MOWAT, THOMAS, businessman, pisciculturist, fisheries inspector, jp, and militia officer; b. 15 May 1859 in Dee Side, Bonaventure County, Lower Canada, third son of John L. Mowat and Elizabeth Moores; m. 16 Oct. 1888 Bertha C. Herrett in Petitcodiac, N.B., and they had a daughter, Blanche; d. 4 March 1891 in New Westminster, B.C.
After receiving private tutoring, Thomas Mowat attended public school in Campbellton, N.B., where he “received a thorough business training.” He began like his father in the lumber trade and became interested in the shipping business. He also gained experience in fish culture at the Restigouche River hatchery. During the 1870s and 1880s the Restigouche River was, along with other river systems of eastern Canada, the scene of a major conservation effort. The federal government, alarmed by declining runs of Atlantic salmon, sought to preserve and enhance the stocks by building hatcheries.
In September 1883 Mowat was hired by Alexander Caulfield Anderson*, dominion inspector of fisheries for British Columbia, to take charge of the first salmon hatchery in that province. Smaller catches of Pacific salmon in the early 1880s on the Fraser River, coupled with a decline in chinook salmon runs on the neighbouring Columbia River, prompted fears that the canning industry on the Pacific coast was overexploiting the resource. Fraser River cannery operators [see Alexander Ewen*] persuaded federal authorities to set up a hatchery instead of tightening fishery regulations. Built on a site across the Fraser River from New Westminster, the hatchery went into operation for the 1884 season. Two years later Mowat, widely considered an efficient officer, became fisheries inspector and head of the tiny dominion fisheries administration in British Columbia when George Pittendrigh, Anderson’s successor, was dismissed.
Mowat’s term was marked by tension between the federal authorities and the British Columbia cannery operators. The canners resented Ottawa’s active regulation of the fishery. In 1888, at Mowat’s urging, the Department of Marine and Fisheries proposed limitation of the number of fishery licences issued on the Fraser River. The contentious new policy, enforced during the 1889 season, favoured individual fishermen over the canners. In the uproar that followed, Mowat and the federal superintendent of fish culture, Samuel Wilmot, also a specialist in hatcheries, were accused of ignorance of local conditions – both believed, erroneously, that, like Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), the Pacific salmon (genus Oncorhynchus) spawned more than once. After Mowat’s death the limitation on individual licences would be abandoned on recommendation of an 1891 federal royal commission chaired by Wilmot, though cannery licences were still limited. This decision was to change the position of fishermen, most of whom would no longer work for the canneries for a daily wage but have their own licences and be paid for each fish delivered. The stage was thus set for a continuing conflict between fishermen and canners over fish prices.
Mowat’s professional career, though it would be brief, nevertheless marked a closer integration of the Pacific coast into the federal fisheries administration following the completion of the transcontinental railway. He was the first appointee from outside the province, chosen primarily because of his specialist qualifications. Though Mowat, like many other Maritimers of the period, had migrated to British Columbia in search of expanding opportunities, his move was aided by his social and educational advantages. Once in New Westminster, he quickly settled in as a member of the local élite. A Presbyterian, he held office in the St Andrew’s and Caledonian Society and the local masonic lodge. He also became a jp and a lieutenant in the militia. After his marriage to the daughter of a jp in Petitcodiac, the couple built a house on fashionable Park Row. Shortly before his sudden and untimely death from influenza he was considered, according to John Blaine Kerr, “one of the rising men of the Province.”
[In addition to the sources cited below, the author consulted the Herrett family bible in 1972, while it was in the possession of the subject’s daughter, Mrs Blanche Mowat Simpson, who died in 1981. Further genealogical information was provided in 1989 by Mr Graham Mowat of Portland, Ont., and Mr Glen Mowat of Fredericton. h.k.r.]
Can., Dept. of Fisheries, Annual report (Ottawa), 1886–90; Dept. of Marine and Fisheries, Annual report (Ottawa), 1880–85; Parl., Sessional papers, 1893, no.10c. Daily Columbian (New Westminster, B.C.), 1885–91. Mainland Guardian (New Westminster), 1885–89. Kerr, Biog. dict. of British Columbians.