The Life And Times of James And Lillian Davidson


“He has done a great service, how great will perhaps never be measured, and withal, he is the most modest of men.  Perhaps if Rotary had gone searching she
would never have found the militant apostle that she needed for successful work in the Near and Far East…There are no other fellows that I know of just like Jim
Davidson; his personality is distinctly and entirely his own, and it is an odd conglomerate – seer, politician, showman, adventurer, writer, philosopher, incorrigible
youth and modern go-getter.  And it took his whole repertoire to succeed.  Indeed, I believe he succeeded where no one else could have.”1
C. McCullough, President 1921/22, Rotary International (RI), Fort William, Ontario

With the exception of Founder Paul Harris who was a Rotarian from 1905-1947; and Secretary Chesley Perry, a Rotarian from 1908-1942, there is no Rotarian who,
in the context of time has had a greater influence on the extension and adaptation of Rotary to the rest of the world than James Wheeler Davidson.  In reflecting on
Rotary after forty-two years, Paul Harris acknowledged Davidson as the one who spanned Rotary around the world.2  The Marco Polo of Rotary as he became
known, was perhaps the best example of extension “Service above Self” in his Rotary time, 1914-1933.3

Creating new Rotary Clubs in new countries was Davidson’s major accomplishment in life.  He did it by using his experience as an international adventurer and
journalist, by learning Japanese and understanding other languages, by spreading his contagious enthusiasm, by philanthropically sharing his wealth, by
establishing friendships that lasted his lifetime, by becoming a Canadian, by leaving a legacy that is still remembered, and even revered in many Asian and
Australasian Rotary Clubs and by persuasively articulating the precepts of Rotary with almost one hundred percent success.  Harris described him as a “World
Citizen”, who was already internationally well known before he joined Rotary in 1914.  But Rotary wasn’t Davidson’s only significant contribution to Canada and the
world of his time. It was just his last one.4

James Wheeler Davidson was born in Austin, Minnesota on June 14, 1872.  He was educated locally in the small Northwestern Military Academy and brevetted a
Lieutenant, before he first came into prominence at age eighteen.  Entrepreneurial minded even then, he began organizing tours for the Austin Opera House.  And
he was effective at it.  So much so that the well known impresario, his cousin Major J.B. Pond of New York, asked “Jim” for help organizing his VIP tours in
America.  Davidson accepted.  His first tours in 1891/92 included hosting Henry Stanley and Lieutenant Robert Peary.  Both remained lifelong friends.

In 1893, Peary selected Davidson as the youngest of eight from the 1500 applicants for the second Peary (1893/4) Expedition.  The objective was to locate a route
to the North Pole, over the 5000 foot high Northern Greenland icecap.  The expedition members faced trying weather conditions every time they ventured
out.  Undaunted, the team members covered over 1300 miles of glacier terrain despite frequent delays by life threatening snowstorms.  During one March 1894
seven day storm at –40 to –60°F with winds averaging 48 mph at an elevation of 5000 feet, Davidson’s tent was partially shredded and became snow filled.  Fearing
hypothermia and hypoxia he woke his two sleeping companions.  They moved to Peary’s slightly larger tent on day six.  Davidson’s sleeping bag had become
wet.  Then it froze.  So did his feet.5

On day seven Dr. Vincent examined Davidson’s left foot and found it “white and hard as marble.”  By then Davidson couldn’t walk or stand on it, so he was strapped
to a sled for the forty-five mile journey back to the base camp.  As the one day trip became three, the conditions for Davidson and Vincent became precipitous.  The
dogs were let loose and the sled left behind.  Desperately, Dr. Vincent went ahead alone to look for the camp.  Davidson continued by rolling and crawling for
another six miles.  Six hours later a Husky dog belonging to the relief party spotted Davidson’s boot.  He had tried to find shelter under a rock.  Five months later, a
skin graft from an Eskimo boy finally took and he was able to stand and take his first steps.  At least three surgical revisions were required at the Mayo
Clinic.  Davidson was left with a lifelong limp.

After fifteen months living north of Thule, 800 miles from the North Pole, Davidson and the Peary expedition were evacuated from Greenland on the Newfoundland
relief ship Falcon.  On board was a Brooklyn newspaper editor whom he befriended, H.L. Bridgman.  Davidson was persistent in trying to convince the editor to hire
him as a foreign correspondent in the Far East.6          

