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James Wheeler Davidson Family Collection

Submitted by justin.anders on Wed, 05/06/2015 - 1:51pm


9.61 metres of textual records and other material.

James Wheeler Davidson was born in Austin, Minnesota in 1872 and educated at the Northwestern Military Academy.  After a brief stint organizing tours for members of the local opera house, he was invited to join Peary’s second Greenland expedition in 1893.  After this fifteen-month adventure was complete, he returned briefly to Minnesota and then went to Formosa as a war correspondent in the Sino-Japanese war of 1895.  He was appointed US consul agent in Formosa in 1896, a position he held until 1903, when he was transferred to Manchuria and then to Shanghai the following year.  He wrote extensively during this period, and his book The Island of Formosa, Past and Present, published in 1903, is still considered one of the primary authoritative books on Taiwanese history. 

Davidson returned to the United States in 1905 suffering from typhoid and met his future wife, Lillian Dow, on the ship coming home.  They married in 1906 and moved to Winnipeg, where he started his life as a businessman in Canada.  The couple moved to Calgary in 1907 and in 1915, their daughter Marjory was born.  Together with his brother, C.H. Davidson, and investors from the U.S., Davidson was involved in a number of successful business ventures, including the Calgary Colonization Company, the Crown Lumber Company, and the Royalite Oil Company.   He was also actively involved in a number of different initiatives in Calgary, including the construction of the Lougheed Building, the Calgary Symphony Orchestra, the Alberta Motor Association, and the Calgary-Banff Tourist Development Association. 

Davidson began his involvement with Rotary in 1914.  In 1919, he became the President of the Calgary District Rotary Club, and for the remainder of his life, Rotary would play an increasingly important role.  In 1921, he travelled to Australia and New Zealand with James L. Ralston, and they were successful in generating enthusiasm for Rotary and instrumental in getting several new clubs chartered.  After increasing involvement locally and nationally with Rotary, James, Lillian and Marjory embarked on a thirty-two month trip in 1928 to Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Jerusalem, India and the Far East.  The purpose of the trip was to promote the expansion of Rotary clubs across the world, and they were successful in getting 23 Rotary clubs chartered in 12 different countries.  Throughout this period, James submitted regular reports to Rotary International about his progress, and Lillian maintained detailed journals and contributed regular articles about their travels to The Rotarian magazine.

The Davidson family returned to Canada in 1931 and were enthusiastically welcomed home by their Rotarian family at a large formal dinner in Vancouver.   In 1932, the family moved to Vancouver, as James was in failing health.  In 1933, at the age of 61, James passed away.  Tributes poured in from all over the world after his passing, as he had met and touched so many lives.  A lasting tribute to James proposed by the Alberta Motor Association and the Rotary Club of Calgary was the dedication of Mount Davidson, near Banff, Alberta.   

Lillian and Marjory continued their involvement with Rotary for many years, and they kept an active correspondence with many of the people they met on their travels.  Lillian was asked to speak at various Rotary events, and her articles about their Rotary extension trip were published in a book, Making New Friends, in 1934.   Lillian died in Vancouver in 1958.  Marjory also spoke at Rotary events, including the Rotary International Convention in Taiwan in 1994. She married Jack Abramson with whom she had three children: Don, Rikki and Heather Lynn. Marjory died in Delta, British Columbia in 2003 at the age of 88. 

Fonds consists of records created and collected by members of the Davidson family over three generations. Includes correspondence, travel journals, reports, presentation notes, newsclippings, scrapbooks, photographs, artefacts and published materials. The fonds is arranged into eight series based on the records creator and records format: (I): James Wheeler Davidson; (II): Lillian Dow Davidson; (III): Marjory Dow Davidson; (IV): Don and Leslie Abramson; (V): Photographs; (VI): Scrapbooks; (VII): Artefacts and textiles; and (VIII): Published material. 

Title based on name of creators

Includes 2.79 m of textual records, 94 cm of graphic material, 5.36 m of objects, and 52 cm of published materials. 

Acc 2012.004

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