Wakeham, William

William Wakeham, physician, public servant (b at Québec 30 Nov 1844; d at Gaspé, Qué 20 May 1915). William Wakeham was educated at the School of Military Instruction of Québec and McGill College in Montréal, graduating with a medical degree in 1866. He practised medicine in Gaspé until 1876, when he returned to Québec to become the medical director of the Belmont Retreat, where he conducted research into the effects of alcoholism. In 1879, the federal government appointed William Wakeham as inspector of fisheries in the Gulf of St Lawrence and Labrador, which gave him responsibility for protecting fishing on the high seas and off coastal settlements. The position gave him the authority of a police commissioner to enforce Canada's maritime laws, issue fishing permits, hear the complaints of fishers and owners of fishing companies, and support public officials serving along the Atlantic coast.

The experience Wakeham gained over the years made him suitable to handle disputes between Canada and the US over boundary waters. In 1893 the Privy Council appointed William Wakeham as the co-chairman, with American Richard Rathbun, of a joint commission to examine Canadian/American boundary waters and fishing grounds. They also studied fishing techniques and ways to prevent pollution of the marine environment, studies that would become the basis of the BOUNDARY WATERS TREATY.

The Canadian government wanted information about the state of navigation through the HUDSON STRAIT, and in 1897 Louis Henry DAVIES, the minister of fisheries, assigned Wakeham to command an expedition to reassess the time during which the strait was ice-free. The expedition was also charged with asserting Canadian rights over BAFFIN ISLAND and the ARCTIC ARCHIPELAGO, which Wakeham accomplished when he proclaimed Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic at Kekerton, Baffin Island, on 17 Aug 1897.

Wakeham's last assignment from the federal government came in 1909, when Parliament tasked him with the study of the lobster industry, at the time second in importance only to salmon in Canadian fishing. William Wakeham, with Robert Norris Venning, superintendent of fisheries, investigated whether the lobster-canning industry could be protected and the survival of the species ensured. Their work resulted in a national policy to encourage lobster fishing and establish better monitoring systems to ensure the industry's future.

Though much overlooked by the historic record, William Wakeham is remembered in the nine geographic features to which his name was given, in Hudson Strait, the Saguenay, Gaspé and New Québec.