1 Leland D. Case; Quoted in “That Man Davidson”, a presentation at the RI Detroit Convention, 1934.  Six page manuscript in the Abramson Archives.  Leland Case was the Editor of The Rotarian and
wrote the article a few weeks after the return of the Davidsons to Vancouver in March 1931.  Case concluded his paper by quoting Dr. McCullough as “voicing the sentiment of many when he wrote”,
“He has done a great service, how great will perhaps never be measured…”.  Dr. Crawford McCullough was an EENT surgeon from Fort William, Ontario, Canada who joined Rotary when his Club
was formed in 1915.  He became the District #4 Governor 1919/20; the Convention Chairman of the 1921 Convention in Edinburgh; the second Rotary President from Canada in 1921/22, after Rev.
Leslie Pidgeon of Winnipeg in 1917/18; Chairman of the Rotary Extension Committee 1923/24; the Convention Chairman of the 25th anniversary Convention in Chicago in 1930; and an Honorary
Commissioner to Asia in 1936.  His papers are in the Rotary Archives.  McCullough is one of the central figures in the internationalization of Rotary.
2 Paul Harris, “Rotary’s Twoscore and Two”.  Guest Editorial in The Rotarian 70(2): 7, February 1947.  There were many Rotarians involved in the extension movement, including Paul Harris himself who
initiated the first extension of Rotary from Chicago (1905) to San Francisco (1908).  See the Note on Extension
3 (James W. Davidson), “The Marco Polo of Rotary”, in The First Men of Rotary series for Rotary’s 75th Anniversary, The Rotarian 137(4): 38-39, October 1979.
4 N.T. Joseph in James Wheeler Davidson, Profile of a Rotarian.  131 pages, 1987.  It includes chapters on: Davidson before RI; Making New Friends; Report to RI Board (1931); Lillian’s 1932 RI
address; memorial telegrams (1933); Vancouver Rotary Club President D.G. Swan and Reverend H.H. Bingham’s funeral eulogies; Marjory’s impressions of her father (circa 1987), Allan Albert’s
tribute at the Detroit June 1934 convention; the planting of the Blue Spruce at Morgan Park (The Harris home in Chicago, 1933); and the Davidson/Abramson presentation ceremony during the
1983 RI convention in Toronto.  Joseph was a Cochin, India Rotarian, who became intrigued with Jim Davidson, when he researched and wrote Rotary in India (1972).  Davidson became a
Canadian (British) citizen in 1923.  Lillian became a dual citizen but the year is not known.  A brief outline of Davidson’s contributions to Rotary International was documented by R. Lampard, in
James Wheeler Davidson “World Citizen”, Under the Northern Lights, the Zone 22 Centennial History, pages 20-22, RI 2004.
5 James Wheeler Davidson’s personal handwritten Peary Expedition diary for March 20-23, 1894.   Deposited in the Center for Polar Archives in Washington, D.C. by his wife Lillian, as part of the
acknowledgement of the 100th anniversary of his birth in July 1872.  For a confirming source see Lillian Davidson’s Reply to letter from Spencer Hagen 2 pages (n.d).  Copy in the possession of their
daughter Marjorie Abramson and annotated Notes by his Wife.  For a second description of the 2nd Peary Expedition see the interview by Davidson’s friend Rotarian George Carr with E.N. Davis in
North with Admiral Peary”, The Rotarian 49(1): 18-20, 59-61, August 1936.  E.N. Davis was a Rotarian, editor of the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan Daily Herald and a friend of Peary expedition
member George H. Carr of Prince Albert.  After Davidson froze his foot, Peary and three others continued over the plateau of the icecap to within 500 miles of the Pole.  The ice broke up forcing
the expedition to return.
6 H.L. Bridgman, “Davidson’s Terrible Experience”.  Brooklyn Daily Standard Union, October 3, 1894.  Bridgman was the editor of the newspaper and was on the 2nd Peary Relief Expedition that
reached the base camp at Inglefield Gulf, Bowdoin Bay, Northwest Greenland.  Copy in the Abramson Archives.

The idea must have continued to grow on Davidson, as he recuperated curled up beside his lead sled dog Blondie in Austin, Minnesota.  In November 1894
Davidson decided to go anyway.  The New York Herald Tribune, St. Paul Morning Call and eventually a total of eight newspapers joined a syndicate to publish his
letters as a war correspondent.  Several Hong Kong, Japanese and Oriental newspapers joined the syndicate later.

Davidson arrived in Japan in early 1895.  There he received a tip from the Herald-Tribune’s Far East bureau chief, Colonel John Cockerill that action was more likely
to be in Formosa (Taiwan).  He headed to Taipei as the only journalist, in March 1895.  His intention was to associate with the Chinese army and give the Chinese
perspective on the hostilities.7  When a Sino-Japanese truce was signed in May, 1895, Formosa was not included in it.  As a result the Governor declared Formosa a
Republic, which Davidson viewed as disastrous.  Almost immediately the Japanese invaded the island.  Few Westerners remained.  When the two thousand
Japanese troops were only ten miles from Taipei, the Governor escaped by disguising himself and bribing his bodyguards.  The unpaid Chinese troops
mutinied.  Rioting, looting, fire setting, and acts of violence followed and threatened everyone.

On June 6th Davidson, two colleagues and three coolies, armed with rifles and a white flag ventured out at noon toward the Japanese camp.  Fortuitously they were
met by an English speaking Japanese sentry who took them to their commander.  After apprising him of the chaos in the city, five hundred troops were assigned to
occupy it.  Davidson and his colleagues led them back at 2:00 a.m. to within three miles of Taipei.  Then the three fearless foreigners re-entered the city alone, being
shot at only once.  Once inside they started the rumor that a big Japanese army was at the city gates.  The message was spread rapidly by a Chinese gong
runner.  Although outnumbered one hundred to one the Japanese troops entered the city at dawn unmolested, and occupied the strategic points.  No further shots
were fired.  The looting and rioting stopped immediately.  The Chinese troops vanished in whatever manner they could.8

