Robert Burnaby

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Robert Burnaby
Robert Burnaby.gif
Born November 30, 1828
Woodthorpe, Leicestershire
Died January 10, 1878(1878-01-10) (aged 49)
Woodthorpe, Leicestershire
Residence Victoria, British Columbia
Employer Richard Moody, self
Spouse(s) never married
Parent(s) Reverend Thomas Burnaby and Sarah Meares

Robert Burnaby (November 30, 1828 – January 10, 1878) was a merchant, politician and civil servant in British Columbia. The city of Burnaby, British Columbia is named for him, as well as at least ten other urban and geographical features, including a mountain, a lake, a park, a Haida Gwaii Island and a street in Vancouver.

Burnaby was born in Woodthorpe, Leicestershire and arrived in British Columbia in 1858 after a career in the civil service in London. On the strength of his recommendation by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Col. Richard Moody decided to hire him as his personal secretary. Though he served in this role only briefly, he played a part in planning the settlement of the towns of Queensborough, Hope and Yale. Burnaby also explored the area around Burnaby Lake, which Moody decided to name after him.

Within a year or so, he founded a commission trading business with his friend Edward Henderson, in Victoria. Due to high risk, speculation in a coal mine in Burrard Inlet that never materialized, and a recession, it folded in 1865. He then went into real estate and insurance. In 1862 he contended that he had a claim prior to that of the "Three Greenhorn Englishmen" to what is now known as the West End of Vancouver, but Judge Chartres Brew dismissed the documents he produced as forgeries, "obviously written by a liar or a knave." [1]

Soon after his arrival in Victoria, Burnaby ran for the Legislative Assembly. He was elected as the member from Esquimalt and Metchosin, and served for five years.

Burnaby was active in Freemasonry, and a key figure in its development in British Columbia. In 1860 Burnaby helped to found Victoria Lodge No. 1085, the first Masonic lodge in what is now British Columbia, and was elected its first Past Master.[2] When a District Grand Lodge for British Columbia was formed in 1868, under the Grand Lodge of England, Burnaby headed it as District Grand Master. At first he opposed a plan put forward by lodges affiliated with the Scottish Grand Lodge to form an independent Grand Lodge, but seeing growing tension between English and Scottish lodges, he later agreed to put the matter to a general vote. Finding wide support, he tabled the motion to create the new Grand Lodge of BC on October 21, 1871. Burnaby refused the post of Grand Master due poor health, but was elected first Past Grand Master.[3]

Burnaby helped found the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, and was president of the Amateur Dramatic Association of Victoria. The well-connected Burnaby was a close friend of many prominent figures in the region, including the Judges Matthew Baillie Begbie and Henry Pering Pellew Crease, gold commissioner Thomas Elwyn, and Col. Moody.

The most lasting contribution Burnaby made to British Columbia may have been to simply lend his name to its maps. When the area around Burnaby Lake was later incorporated in 1892, the new municipality also chose the name Burnaby. An island and a narrows in the Queen Charlottes are named for him, as well as a street, a hill, and a park in the Lower Mainland. In all, at least eleven urban and geographical features in BC bear his name.[1]

Burnaby's failing health lead to his retirement in 1869 and his return to England in 1874. He died in 1878.


  • History of Burnaby from City of Burnaby website.
  • Robie L. Reid, Historical Notes and Biographical Sketches 1848 - 1935 "Bio of Robert Burnaby" at Grand Lodge BC & Yukon website
  • Madge Wolfenden, "Robert Burnaby" at Dictionary of Canadian Biography online, 2000
  • Tom Snyders with Jennifer O'Rourke, Namely Vancouver: A Hidden History of Vancouver Place Names (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001)


  1. ^ a b Snyders, 49
  2. ^ Reid
  3. ^ M.W. Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of British Columbia and Yukon, The Freemasons and the masonic family of British Columbia, (Vancouver, 1995)[1]