Mark Bate, Nanaimo’s first mayor, saw Nanaimo transition through its early days as a small mining town to its status as a well-established city. His long life and extensive time in office meant that, as Christine Meutzner of the Nanaimo Community Archives puts it, he was in Nanaimo from its “embryonic” moment, throughout its development, until the time “when it was really well and truly established.”
Born to a middle-class family in Birmingham, England, in 1837, Bate would go on to acquire the appellation of “gentleman” in Nanaimo, and would become an important figure in the history of the municipality. Captivated by his uncle’s descriptions of the Fraser River gold rush, Bate emigrated from England with his sister, aunt, and cousin in 1857 when he was 19 years old, making the voyage on the Princess Royal. Upon arrival in Canada, Bate obtained a job as a clerk for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Nanaimo––then Colville Town (until 1860). He later took on a managerial position at the Vancouver Coal Minding and Land Co., and then, in 1875, he went on to become the city’s first mayor. Bate was so popular that he was re-elected in 16 one-year terms over a quarter century. His voters’ support was so enthusiastic that despite his three attempts to retire, Bate was persuaded again and again––and again––to return to his post.
During his long time in what would later become known as “The Harbour City,” Bate filled many roles in the community, acting as justice of the peace, president and founder of the Nanaimo Literary Institute, and chairman of the Nanaimo board of education. He was even a conductor of the Nanaimo Brass Band, and was a member of several service clubs. An active participant in the community, Bate was also an avid family man, having five sons and five daughters.
Mark Bate was a true renaissance man, being well-versed in music, literature, writing, and politics, and his legacy lives on. He was known for writing eloquent speeches, and he even published articles in the newspaper The Daily Herald, now no longer in print. He is committed to posterity in a bust on the Nanaimo waterfront, and in a number of place names that bear his namesake. Mount Mark, which rises to 3100 feet over Horne Lake, is named after the eponymous mayor, as are Mark Bay and Bate Point on Newcastle Island, just off the shores of the Nanaimo city harbour.