For their initiative and bravery, Jim Davidson, Mr. G.M.T. Thomson and Mr. R.N. Ohly, his English and German companions, were decorated with the 5th Class of the
Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor in December 1895.  They were the second foreigners to be so honored.9

As the Japanese advance continued, Davidson switched his allegiance and followed the Japanese Army, as it conquered the remaining two thirds of the island.  His
syndicated newspaper articles came to the attention of the US Government.  In late 1896 Davidson was offered a US Consul Agent appointment in Formosa, which
he accepted.  In 1903 he was transferred to Manchuria, before becoming the Commercial Attaché and Acting Consulate General in Shanghai China in 1904/5.10  At
that time the Shanghai delegation was one of the largest outside continental USA.  His series of appointments were interrupted during 1903 when he was “loaned”
to the Russian government for six months at the request of Prince Gagarian, to allow him to traverse the newly completed Trans-Siberian railway.  He wrote
numerous articles and several books about that trip.11

While stationed in Formosa, Davidson began studying its ancient history.  He completed his classic history text, Formosa: Past and Present, for which he received
an FRGS from the Royal Geographical Society in 1903.12  It remains one of the authoritative books on Taiwanese history, so much so that a deputation from the
Taiwan government and National Institute of Taiwan History visited the family looking for clues, correspondence and artifacts that might shed more light on the origin
and history of the island inhabitants.13  The importance of Davidson’s legacy and his contributions to Rotary and peace in the Far East were recognized at the 1994
Annual RI convention held in Taipei, where his daughter Marjory Abramson, together with his grandson Don Abramson were presented with a commemorative
plaque by the RI President.

Davidson returned to the US in 1905 suffering from typhoid.  While on the ship he met the well-traveled Dow family from San Francisco.  Only thirty-three and still
single he caught the eye of their daughter Lillian.  Back in Minnesota Davidson spent months recovering under the care and attention of his mother.  He returned to
San Francisco the day of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and used his Formosa experience to find a route into the blockaded city.  After tracing the Dow family
he discovered their offices had been demolished and their residence burned.  He helped them leave the fractured city, and then assisted his future father-in-law to
restart his Dow Pump and Diesel Company in nearby Alameda.  On October 6, 1906 Jim and Lillian were married and the two moved to Winnipeg, where Davidson
had started a new era in his life as a businessman, in partnership with his brother C.H. Davidson, T.L. Beiseker and A.J. Sayre.14         

The Winnipeg weather quickly led to an ultimatum from Lillian – it’s one more winter or me, so the Davidsons moved to Calgary in 1907 and the new Province of
Alberta.  The Davidson’s would be joined by one daughter, Marjory who was born in Calgary in 1915.15

7 Letter to the Managing Editor of the New York Herald Tribune, November 10, 1894.  One page.  Copy in the Abramson Archives.
8 James Wheeler Davidson.  500 soldiers accompanied Messrs. Davidson, Thompson and Ohly back to within three miles of Taipei.  They waited until dawn to give the Chinese soldiers time to escape, before entering the city – unmolested.  Davidson sent at least 88 correspondent letters, which were published by US newspapers from February to December 1895.  Original copies of all 88 letters
are held in the Abramson Archives.
9 On November 15, 1895 the Japanese government announced that Davidson and his two companions were to receive the 5th Class of the Order of the Rising Sun from the Emperor of Japan.  The presentation was made by Governor-General of Formosa Count Kabayama in Taipei on December 24, 1895.  The only other recipient of that decoration to that date had been Sir Edwin Arnold.  The Abramson family have retained the medal.
10 A Summary of Davidson’s US Consular appointments included: Agent at Tamsui (Dec. 19, 1896); Consul for Formosa (June 2, 1898); Consul at Antung (Jan. 22, 1904); Commercial Attaché at
Shanghai (May-Aug 1904); Consul at Nanking (Aug. 1, 1904-Oct. 6, 1904); Vice Consul then Consul at Shanghai (Dec. 22, 1904-May 29, 1905); Consul at Antung (May 29, 1905).  The
appointments were approved by Presidents Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley.  For further details see James Wheeler Davidson, in A.O. MacRae’s History of Alberta
1:566, 1912.
11 Davidson wrote Davidson’s Handbook of Manchuria, and A Guide Book to Siberian and Chinese Railways circa 1904, as well as several articles on the newly completed Trans-Siberian railway.
For his special reports on military conditions in Russia, Japan and China, he received the thanks of the General Board of the American Army.  Davidson was offered a position as Inspector of
Consulates in the Orient but declined it.  Confirmation is provided in “Jim Davidson, Trail Blazer” by Lillian Dow Davidson (n.d. circa 1935) 2 pages.  Copy in the Abramson Archives.  Davidson’s
preliminary bibliography is attached.
12 James Wheeler Davidson, Formosa: Past and Present, 1903, 776 pages.  Reprinted by Oxford University Press 1988.  The book contains a chapter on the turnover of Taipei to the Japanese.
13 Marjorie (Davidson) Abramson in highlights of a conversation with R. Lampard December 28, 2000.  The two visitors came in the late 1980’s.  The Taiwan Minister of Defence and a
representative of the National Institute of Taiwan History (Dr. Chen) were given the remaining Formosan papers still in the Abramsons’ possession.
14 Charles H. Davidson Junior, Obituary, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 30, 1915 and Calgary News-Telegram February 5-15, 1915.  C.H. Davidson Sr. owned the Austin Register.  He
sold it in 1896 and started the Austin National Bank.  His son C.H. Davidson Jr. helped extend it to 25 banks across Minneapolis, Kansas, North Dakota and Montana
15 Ruth Gorman, in “My Golden West”.  (Stampede Issue) 3:32, 1968.  Jim Davidson’s job in Winnipeg is unknown.  The Gorman’s lived in Mount Royal and knew the Davidsons.  Ruth Gorman
speculated the move was because of the drier climate (less pneumonia), his foot (less cold) and business opportunities.  Marjory (Davidson) Abramson was born on February 10, 1915 and died
on March 28, 2003.

