Nanaimo’s first mayor was indefatigable and unforgettable.
Mark Bate helped write the city’s history, figuratively and literally, as a pioneer, businessman, politician, musician, historian, husband and father.
His bust can be found near the harbour and his cornet is kept at the Nanaimo museum, but it’s his top hat, also at the museum, that perhaps symbolizes him best of all.
Bate came from a middle-class family in Birmingham, England, but in Nanaimo, he was a gentleman and a leading figure.
“He was a man about town,” said Christine Meutzner, manager of the Nanaimo Community Archives.
Bate, born in 1837, immigrated to Canada along with his sister, aunt and cousin on the Princess Royal, arriving in 1857. He worked as a clerk with the Hudson’s Bay Company, then as a manager with the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Co. after it bought out HBC’s coal operations. Bate was a major player and employer in creating an industry and community atop Nanaimo’s coal beds.
In the city’s first mayoral election in 1875, Bate defeated James Harvey, 118 votes to 101.
Victory and concession speeches were made, and then, after the meeting was adjourned, according to an article in the Nanaimo Free Press, “the friends and supporters of the mayor elect lifted him shoulder high and carried him through the town, cheering as they went.”
The defeated Harvey commented on voters’ choice, saying “that time would show who were right,” but as it turned out, voters chose Bate time after time. He went on to serve 16 one-year terms as mayor.
It was a period when Bate and the citizens of the era were building the foundations of a freshly incorporated municipality.
“The actual regulation of the town, he was in on the very early phases of it, making sure that we get the goods and services that we now think are normal to have,” Meutzner said. “Since he was here so early and he lived so long, he really was here from the very embryonic, very early stages of Nanaimo development to when it was really well and truly established.”
Over the years, Bate was a justice of the peace, chairman of the board of education, president of the Nanaimo Literary Institute, conductor of the Nanaimo Brass Band and a member of several service clubs.
He was married in 1859 and had five sons and five daughters, then in 1901, four years after his first wife’s death, he remarried. Bate died during a trip to England in 1927.
He is remembered in the region in a few different ways, beyond his bust on the waterfront. Mount Mark rises above the shores of Horne Lake near Qualicum Beach, Newcastle Island has both a Mark Bay and a Bate Point, and the drive at Nanaimo City Hall is called Bate Lane.
These tributes show that Nanaimoites remember Mayor Mark Bate, and take their (top) hats off to him.