Memorable Manitobans: John Obed-Smith (1864-1937)
Lawyer, immigration official.
Born at Birmingham, England on 22 September 1864, son of Obed Smith and Isabella Spink, brother of Charles Smith, he was educated at Liverpool College. He came to Winnipeg in 1882 and farmed at Turtle Mountain. He returned to Winnipeg in 1883 and entered the law office of Munson and Allan who had recently arrived from Ontario. He remained with them for seven years, the latter five years under articles which were transferred to Attorney General Joseph Martin. He was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1891. He worked in the service of the Manitoba Government until 1899 when he resigned the positions of Deputy Provincial Railway Commission, Deputy Provincial Lands Commissioner, Right of Way Solicitor, Accountant of the House, and Secretary of the Board of Internal Economy. He assumed the position of Commissioner of Immigration in Western Canada under Sir Clifford Sifton’s administration.
In 1908 he was transferred by Frank Oliver, then Minister of the Interior, to take charge of immigration to Canada from Europe with headquarters in London, England. This position he occupied until his retirement in 1924. Commenting on his withdrawal from active service the Montreal Gazette of 16 April 1924 said, “In the course of his long career Colonel Obed Smith has been responsible for the immigration of many thousands of men, women and children in which he has not only dispensed with the use of ‘red tape’ but has infused his peculiarly delicate task with an amount of human sympathy and understanding which has brought to him the appreciation—one almost says the affection of thousands of families now happily settled and prospering in the Dominion.”
On 24 March 1896, he married Lillian Isabel Rose, daughter of H. B. Rose. They had three children: Barton Obed-Smith (b 1897), Doris Lillian Obed-Smith (b 1900), and Margaret Beryl Obed-Smith (b 1905, wife of Edward Richard Marcus Townsend). He was a member of the Overseas Club (London), Canadian Club (London), and Fulwell Golf Club (Hampton Court). In 1925, he lived at 50 Montague Road, Richmond, Surrey, England.
He died at Yokohama, Japan on 14 April 1937 and his cremains were buried in Richmond Cemetery, England. He is commemorated by the community of Obed, Alberta.
Birth and marriage registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.
Edward Richard Marcus Townsend (6C38), The Townsend (Townshend) Family Records.
Obed-Smith family albums, Manitoba Historical Society.
We thank Julia Harding and John Townsend for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 30 November 2017
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