Once in Calgary Davidson and his brother Charles together with several Americans investors purchased the Milestone Block, a 250,000 acre tract of land owned
by the Canadian Pacific Railway, thirty miles NE of Calgary.  They named the proposed town in the center, after their North Dakota partner, lawyer T.L.
Beiseker.16  After subdividing it and selling off the acreages to immigrant US farmers, they repeated the exercise with 500,000 more acres East of the C&E Trail (now
Highway 2) between Calgary and Edmonton.  The syndicate had already invested in the Crown Lumber Company, formerly known as Staples Lumber.17  Jim
Davidson became its President and Managing Director (1908-1917).  Under Davidson’s management Crown Lumber had fifty-two locations and two hundred
employees by 1912, spread throughout southern BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

When the Turner Valley oil discovery was made shortly before WWI, Davidson successfully invested in the Royalite Oil Company along with (later Sir) James
Lougheed.  He also helped to construct the Lougheed building (1912), start the first Calgary Symphony Orchestra (1913), and initiate the Mawson Report on a future
civic plan for Calgary (1912).18  Mrs. Davidson wasn’t idle either.  She was elected President of the Calgary Victoria Order of Nurses (1925).19

Rotary came to Calgary in January 1914.  It was a “rogue” club because it started on its own, without being chartered.  Davidson didn’t join until the Lougheed
Building theatre Manager, R.J. Lydiatt persuaded him to do so later that year.20  His classification was that of a “Loans Officer”.  Davidson traveled frequently which
led to a poor attendance record.  It almost cost him his membership.21  Fortunately his corporate commitments began to require less out of town travel.

As WWI drew to a close Davidson became more interested in Rotary and Rotary’s post-war peace initiative.  He rapidly rose through the Rotary ranks following in
the footsteps of his friend Jeff Lydiatt, by becoming Calgary Rotary Club President in 1919/20 and District #4 President in 1923/24.22  In 1920/21 Davidson was appointed to his first International Association of Rotary Clubs (IARC) committee.  Not surprisingly it was the Publications Committee.  His first publication in The
Rotarian was on Rotary as an International Power in July 1920.23  Days later the Chairman of the IARC Committee on Extension John Barrett, recommended
Canadians be selected to extend Rotary to Australia and New Zealand.24  The new Canadian Advisory Committee accepted the challenge to organize it.  In January
1921 Rotary President Pete Snedecor came to Calgary to approve Davidson to lead the team of two to the Antipodes.25  The Committee soon found a second
eminently suited Rotarian, Haligonian J.L. Ralston to join him.26  Both Jim Davidson and the WWI Vimy Ridge decorated hero and future WWII Minister of Defence
(1926-1944), Lieutenant Colonel James Layton Ralston were Past Presidents of their clubs.

Thirty-seven Canadian Clubs contributed $2,902 and Rotary $2,000, to cover about half the costs of sending the two Honorary Commissioners “Down Under”.  The
pair left for Australia and New Zealand after separate February visits to meet Paul Harris and Ches Perry at Rotary Headquarters in Chicago, meeting each other for
the first time in San Francisco on March 1, 1921.27

Despite disruptions caused by seasonal holidays, hospitalizations (Davidson, pneumonia), and irregular sailing times, the two Honorary Commissioners were
successful in convincing 146 of 150 Rotary prospects to become charter members.  Four Rotary Clubs were chartered in Melbourne, Sydney, Wellington and
Auckland in that order from April to July 1921.   Davidson and Ralston left behind the impression that Rotary’s reputation was based on enthusiastic teetotalers, as
Ralston didn’t drink.  But Rotary was well founded.  Not only have all four Clubs continued, but there are now 1200 Clubs and 46,000 Rotarians in the two

The success of the trip must have added excitement to the first convention outside the US, the June 1921 Convention in Edinburgh, Scotland.  By convention time
three of the four Antipodes Clubs had been formed.  Amidst the Edinburgh euphoria, Dr. Crawford McCullough was elected the second Canadian IARC
President.  During the plenary program, the Objects of the IARC were amended by adding a Sixth (now Fourth) Object committing Rotary to the promotion of
international Peace, Goodwill and Fellowship.  As well, a revised Constitution and Bylaws for Rotary, which reflected Rotary’s expanding worldwide nature and vision
were tabled.  The Committee Chairman, Dalhousie University Dean of Law Donald MacRae requested the proposed revisions be thoroughly studied for a year by an
international committee of thirty-one.  It included Paul Harris.  They were passed without alteration at a 1922 Convention meeting chaired by (now) RI President

