Living in the City of Victoria (and its surrounding municipalities) we pretty much take for granted the names of our streets, buildings, parks and in particular our sports’ trophies and awards. We generally have little concern or knowledge as to where these names came from and to who these people were. The R.P. Rithet Cup (annually awarded to the Playoff Champions of the Victoria Mavericks Baseball League) was first awarded in 1922 and has a namesake that is probably unknown to most of us.
The fourth son of farmers John Rithet and Agnes Paterson, Robert was born in Applegarth, Dumfriesshire, Scotland on April 22nd, 1844. Before coming to Canada in 1862 the young Scotsman served for a time in a merchant’s office in Liverpool, England. Soon after arriving in Victoria, B.C. (1862) he joined the Cariboo gold rush. R.P. Rithet later returned to Victoria in 1865 where he held various jobs. In 1869 he secured a job as a manager and bookkeeper for Sproat & Co. and later moved to San Francisco to manage the company from there. It was also in San Francisco where he had made numerous business contacts that in turn contributed to his later success. Eventually he moved back to Victoria and co-founded Welch Rithet and Company. The company was later re-named R.P. Rithet and Company after the death of Andrew Welch. R.P. Rithet and Company (established in 1871) were importers and commission merchants for liquor and groceries. He soon became a prominent figure in Victoria and was one of the city’s foremost businessmen.
In 1875 he married Elizabeth Jane Hannah Munro who was the daughter of retired Hudson’s Bay Company Manager Alexander Munro. The Rithets had three children in which he later built a house named ‘Hollybank’ (originally 952 Humboldt) as a wedding gift for his eldest daughter Gertrude. This large and elegant Italianette villa was set in formal gardens with tennis courts, stables and a croquet lawn for recreation. Renamed the ‘Beaconsfield Inn’ it is now an elegant ‘Edwardian’ Heritage building and is currently run as a ‘Bed & Breakfast’. Mrs. R.P. Rithet owned Victoria’s first electric car in 1910. She also had a reputation of being a lady who (on occasion) took little or no notice of traffic signs, horses or pedestrians and left in her wake a scene of frustrated policemen and total chaos.
R.P. Rithet’s shipping and commercial interests resulted in him founding the Victoria Wharf and Warehouse Company for the purpose of constructing the ‘Outer Docks’ in James Bay in the 1890′s. The outer wharves enabled ‘deep-sea’ vessels such as the ‘CPR Empress’ to dock in Victoria as the Inner Harbour was too small to accommodate these larger vessels.
In addition to the number of ships that were named in his honour, R.P. Rithet also has two parks that are currently named after him. ‘Rithet Park’ (that includes croquet lawns and several bocce courts) located in Crockett, California and ‘Rithet’s Bog’ located in the Municipality of Saanich, British Columbia. The ‘bog’ was originally included in the 1200-acre purchase made by R.P. Rithet in 1893. Rithet’s Bog is now a 42-hectare Nature Sanctuary that is now being conserved and restored to optimize its biodiversity and recognize its heritage value for the benefit of present and future generations. He later named his new farming company ‘Broadmede’ farm (established in 1899) after one of his famous racehorses. The area (now spelled ‘Broadmead’) is currently a residential neighbourhood that is located in the Royal Oak area of the Municipality of Saanich. He also owned other large farms in the Delta area of B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
R.P. Rithet also served as Justice of the Peace (1873), Mayor of Victoria (1885 – 1886), an M.L.A. (Conservative Party) for Victoria (1894 – 1898), a principal promoter of the British Pacific Railway Company, an active President of the Victoria Board of Trade, President and shareholder of the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, President of the Victoria Canning Company, Vice-President of the Albion Iron Works, President of the California and Hawaii Sugar Refining Company and Consul-General in Victoria for Hawaii.
R.P. Rithet died in his home on March 20th, 1919 at the age of seventy-four, his wife in 1952 at the age of ninety-nine.