Taylor, Frederick Wellington (1883-1979)

Fred “Cyclone” Taylor, the prematurely balding inspector who shared an office with Hopkinson, was a hockey player as well as an immigration inspector—and much better known as a hockey player. Taylor was the dominant hockey player of his generation, and one of the first professional athletes to openly break the amateur taboo against taking money to play a game. Mid-way through his hockey career, cities like Toronto and Vancouver were building arenas with, for the first time, artificial ice surfaces; and the spectator sports era was on its way. Some of the early professional hockey players were richly rewarded. Taylor was one of them and in his twenties he had briefly been the highest paid athlete in North America. He was not a big man at 5 ft 8 inches, but stocky at a playing weight of 165 pounds and a superb skater who could go as fast backward as others going forward. His coaches created a special roving position for him to accommodate his speed, otherwise he moved too fast for his line mates. He was in demand as a hockey player in a freewheeling era when there were several professional leagues in Canada and the United States competing for the best players. He had shifted teams frequently, up to the time he came to Vancouver, playing in Ontario and Manitoba and very briefly in the eastern U.S. His talent ensured that there was always a league bidding for him, even though he had been thrown out of lacrosse (which he had played along with hockey) for punching a referee and had been fined $100 (a lot of money) and suspended by an eastern league for playing so poorly—in protest over a contract—that he was pulled from a game after twenty minutes.

For twenty games a year (which was all that professionals then played) Taylor got as much money as he did annually as an immigration officer (and he had earlier been paid five times as much for his hockey talents). But the civil service job was important to him, and not just for income and security, but also for social status. His wife’s parents had not been impressed with a hockey player from a small town in rural southwestern Ontario. When he had played for the Ottawa Senators, the team owners had got him a position in the Department of the Interior and that shored up relations with his in-laws:—they could say “their son-in-law the civil servant” rather then “the hockey player”; and when he was being recruited to Vancouver, he insisted on having a civil service job—otherwise no deal. He came to Vancouver in 1913 to play for the Vancouver Millionaires and to join the immigration department (which was a branch of the Department of the Interior). His best hockey years were ahead of him; and also a long service in the immigration department. In March 1915—seven months after the Komagata Maru left Canada—his team won the national championship (the Stanley Cup) by defeating the eastern champion in Toronto. He won five scoring titles in the Pacific Coast Hockey League before retiring in 1921 at the age of thirty-six. Of course he kept his immigration position which was paying him a comfortable $2,280 a year by 1923, and he rose in the service, eventually retiring as Commissioner of Immigration for British Columbia and the Yukon Territory.

When interviewed by the author at the age of ninety-one in October 1976, he was still skating occasionally at the Kerrisdale Arena, the Vancouver neighbourhood arena named after him, and regularly attending the games of Vancouver’s new professional hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks. He died two years later after a fall, but in this interview—which must have been preceded by many others over the years—he had no difficulty recalling the memorable summer of 1914. He said that when the Komagata Maru arrived in Burrard Inlet, he and immigration interpreter Harry Gwyther were the first two to go on board. They had gone out in a launch as soon as they saw the ship. This was in the early hours while it was still dark. Their first impression of the passengers was good. But, he said, “the whole lot wanted to get off right then.” They were all standing behind Gurdit Singh looking liked they wanted to push by and get off. Taylor told them they would have to wait until morning when the immigration office opened. He also told them that if they got off now, they would be in trouble.

During that summer, Taylor never went below decks. “That was out of bounds.” He had respect for Hopkinson, who was the one immigration officer who had gone below decks during the crisis to negotiate with the passengers. He had a general notion of Hopkinson’s role within the department. He thought, mistakenly, that Hopkinson had been advised to come to Vancouver by the Dominion Police (Canada’s very small national police force at that time). He was aware that Hopkinson was in constant communication with some police force or agency. He found Hopkinson to be a very straightforward person, sociable and easy to deal with. And he observed that the Indians blamed Hopkinson for everything. He remembered Hopkinsons’ complexion as dark: “very dark, dark skin” (it does not show that way in black and white photographs).

About Malcolm Reid, Taylor’s opinion was most uncharitable. He said Reid was a very unstable man, very excitable, and the biggest coward he ever met. “He would not walk alone and he would not go out to the ship.” And Taylor had another slant on Reid whom he described as “very thorough”—by which one gathered he meant too thorough: “He should have decided half of that stuff and never bothered Ottawa.” There was nothing guarded in Taylor’s characterization of Reid. “He was unreliable. He was nervous, he would write crazy reports. People working for him didn’t like him. He would double cross you in a minute. He was a nut. He had no qualifications. Stevens was making all of the decisions.” What probably helped to fix this notion of Reid in Taylor’s mind was the review of the Vancouver Office that took place in the fall of 1914. Taylor had been asked his opinion of Reid under circumstances that must have focused the attention of everyone involved. That was after the Komagata Maru left, when E. Blake Robertson, the Assistant Superintendent of Immigration, had come out from Ottawa to question the staff about Reid; what he heard led directly to Reid’s departure from his job.

Taylor thought that Reid and Hopkinson got along alright. He said that Reid depended on Hopkinson 150 percent. In that sense they were “hand in glove.” But Hopkinson made disparaging comments about Reid when talking to other members of the office. Taylor remembered that and thought that Hopkinson really did not have much use for Reid.

About the Komagata Maru, Taylor said it was “nothing but excitement while it was here—crowds on the waterfront day and night. Sunday afternoon people would come for sightseeing: the Komagata Maru was a harbour attraction for them.”

Sources: Author’s interview Fred Taylor in Vancouver, 29 Oct., 1976; Eric Whitehead, Cyclone Taylor, A Hockey Legend (Toronto, Doubleday Canada, 1977).