Back in North America, Davidson reported on the trip to the Rotary Foreign Extension Committee, to which he had been appointed in his absence.  Then he
highlighted the trip in two articles in The Rotarian.30

In 1922/23 Davidson was in his pre-District #4 (Western Canada excluding BC) Governor year.  It extended from Thunder Bay to the Rocky Mountains.  In that era,
chartering new clubs was almost an obsession.  And the minimum town size had just been reduced to 2500.  So Davidson joined past Governor Lydiatt as the “guest
speaker” at the Charter Night for the Red Deer Rotary Club.  The theme of his speech was “Brotherhood in Rotary”.  On February 23, 1923, Red Deer, Alberta
(population 2500) became the smallest town in the world to have a Rotary Club.  The next year Davidson introduced the “Spark Plug” trophy.  It was a “horse” and
was awarded to the Club in the District with the greatest number of 100% monthly attendances.  The Red Deer Club not only won it but did so for three consecutive

16 Charles H. Davidson, Calgary News Telegram, February 5, 1915.  C.H. Davidson met and became a partner with T.L. Beiseker the very successful Wells Bank owner and farmland developer in
Harvey, North Dakota.  They joined forces with H.L. Sayre and started the Calgary Colonization Company to entice Americans to buy cheaper farmland in Canada.  They bought, subdivided and
sold off the CPR Milestone tract of 250,000 acres of land near Beiseker 35 miles NE of Calgary, before the railroad reached the area in 1909.  The purchase price was 1.00/acre with the best land
reselling for up to ten times that figure.  Several other blocks of CPR land totalling 500,000 acres of east of the Calgary and Edmonton (CPR) railway were bought and sold by the company.  Charles
Davidson was also President of the Canadian Pacific Irrigation Colonization Company; the Columbia River Valley Irrigated Fruit Lands Ltd; the Alberta Pacific Elevator Company, and had been a
large shareholder in Crown Lumber.  He owned the land in Calgary, which became Sunnyside and Hillhurst.  Charles died at age 48 following surgery in Minnesota.  Jim Davidson went to
Minneapolis in 1915 to manage his estate, as reported in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 30, 1915.
17 Archibald O. MacRae, Biographies of J.W. Davidson and A.J. Sayre in the History of Province of Alberta 1:565-567, 579-580, Western Canada History Co. 1912.  Also see Beiseker’s Golden
, page 25, Beiseker Historical Society 1977.  Davidson was Vice President and Managing Director of Staples Lumber Co. Ltd from 1905-1907.  It became Crown Lumber in 1908.
18 James W. Davidson in a letter to the Mayor and Council October 12, 1912.  Davidson was Chairman of the Town Planning Committee, which recommended engaging Thomas H. Mawson of
Liverpool, England.  Mawson subsequently prepared the Mawson Report, a long term plan for the development of the City of Calgary.  The 1912 plan centred Calgary on Prince’s Island near
present day Eau Claire.  Also see Ruth Gorman’s The City in the Valley of the Bow in My Golden West 1:18-19, 34, May – June 1966.  Davidson was one of 55 guarantors of $10,000 for the
Calgary Symphony Orchestra; Calgary News-Telegraph October 16, 1913.  The Royalite information was provided by Marjorie Abramson who indicated it was one of his major sources of wealth,
during an interview with Robert Lampard, December 28, 2000.
19 (Lillian D. Davidson) Prospect Bright for Local Victorian Order of Nurses.  Mrs. J.W. Davidson elected President, Calgary Herald, January 31, 1925.  She was unanimously re-elected in 1926,
Calgary Herald, January 9, 1926.
20 George L. Treadwell, “He had a Genius for Friendship”, The Rotarian, 31(6): 28, 43, December 1927.  Davidson attended the November 9th, 1927 funeral in Evanston, Illinois, during a break
from an Extension Committee meeting.  Davidson and Lydiatt had a longstanding and close personal and theatrical relationship while Lydiatt lived in Calgary.  Lydiatt joined Trans-Canada
Theatres which operated up to one hundred theatres from 1912-1923.  Davidson and James Lougheed were the two major shareholders.  Lydiatt became its Vice President before moving to
Chicago where he became the North American Theatre Association Manager; and RI Board Director (1922/33) and Vice President of the Chicago Rotary Club in 1927. 
21 Harry Hutchcroft, “The Life and Work of Jim Davidson”.  Paper based on a talk to the Calgary Rotary Club, July 15, 1947 and the Nanaimo Rotary Club December 5, 1947.  Most of the
information was provided by Lillian Davidson.  Noted in her speech to the Rotary Club of Banff’s 1000th meeting on November 22, 1942.  Copy in the Abramson Archives.
22 James W. Davidson, The three biographical index cards on James W. Davidson at Rotary International outline his appointments and elections to IARC positions and committees.  They are
summarized in W.W. Emersons (25th Anniversary) History of the Rotary Fourth District (Western Canada) 1935, pages 24, 25; and Ken Ford’s Rotary in Canada-75 Years, page 49, 1985.  For
more Davidson references see pages 40, 43, 135. 137.  Ford joined the Banff Rotary Club, which Davidson chartered in 1924; in 1953.
23 James W. Davidson, “Rotary as an International Power”, The Rotarian 17(1): 12-13, July 1920.   There were Clubs in almost all towns over 15,000 in North America.  Membership was up over
60% since World War I.  Davidson proposed extending the harmony, good will and fellowship that already existed between Canadian and American Clubs, to all Anglo-Saxon countries (i.e. the
