March 19, 2018

Book chronicles the life of an explorer, war correspondent and influential Calgarian

Tome on Taiwanese history draws upon university’s collections to explore pivotal chapter in James Wheeler Davidson's life; book launch March 22

Author

Jennifer Allford and Jennifer Sowa, Libraries and Cultural Resources

James Wheeler Davidson at a temple in Bali.

James Wheeler Davidson at a temple in Bali.

James Wheeler Davidson Family Collection, University of Calgary

James Wheeler Davidson was one of the most influential Calgarians in history: an adventurer, an entrepreneur, a visionary. His many exploits are recorded in diaries, scrapbooks and other materials in the James Wheeler Davidson Family Collection in the university's Archives and Special Collections.

Now, with material drawn from that archive, the University of Calgary Press has published From Province to Republic to Colony: Historical Accounts, Photographs and Artifacts from the James Wheeler Davidson Collection on the Origins of Japanese Rule in Taiwan, a Chinese-English bilingual volume and joint publication with the Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

The authors are David Curtis Wright, associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Calgary, and Hsin-Yi Lin, assistant professor in the Department of History at National Taiwan Normal University.

A public book launch will take place Thursday March 22 at 2 p.m. in the Centre for Arts and Culture on the fifth floor of the Taylor Family Digital Library. 

James Wheeler Davidson spent a decade in Taiwan and East Asia from about 1895 to 1905. He witnessed the rise and fall of the Republic of Formosa and accompanied Japanese forces as they took control of Taiwan. The book references his war diary and newspaper reports from the time, which are part of the collection at the University of Calgary.

Davidson is also known as one of the most devoted Rotarians, having founded more than 20 branches of the Rotary Club around the world. As an adventurer and explorer, Davidson took part in the Peary expedition in 1893 that covered 1,300 miles of frozen terrain looking for the North Pole.

Making his mark on Calgary

In his adopted home of Calgary, Davidson initiated the Mawson report — the city’s first urban plan — and in 1913, he founded the first Calgary Symphony Orchestra. As well as running a number of successful business ventures, he supported the construction of the Lougheed Building, helped start the Alberta Motor Association and set up the Calgary-Banff Tourist Development Association. 

The collection includes 10 linear metres of information, everything from Christmas cards to photographs and artifacts the Davidson family collected during their travels. 

“There is quite a wide variety of researchers who may be interested in these records as well as anybody who is interested in Calgary or Alberta history because of Davidson’s involvement in so many different aspects of life in Calgary and Western Canada,” says Lisa Atkinson, archivist with Archives and Special Collections.

Davidson was born in Minnesota in 1872. He ended up in Calgary after first moving to Winnipeg. After one winter, his wife presented him with an ultimatum: Winnipeg or her? They moved to Calgary in 1907.

From Province to Republic to Colony: Historical Accounts, Photographs and Artifacts from the James Wheeler Davidson Collection on the Origins of Japanese Rule in Taiwan is a joint publication from the University of Calgary Press and the Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

From Province to Republic to Colony

‘Marco Polo of Rotary’

Davidson is revered as the “Marco Polo of Rotary.” He spent his later years travelling the world, establishing 23 new Rotary Clubs in 12 different countries. In one 32-month stint, he and his wife Lillian and daughter Marjory visited Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Jerusalem, India and the Far East.

“Few Rotarians have had a greater influence on the extension and adaptation of Rotary to the world than ‘Big Jim’ Davidson,” says Tom Hickerson, vice-provost (libraries and cultural resources) and a Rotarian. “His success was undoubtedly due in no small part to his experiences before he joined Rotary.”

Those experiences include receiving the Order of the Rising Sun from the Emperor of Japan in 1895, being appointed the U.S. Consul Agent in Formosa in 1896, and traversing Russia’s new Trans-Siberian Railway in 1903. Davidson also wrote an authoritative book on Taiwanese history, Formosa: Past and Present.

Davidson passed away in Vancouver in June 1933. The archive was donated to the University of Calgary from Leslie and Don Abramson, Davidson’s grandson.

The project to arrange and describe the records, select and digitize documents and images, and to create the online collection of nearly 4,000 pages of textual and photographic records was supported by a grant from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation through the Archives Society of Alberta.

Book launch 

Pictured above, From Province to Republic to Colony: Historical Accounts, Photographs and Artifacts from the James Wheeler Davidson Collection on the Origins of Japanese Rule in Taiwan is a joint publication from the University of Calgary Press and the Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

2 p.m.

Centre for Arts and Culture

Room 520, Taylor Family Digital Library

A selection of artifacts from the James Wheeler Davidson collection will be on display.