William Charles (Billy) Bates was born in Toronto, Canada on 20 October 1885. His mother was born in the United States of parents who were of English and Scotch-Irish ancestry. His maternal grandmother was born in Belfast, Ireland of Scotch parents and his maternal grandfather was a Yorkshireman who had worked on the Great Lakes as an engineer on various boats. His father was Canadian born and his paternal grandfather was also Canadian born of English descent. His paternal grandmother was of Pennsylvania-Dutch and French ancestry. Her father held a commission as a Captain for the United States in the War of 1812 but many of his father’s ancestors were U.E. Loyalists.

Mr. Bates first education was in the Sumach and York Streets and Gladstone Avenue grade schools in the city of Toronto. In the latter he received a vigorous reprimand from John Muir who was the composer of Canada’s national anthem, “The Maple Leaf Forever”. It seems he had gone to school without having his shoes shined properly!

His father was a steam engineer who worked in the structural ironwork, steam shoveling and dredging. In 1895 the family moved to Chicago, Illinois and Mr. Bates briefly attended school in Stonebank, Wisconsin. His grammar school was completed in Chicago at the James McCosh School, located in a district settled by tradesmen and mechanics. The principal, Mary Darrow Olson, was a sister of Clarence Darrow. It was the custom, in 1900, to award “Foster” diplomas to eighth grade graduates; Mr. Bates was the first boy at James McCosh to be awarded this diploma; prior to this the girls were the most fortunate winners. During this period an ardent WCTU worker staged one of those contests where everyone gives a narration about prohibition; he was awarded a silver medal for his oratorical efforts. In 1900 he graduated from grammar school.

Immediately after graduation the family moved to Walla Walla, Washington where Mr. Bates’ father and uncle were running a steam shovel, employed by McCabe and McCann, to fill various bridge sites between Waitsburg and Dayton. Here he earned the first “real” money as water boy, getting the princely stipend of $1.00 a day plus a piece of apple pie from the Chinese cook (whenever the boss wasn’t around).

In 1901 the family (his parents, his Uncle Will and Aunt Lil and his great-grandmother who rode along on a flat car and sitting on her favorite rocking chair) moved by train to Western Washington where Mr. Bates’ father was running a steam shovel and extending the Northern Pacific Railway from Kalama to Vancouver. For a brief period he attended high school in Olympia and on 2 January 1902 he enrolled in high school in Vancouver, Washington.

In 1904 his father and uncle were sent to the Panama Canal as the first steam shovel engineers under American occupation. Later their wives joined them. They were passengers on individual ships (in case one ship were unable to reach Colon); his mother’s ship was the second to arrive so she was the second American woman to arrive in the zone.

Upon graduation from high school in 1905 he was given a job as a railroad trainman at $60.00 per month on the Canal but when he arrived at Colon the steam shovel erection crew needed a clerk and he was switched to acting as time-keeper, clerk and secretary to the representative of the Bucyrus Company that was assembling all steam shovels they sold to the government. He worked in this line until the autumn of 1906 when he matriculated at the University of Washington in Seattle.

He returned to the Canal Zone in the summer of 1907 and was given a job by Mr. Ralph Bud, later president of Burlington, as steam shovel fireman at $100.00 a month. This work enabled him to pay his expenses to and from the zone.

Upon graduation from the University of Washington in 1910 with a degree of L.L.B. he returned to Panama, stayed for some three months, and was admitted to practice in all courts of the Panama Canal Zone.

On 23 January 1902, his first day at Vancouver High School, he met L.M. Burnett. This friendship continued not only during high school but also through four years at the university. And on 26 November 1910 the partnership of Bates and Burnett began practicing law in Vancouver and continued until their retirement some fifty years later. The only political office he held was that of Vancouver City Attorney for six consecutive terms from 1917-1929 and later from 1942 to 1946. However he did attempt to represent Clark County in the legislature on the old Bull Moose Party (Teddy Roosevelt) and their platform but they were not in favor…

In 1946 the firm of Bates and Burnett moved its practice from downtown Vancouver to West 11th Street. They were the first firm to decentralize, buying the Old Brown House, so-called, after the former banker who had built the house for his family. When Mr. Bates’ mother in law, Mrs. Peter Olaf (Mary Josephine) Hilstrom nee Tuomala, arrived in Vancouver from Finland at the age of eighteen, Mrs. Brown hired her to care for her children. Mr. Bates was very fond of his mother in law and this affection prompted the selection of the Brown House.

In over 50 years of practice he had only one criminal case. Appointed by the court as his attorney, his client was accused of stealing a red lantern that was used as a warning of minor construction on the interstate bridge. His client was adjudged innocent; after he settled his fee he turned to Mr. Bates and asked him if he could use a red lantern. Mr. Bates never took another criminal case.

In addition to his terms as City Attorney, Mr. Bates was a member of Acacia Fraternity; the Washington State Bar Association; Martha Washington Chapter #42, Order of the Eastern Star; past commander Vancouver Commandery K.T. #10; BPOE Lodge #823; and was a past president of the Vancouver Kiwanis. He was made a master Mason in University Lodge #141 in Seattle in 1910, belonged to Mt. Hood Lodge #32 F & A.M. and in twenty years advanced to Most Worshipful Grand Master in 1930. He was instrumental in the founding of the Vancouver Federal Savings and Loan and was a director and their attorney, and served on the board of directors for the Seattle First National Bank.

On 1 November 1919 he and Theresa Ada Bates nee Hilstrom were married in Vancouver. Mrs. Bates, a Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Washington, was born in Clark County but her father was born in Sweden and her mother in Finland. They had one daughter, a retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel.

Photo and story courtesy of Mary Ellen Bates.