British Empire).  He said, “Rotary is destined to play a big part some day in this way…No organization is so well equipt (sic)…largely by the personal exchange of ideas…Never has the world
been so much in need of the adoption and practice of these ideals as today.  ROTARY CAN LEAD THE WAY”.  Four years later Davidson was excited over the progress that had already been
made, as reflected in his summary of the presentations at the annual British Empire Dinner, held during the 1924 Rotary International convention and printed in The Rotarian 25(2): 20, 73-74,
August 1924.
24 John Barrett, Letter to Chesley Perry from the Chairman (John Barrett) of the Committee on Foreign Extension, July 22, 1920 suggesting the sending of Canadian Rotarians and not British
Rotarians to extend Rotary to Australia and New Zealand.  The plan was supported by Crawford McCullough the new first Vice-President of the IARC on August 5, 1920 but was not supported by
IARC President Estes ‘Pete’ Snedecor on July 29, 1920.  McCullough had a difficult time obtaining Board approval and the $2,000 commitment (See W.W. Emerson’s History of Rotary in the
Fourth District
page 18, 1935).  On November 3, 1920 the IARC Board asked the Canadian Advisory Committee (CAC) for a detailed plan but retained the responsibility to appoint any specific
delegates.  The Canadian Advisory Committee met in McCullough’s hometown of Fort William on December 7, 1920 to discuss and answer the Boards request.  Jeff Lydiatt was the Chairman
and C.J. Burchell, Ralston’s senior law partner, was a key member of the CAC.  The IARC Board agreed to provide $2000 of the estimated $4000 needed to support the trip about January 3,1921.
25 Estes Snedecor, Letter to the IARC Board, January 10, 1921.  Snedecor visited Calgary on his way home from Chicago to Portland.  President Snedecor commented “The Calgary Club is one
of the best Clubs I have ever visited.  Rotary in the 19th District is further advanced than in any other District that I know of.”  Davidson was approved as an Honorary Commissioner in January
and met with Arch Klumph and Ches Perry, February 1-4, 1921 in Chicago.  J.L. Ralston was approved by the Canadian Advisory Board (CAB) February 10, 1921.  He visited Chicago February
20, 21 before meeting the three Davidsons in San Francisco.  They sailed with their wives and Marjorie on the S.S. Venture, March 1, 1921.  The instructions from IARC were 10 pages long.  A
copy of the five page Press Release to the Sydney Newspaper entitled “Rotary, a Wonderful Men’s Organization” outlines Rotary in 1921.
26 H.C. Cromwell, Cabinet Portraits:  Hon. James L. Ralston.  MacLeans Magazine, pages 10, 51, January 15, 1927.  Ralston was fortunate to have a window of time to be able to go.  He had
lost his Provincial Legislative Assembly seat in the summer of 1920, and another by-election shortly afterwards.
27 R. Jeffrey Lydiatt, in Canadian Advisory Committee report to the International Association of Rotary Clubs, 4 pages, October 6, 1921, and covering letter to all Canadian Clubs written by Chesley
R. Perry October 6, 1921.  Progress reports are highlighted in the Rotarian Weekly Letters of March 14, 1921 and August 1, 1921.  Further details are provided in Zone Contributions to Rotary
International by PDG Jim Angus in Under the Northern Lights, pages 11-19, RI, 2004; and W.W. Emersons History of Rotary in the Fourth District, pages 18-19, 1935.
28 H. Paul Henningham, in an E. mail to R. Lampard, February 2004.  Paul Henningham authored Seventy-five years of Service: Rotary in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands
, (376 pages) in 1996.  On pages 1-2, Henningham noted sagaciously “that someone on the Board of the IARC would have been aware of the close ties of Empire at the time (1921) and
had judged that Rotarians from a sister Dominion could have been assured of a warm welcome…Americans were friends and allies, Canadians were family.”  The comparable Canadian Rotarian
figures were 720 Clubs and 30,000 members in 2003.
29 James Angus, “Zone 22 Contributions to Rotary International”.  It includes brief notes on the four Canadian RI Presidents, Donald MacRae and Charles Burchall (Zone 22 currently Canada,
Alaska and W. Russia), Under the Northern Lights, pages 8-19, RI, 2004.  Also see (1) the Halifax Morning Chronicle dated June 2nd and July 1, 1921; (2) Donald A. MacRae’s speech “Rotarians
and the Security of Peace” in the Proceedings of the 1918 Rotary Convention for Wednesday, June 26th, pages 141-151; and (3) the Proceedings of the 1922 Rotary Convention Tuesday, June 6th,
pages 48-66 for a discussion of the revised bylaw changes and approval.  For highlights of the Edinburgh Convention see the Rotarian “Convention Number” August 1921.
30 James W. Davidson, “Carrying Rotary to Australasia”, The Rotarian, Part I, 19(5): 262-266, 298-302, November 1921 and Part 2, 19(6): 324-327, 355, December 1921.  Also see an introductory
note entitled Bringing Rotary to the Antipodes in The Rotarian 18(4): 185, 188, April 1921.
31 Harold J. Snell, History of the Red Deer Rotary Club, pages 8-12, 1955.  Davidson addressed the Red Deer Club at its Charter night, emphasizing the brotherhood of Rotary.  RI President Ray
Havens radio broadcast his welcome from Kansas City, USA.  Davidson visited the Red Deer Club again on its first anniversary on February 29, 1924.  Further details are provided in Ken Ford’s
Rotary in Canada-75 Years, pages 40, 50, 1985.  A photo of the Spark Plug Trophy (a horse and stable) is held in the Abramson Archives.

