Arthur W. Vowell

A.W. Vowell was born in Ireland on September 17, 1941 to Richard and Elizabeth Vowell as the twelfth of thirteen children. He joined the Irish militia where he served in garrison duty in England until 1860. Vowell arrived in Victoria via the ship Isthmus of Panama through San Francisco in 1861 and headed for the gold mines of the Cariboo. He tried for a time, without success, to succeed in his endeavors until he exhausted his resources and returned to the coast where he took up manual labour.

Vowell joined the civic service in 1864 and was appointed as a Chief Constable in 1866 and then became the gold commissioner of the Kootenay district. In 1873 he was transferred to the Omineca District and in 1874 to the Cassiar District where new gold was found. He left the public service in fall of 1874 and was elected a member of the provincial legislative assembly as senior representative from the Kootenay District. He left his seat in the legislature in 1876 and returned to the Cassiar gold fields as a commissioner and stipendiary magistrate until 1884 when he was transferred to the Kootenay District until 1889. In 1898 he took over the position of Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the province of BC from I.W. Powell. When Vowell accepted the position relations between the provincial and federal governments were tense and adversarial. The position of reserve commissioner had also been folded into that of the Indian Superintendent. The province viewed the federal government and Vowell’s office as interfering with the province’s Indian land policies. In his early years he allotted reserves in the north eastern regions of the province in the Nass, Bella Coola, and Chilcotin regions. Under Vowell’s management the situation became unmanageable when in 1907 the province refused to approve the allotment of any more reserve lands. During his tenure he had little ability to maneuver given the position of the provincial government but tried his best to continue reserve allocation. If the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works did not approve his allotments there was little he could do. With relations between the governments continuing to dissolve Vowell resigned in March 1910 and was the last to allocate reserves before the McKenna-McBride Commission.

In addition to this role he was requested for special assignment to bring law and order to the city of Vancouver during riots and racial tension in 1887. He took charge of the municipal government with the aid of an inspector and forty constables to restore order to the city. He was a member of the Royal Arch Masons and also belonged to the pioneer society. He died in 1918.


  1. Gosnell, R.E. A History of British Columbia. Victoria [?]: Hill Binding Co, 1906.