Born in Newmarket, Ontario, the son of John and Alice (Dixon) Townley, both of whom were natives of Lancashire, England, Townley was educated in the public schools of Newmarket and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1882 from the Trinity College, Toronto. He later studied law in Winnipeg and was called to the bar of Manitoba in 1886. He moved to Vancouver and started a law practice. From 1889 to 1910, he was registrar of land titles for the District of New Westminster. In 1901, he was elected mayor of Vancouver and served for one term. From 1886 to 1896, he served in the militia, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
- "British Columbia from the earliest times to the present". Internet Archive. 1914.
- "The History of Metropolitan Vancouver".
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