In early 1923 Davidson found time as Calgary Club Historian to write the first Club History.32  Later that year he was elected the District Governor.  The District
extended 1500 miles from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains.  During his year as Governor he started the “new Presidents’ school” at the April 1924 annual
meeting in Edmonton.  It continues to this day.  As well he chartered clubs in Camrose, Stettler, Drumheller, Banff, Alberta; and Dauphin, Manitoba.  It was a District
record matched only once before, by Crawford McCullough in 1919/1920.  It remained a Canadian chartering record until the 1940’s.33

Besides being interested in travel, Davidson was interested in good roads to facilitate travel.  He had always loved cars, power and speed.  Davidson drove the
second car in Shanghai, China in 1905 and the first into Lake Louise, Alberta.  In Calgary, Davidson had been a Director of the Calgary Auto Club since at least
1917.  In 1923 he became responsible for painting colors on telephone poles to indicate turns on the “Trails” out of the Calgary hub – the Banff Coach Road,
Edmonton Trail, Gleichen Trail and Macleod Trail.34  As Chairman of the Calgary Auto Club’s Trails Committee, Davidson would spend his Sundays flagging
telephone poles at road intersections, with one color for each “Trail”.  In preparation for a drive Davidson would ask his daughter Marjory to bring with her all of the
clothes she hadn’t worn that week.  He would give her clothes to farmers for their daughters, as a thank-you for redirecting him or extricating them when they got

A year before in 1922 Davidson had joined the newly formed International Sunshine Trail Association, to promote a road from Calgary to Salt Lake City and
beyond.36  For years he was the President.  In 1923 he went with several carloads of Calgarians down the Trail to Shelby, Montana to see the Dempsey – Gibbons
fight.  The afterbout entertainer was an exotic dancer well past her prime.  So Davidson revived the party with a rousing talk on the Sunshine Trail.  On another
occasion Davidson was extemporaneously asked to speak at a Regina Rotary meeting.  He immediately rose to his feet and began promoting the Red Route Trail
Association’s road from Winnipeg to the Pacific Coast via Lethbridge.  “Gentlemen we have a country to build, and it’s a great country, but if ever we’re going to build
it the Road Association will have to do it.”  By 1925 the Calgary Automobile Club had affiliated with the American Automobile Association.37

While the Sunshine Trail Association continued for many years, it was Davidson who made the motion to join the Calgary and Edmonton Automobile Clubs to form
the Alberta Motor Association in 1926.38  Eventually the Sunshine Trail Association was successful in persuading the respective legislatures, politicians and roads
commissioners to finish the international highway from Edmonton to Utah, California and Mexico.  Davidson foresaw its potential for tourist development.39  More
importantly it became the connection to the American wartime-built (1942/43) Alaska Highway.

In 1924 he chartered the Banff Rotary Club,40 but recognized Rotary was entering a period of consolidation in its growth cycle.41  The following year he formed the
Calgary-Banff Tourist Development Association to promote American tourism and the use the new Banff Windermere highway.  It offered Americans a holiday circle
route through Calgary, the mountains and back to the United States. 42

An offshoot of his “through highway thinking” was the Lethbridge five hour drive to the Many Glaciers resort in Glacier Park.43  Davidson managed to improve that
road too.44  Davidson’s road initiatives served as the foundation for the international (Montana-Alberta) Rotary exchanges that followed.  In 1931 Rotarians from
Cardston invited fellow Rotarians from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana to meet at Waterton Park.  Motions were made at the meeting to request the US and
Canadian Governments to pass Bills that would establish the Waterton-Glacier Rotary International Peace Park.45  The two Bills were passed in early
1932.  Opening ceremonies were held in the US (1932).  A similar ceremony was held in Canada (1936).  An international meeting of Canadian and American
Rotarians is still held each summer, alternating between Montana and Alberta.

