Major Frederick Victor Longstaff: Early British Columbia Nautical Heritage Researcher

by John M. MacFarlane 2013

Major Victor Longstaff

Major Frederick Victor Longstaff – Nautical History Enthusiast and Pioneer Researcher in British Columbia Maritime Heritage

Frederick Victor Longstaff was born June 15th, 1879 in Ben Rhydding, Yorkshire England. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was the son of a wealthy industrialist Lieutenant Colonel Llewellyn W. Longstaff OBE, a man who contributed significant funding to Captain Scott’s 1901 expedition to Antarctica (Scott named the Longstaff Peaks in Antarctica in his honour.) Frederick Victor was one of ten children and was educated at Eton and Cambridge.

Longstaff joined the East Surrey Regiment in 1899 and was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 11/04/1906. He came to Canada in 1909 as a machine gun instructor seconded to the Canadian Active Militia. He was promoted to Captain on 28/03/1907 and to Major on 01/12/1914. From 1912–1914 he held a temporary commission in the Active Militia of Canada in the Corps of guides. He resigned his army commission in 1915 due to medical reasons.

He originally settled in Victoria BC in 1911 where he practiced as an architectural draftsman, in which capacity he was involved in the design of Saint John’s Church, Quadra Street and the James Bay Anglican Hall. He had been trained in London as an Architect. In 1911 Longstaff began to practice architecture in Victoria BC with Colonel Ridgeway Wilson.


Longstaff was an enthusiastic hiker and mountain climber. Here in 1954 at the Alpine Hut at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. In the inscription on the back he states, "Alpine Club hut at O’Hara, I climbed 700 feet at O’Hara last August." (at age 80). (Photograph from the MacFarlane collection.)

Victor Longstaff shared his brother Tom’s passion for mountaineering and often accompanied climbing parties around the Province. Longstaff’s brother, Tom Longstaff, was a prominent mountaineer and outdoors–man and served as the Medical Officer on the 1922 Mount Everest Expedition. He shared a passion with his brother Victor in hiking, camping and mountain climbing that resulted in annual expeditions into the back country of British Columbia. In 1910 he joined A.O. Wheeler’s expedition into the Spillamacheen Mountains. In 1896 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (London).

He was a member of the Navy League, which was a key organization lobbying for a strong Royal Navy. He was also very active in nautical heritage activities. In 1934 he was involved in the formation of the Victoria Lifeboat Association and the Vancouver Island Lifeboat Association. These were modelled after the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in the UK of which he was an active member. He supported the Connaught Seamen’s Institute which opened a Seaman’s Home in Victoria in 1914. In 1940 he also led the First Victoria Company of the Boys Brigade (which met at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Hall). He was a life member of the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association.

In 1932 he was a prime mover in the formation of the Thermopylae Club in Victoria BC hosting the inaugural meeting October 21, 1932. This club served the interests of the nautical history enthusiasts and for many years was the senior nautical heritage organization in British Columbia. Originally for retired mariners it still functions and holds regular meetings in Victoria and accepts anyone interested in the sea and seamanship as members.

Longstaff was one of the key proponents in the creation of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. He organized a committee of prominent members of the marine community, historians and the Victoria naval officers to work on its organization. Without his leadership it is fair to say that a Maritime Museum would not have been established in Victoria until many years later. (It is variously reported that in 1939 he also chaired the Marine History Committee of the British Columbia Historical Federation.) It is reported that he made a number of addresses to meetings of the British Columbia Historical Association.


Longstaff was a great and supportive source of assistance to people undertaking their own research. My father, Commander George R. MacFarlane, turned to him for access to his collection of Navy Lists (which now form the backbone of the fine library at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia in Victoria) when he was researching a naval ancestor. He had distinctive and strong handwriting. (Letter from MacFarlane collection.)

Longstaff’s collection of papers, – particularly a set of surveyor’s notebooks are filled with notes, cuttings and observations on maritime and naval topics – are preserved in the British Columbia Archives. He was the author of a number of books of nautical history and military science.


Longstaff was a familiar sight on the front lawn of his home (known as ‘Seabank’) at 50 King George Terrace in Victoria where his large telescope was prominently mounted so that he could observe shipping in the Juan de Fuca Strait from his home. (The large telescope, mounted on a tripod, is now in the collection of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.) (Residents of Victoria will note that since the photo was taken that there have been dramatic changes in the landscape at that location.) (Photograph from MacFarlane collection.)

From 1921 until his death, Major Frederick Victor Longstaff, devoted himself entirely to historical and geographical studies, publishing works on naval, local and ecclesiastical history. Longstaff died in Victoria BC in 1961.


  • – University of Victoria:
  • – British Columbia Archives: Records in MS–0677, British Columbia Archives, Victoria BC
  • – F.V Longstaff (1957) H.M.C.S. Naden Naval Barracks; a history of its work, senior officers and ship
  • – Article by F.V. Longstaff titled "Historical Notes on Glacier House." The article includes photographic illustrations of the Lake O’Hara region and the interior of Abbot Pass Hut.
  • – The Book of the Machine Gun by F.V. Longstaff and A. Hilliard Atteridge. Published 1917 by Rees (London)
  • – A fine article on Longstaff in J.F. Bosher’s epic book "Imperial Vancouver Island: Who was who 1950-1950 tells a more complete story of his life and work.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2013) Major Frederick Victor Longstaff – Pioneer Researcher in British Columbia Maritime Heritage. 2013.

Site News: November 13th, 2017

Databases have been updated and are now holding 50,543 vessel histories (with 4,571 images) and 57,599 mariner biographies (with 3,482 images).

© 2002-2017