Victoria to Vimy The First World War Collections at the University of Victoria Libraries

J. B. Clearihue


Scholar, Soldier, Judge: Joseph B. Clearihue made an enduring mark on the city of Victoria. Despite the fact that the city still had unpaved streets and few educational opportunities during his youth, he was able to achieve academic success at Victoria College and Vancouver College, at McGill University, and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. As a civic leader, his greatest achievement was helping Victoria College achieve full university status.

The photographs, diaries, postcards and letters in this collection reveal not only the story of Joseph Clearihue, his education, war service, and law career, but also that of Victoria, a city that went through remarkable changes during Clearihue's lifetime.

Joseph B. Clearihue photograph: portrait in academic dress


Joseph Badenoch Clearihue was born in Victoria in 1887 to a pioneer couple who arrived in British Columbia in 1859. He was educated at home until entering Boys' Central School in 1896 and subsequently, Victoria High School. 

Clearihue was one of seven members of the first class of students enrolled at Victoria College in 1903 and continued his education at Vancouver College. As there was no degree granting institution in British Columbia at that time, both Victoria College and Vancouver College were affiliates of McGill University in Montreal.


McGill and Oxford

Due to the family's financial setbacks, Clearihue needed to find work to support his student life. His various jobs included selling newspaper subscriptions for the Daily Colonist, working in a fish cannery in Esquimalt, as shoe clerk, and a teacher.

In 1909 he was able to enroll in McGill University to study Economics and Political Science. While there, he kept active in sports including Rugby and Rowing, and participated in Debate and Mock Parliament.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Clearihue started pursuing his long-held goal to become a lawyer. He applied for and received a scholarship from the British Columbia Rhodes Scholarship Committee, and enrolled in Jesus College, Oxford University in 1912. By 1914 he successfully completed a Bachelor's degree in Civil Law.



Despite the political instability in Europe during the summer of 1914, Joseph Clearihue decided to spend a few months studying languages while visiting Paris and other spots on the continent. However, war was soon declared and Clearihue, anxious to return home and sign up to fight, found passage back to Canada. He writes about the start of war in the journal pictured here.

Upon his return to Victoria he was able to secure a commission and was posted on permanent duty at Fort Macaulay as part of the Pacific Coast Defence--in place to protect the region from attack by German submarines. He remained there until the spring of 1916 when he signed up with the 62nd Battery Canadian Field Artillery for overseas service.

Joseph B. Clearihue photograph: Petawawa military camp, Ontario
Joseph B. Clearihue photograph: Clearihue mounted on horseback

Training and deployment

On May 28, 1916, Clearihue sailed from Victoria to Vancouver in the same cohort as Archie Wills, continuing on to Petawawa Camp near Ottawa, Ontario. At Petawawa, he trained with horses, in the use of field guns, and at the firing range.

Just three months later, they boarded the Cameronia, arriving in Liverpool, England on September 22, 1916. Training in artillery and signalling at Witley Camp and Larkhill, Salisbury Plains followed. In the fall of 1917, the 51st Battery departed for France and encountered their first fight at Lievin on September the fifth.

Joseph B. Clearihue photograph: group at honorary degree conferral, 1958

After the war

Clearihue returned to Victoria after the war and in addition to establishing a law practice, served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (1920-1924) and as Victoria Alderman (1925-1928). In 1932, Clearihue became solicitor for the Bank of Toronto in Victoria, a position he held until being appointed to the Bench in 1952.

Throughout his career, Clearihue continued his support for and association with Victoria College. It was after his retirement from the Bench in 1962, however, that he focused his efforts to bring about university status. With the backing of the Premier of British Columbia, Clearihue drafted legislation to that effect, and on July 1, 1963 Victoria College became the University of Victoria, with the ability to grant degrees for the first time.

Joseph Clearihue's unpublished memoir, "A century of Canadian pioneer life," was consulted for the preceding narrative. The memoir provides a fascinating history of Victoria and its university during his lifetime. A printed copy is available at UVic Special Collections. A digital copy can be accessed through the British Columbia Historical Books Collection.

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