Since 1920, Davidson had become increasingly committed to the concept of Rotary fostering peace, harmony, goodwill and friendships amongst businessmen in
English speaking clubs throughout the Anglo-Saxon world.  He endorsed Rotary’s Ideal of service.  He also became one of Rotary’s chief problem solvers.46  As well
Davidson continued to accept appointments to IARC (after 1922, RI) committees including the committee on Aims and Objectives (1921/2), Extension (1921-23,
1924-26, 1927/8, 1930-32), Finance (1926/7) and International Service (Chairman, 1928/9).  In 1926/7 he was elected the third Vice-President of Rotary

32 James W. Davidson, History of the Calgary Rotary Club, 1923.  Five pages.  Rotary M1700, File 98, Glenbow Archives, Calgary.
33 A Brief History of Rotary in the 4th District.  Written for the 25th Anniversary of Rotary in Canada, pages 3-18, 1935.  Pages 18-20 cover Davidson and Howland; pages 23-25, 27-28, 29 – the
Davidson donation of the Spark Plug Attendance Award; and page 59 – past District Governor Jeff Lydiatt’s presentation of the Red Deer Club Charter #1353.  Originally published in 1935, the history
was updated annually until 1952.  The next update was Ken Ford’s Rotary in Canada-75 Years, pages 5-7, 1985 and the most recent the Zone 22 centennial book by Jim Angus, Under the Northern
, 207 pages, 2004.
34 Tony Cashman, History of the Alberta Motor Association, 3rd edition, pages 27-38, 1990.  Jim Davidson wrote an article in the Alberta Motorist in 1924 explaining how to paint the colours of the trail
on telephone poles using three bands and letters L=”pending left turn”; R=”pending right turn” and X=”danger”.  Davidson supported the 1925 plan to number the “Trails”, a recommendation not
implemented for another 30 years.
35 Marjory Abramson, Personal Communication with R. Lampard, December 28, 2000.
36 Tony Cashman, History of Motoring in Alberta, pages 27, 30-33.  Also see Lillian Davidson’s Jim Davidson, Trail Blazer in the Abramson Archives, and Robert Sanford’s, History of the Alberta
Motor Association
, page 31, AMA 2001.
37 Tony Cashman, History of Motoring in Alberta, page 51.
38 Alberta Motor Association, Minutes of the Directors of the Alberta Automobile Association of October 25, 1926.  For a discussion of the Sunshine Trail Association see Tony Cashman’s History of
, pages 26-27.  After Davidson retired as the President of the Sunshine Trail circa 1925, the Alberta and Montana Automobile Club Presidents alternated as Sunshine Trail Presidents for
39 Lillian D. Davidson, “Jim Davidson, Trail Blazer.”  Written in 1935.  Deposited in the Abramson Archives.  Quotes are from an article similarly entitled “Jim Davidson, Trail Blazer,” published in the
August 1919 Alberta Motorist.  For years the Davidson family never went motoring without red, white and blue pots of paint in the car.
40 Lillian D. Davidson, Banff Crag and Canyon, November 26, 1943.  Mrs. Davidson attended the 1000th meeting of the Banff Club on November 22, 1943.  In her speech she noted that Rotary was
“formed primarily on friendship” and it was the duty “in the post war world”, of individual Rotarians “to try to become more internationally minded.”  She also noted how Jeff Lydiatt would call her
husband to “put in an appearance at the club or else.”
41 W.W. Emerson, A Brief History of Rotary in the 4th District, page 11.  About 1925 Rotary reduced the minimum town size for a Club from 2500 to 1000.
42 Susan Warrender, Mr. Banff – The Story of Norman Luxton, page 92, 2003.
43 Lillian D. Davidson, “Jim Davidson, Trail Blazer(?)”, page 1.  A plaque was placed at the turnoff to the Many Glaciers Hotel.  Tony Cashman repeats the story and added that any “cabinet minister
who lent Jim his ear would surely have it returned in a bruised condition” in History of Motoring in Alberta, 3rd edition, pages 23, 27, AMA, 1990.
44 History of Motoring in Alberta, page 23.  The final hill approaching the Many Glaciers resort taxed many vehicles.  Davidson collected one to five dollars from each visitor to hire a team of horses
to scrap off the top of the hill.  In the audience were a retinue of Brooklyn Daily Newspaper staff on a tour of the US National Parks.  Lillian Davidson, in “Jim Davidson Trail Blazer(?)” elaborates on
how he raised the $1000 that one night by selling the idea of improving the road to link the United States and Canada.
45 G. MacDonald, Where the Mountains Meet the Prairies, a history of the Waterton Country, pages 88-91, 93, 2000.
46 James W. Davidson, Letter from Harry S. Fish, RI Director to James W. Davidson December 17, 1925, on the total resignation and revival of the Douglas Club in Arizona which took Davidson one
month to complete. (Abramson Archives).  Also see (1) Idealism Plus Community Service, The Rotarian 28(4): 9-10, April 1926 and (2) “The Other Fellow, one good deed quietly accomplished does
more for your organization than a screaming calliope” in The Rotarian 24(2): 25, 53-54, February 1924.  For a complete list of articles by Davidson in The Rotarian see the attached Bibliography of
James Wheeler Davidson.  All Rotarian articles by Davidson are included in the James Wheeler Davidson section of this book.

Go to P. 2

James Wheeler Davidson became known as the Marco Polo of Rotary over the course of twenty years of creating new Rotary clubs in new countries around the world.  Davidson was a member of the second Peary Expedition in 1893/94, and became a war correspondent in Japan and Taiwan in 1895.  He moved to Calgary with his new wife in 1907, where he joined the new Rotary club in 1914, and started his international travels for Rotary by chartering new Rotary clubs in Australia and New Zealand.  After starting Rotary clubs in Alberta and Manitoba, in 1927 he set out to introduce Rotary into Asia and the Orient, and helped Rotary to make changes to its rules to suit its new world-wide membership.

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