; d. unmarried 20 May 1915 in Gaspé, Que.

William Wakeham was the second of the nine children of George Wakeham, who served as the first administrator of the Asile de Beauport and in 1864 founded the Belmont Retreat, a clinic for the treatment of alcoholics. William began his secondary studies at the High School of Quebec, and then enrolled in Victoria College in Cobourg, Upper Canada, but he returned to his native city and entered the School of Military Instruction of Quebec. Subsequently he took medicine at McGill College in Montreal, graduating with an md in 1866.

His education completed, Wakeham moved to Gaspé, where he practised his profession for about ten years. On his return to Quebec in 1876 he became the medical director of the Belmont Retreat. He was particularly interested in certain symptoms of alcoholism and in 1878–79 he published the results of his research into the uncontrollable need to drink experienced by some individuals.

Wakeham returned to the Gaspé in 1879 after the federal government appointed him inspector of Canadian fisheries in the Gulf of St Lawrence and Labrador [see Pierre-Étienne Fortin*]. In this capacity he was responsible for the protection of fishing on the high seas and of the coastal settlements, and had to write an annual report on the fishing industry. Holding the powers of a police commissioner, he could hear the complaints of fishermen and the owners of fishing companies. He was authorized as well to enforce Canada’s maritime laws and monitor the implementation of international conventions. It was also his job to issue fishing permits and to support the actions of public officers serving on the Atlantic coast. He had other involvements of a broader nature, particularly in his capacity as a physician.

Because of the expertise he acquired over the years, Wakeham was ideally suited to deal with the disputes over boundary waters that arose between Canada and the United States in the late 19th century. On 6 Dec. 1892 an agreement was reached which led to the formation of an international commission. On 13 January of the following year, the Privy Council of Canada appointed Wakeham co-chairman of the commission, to serve with Richard Rathbun of the United States Department of Fisheries. Work began on 2 March and continued for more than three years. Wakeham and Rathbun studied the Atlantic and Pacific fishing grounds of both countries and analysed the potential of the boundary waters in the interior of the continent. They also took an interest in fishing techniques and in ways of preventing pollution of the marine environment. Their studies would serve as the basis for a future international fishing agreement.

During this period the Canadian government wanted to obtain more information on the state of’ commercial navigation in Hudson Strait. In April 1897 the minister of marine and fisheries, Louis Henry Davies*, put Wakeham in command of an expedition charged with reassessing the span of time during which the strait was free of ice and with asserting Canadian rights over Baffin Island and the Arctic Archipelago. Wakeham faithfully fulfilled the second part of his mission by proclaiming Canadian sovereignty over these territories at Kekerton, Baffin Island, on 17 Aug. 1897. The following year the minister turned to him again, appointing him commissioner to investigate the complaints of pilots who navigated in the upper St Lawrence. Wakeham carried out this assignment in cooperation with deputy minister François Gourdeau and Mr Justice Joseph Lavergne.

In 1909 parliament asked Wakeham to do a study of the lobster industry, which in economic terms was the most important branch of fishing in the country next to salmon. Developmental problems were being experienced and it was important to know whether the lobster-canning industry could be protected and the survival of the species ensured at the same time. Wakeham carried out this investigation with the superintendent of fisheries, Robert Norris Venning. As a result of their work, a national policy was developed to encourage lobster fishing and to put in place better monitoring systems so that the industry’s future would be secured. This commission was Wakeham’s last official assignment for the government. He returned to Gaspé and moved into One Ash, a comfortable residence he had fitted out since 1880. Later he occasionally went back to work as a fisheries inspector.

“Bluff, handsome, weather-beaten by a thousand gales . . . ,” William Wakeham “knew the coast, its natural and its human history, as no one else could,” according to palaeontologist John Mason Clarke, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to write his memoirs. Wakeham was, in sum, the kind of office holder who is devoted to his work and ready to serve his superiors in any field within his competence. He was able to carry out his assignments without seeking fame. A man of duty, but modest, he preferred peaceful country life to a flamboyant career. His name has, however, been given to nine geographical features, in Hudson Strait, the Saguenay, New Quebec, and Gaspé.

Mario Mimeault

William Wakeham is the author of Report of the expedition to Hudson Bay and Cumberland Gulf in the steamshipDianaunder the command of William Wakeham, Marine and Fisheries Canada, in the year 1897 (Ottawa, 1898).

AC, Gaspé (Percé), État civil, Anglicans, St Paul’s Church (Gaspé, Que.), 23 May 1915. ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 25 déc. 1844. Musée de la Gaspésie (Gaspé), Coll. Marcel Lamoureux. NA, RG 23, 323, file 2750, pt.2; RG 42, 48; 327; 336, file 13205A. Private arch., K. H. Annett (Sainte-Foy, Que.), W. J. Topley, photo of William Wakeham; Marcel Lamoureux (Gaspé), Photographic copy of photo album of Wakeham’s 1897 expedition. Univ. of Ottawa, Morisset Library, A0031 (231 photos of Wakeham’s Arctic expedition). K. [H.] Annett, “William Wakeham, m.d.c.m.,” SPEC (New Carlisle, Que.), 7, no.19 (13 May 1981): 14–15. Monique Bourget, Le Ash Innet l’essor de la villégiature à Gaspé (Gaspé, 1990). Can., Dept. of Marine and Fisheries, Annual report (Ottawa), 1879–1914. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). J. M. Clarke, L’Île Percée, the finial of the StLawrence or Gaspé flaneries . . . (New Haven, Conn., 1923), 116–17. Directory, Que., Prov. of, 1871. Mario Mimeault, “L’Arctique canadien: W. Wakeham, précurseur de J.-E. Bernier,” L’Escale (Québec), no.12 (decembre 1985–janvier 1986): 45–48. E. E. Prince, “Fifty years of fishery administration in Canada,” American Fisheries Soc., Trans. (Washington), 50 (1920–21): 177–78. C.-E. Roy et Lucien Brault, Gaspé depuis Cartier (Québec, 1934). Chantal Soucy, “Le ‘One Ash,’ résidence de William Wakeham,” Gaspésie (Gaspé), 24 (1986), no.4: 32–41. U.S., Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Report of the commissioner (Washington), pt.19 (1893): 12, 20–22, 64–65; pt.20 (1894): 87–89; pt.21 (1895): 77–79; pt.22 (1896): 102–3 .

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Mario Mimeault, “WAKEHAM, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wakeham_william_14E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wakeham_william_14E.html
Author of Article: Mario Mimeault
Title of Article: WAKEHAM, WILLIAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1998
Year of revision: 1998
Access Date: October 24, 2014