The first B.C. Champion was John Ewing, who won the title in a tournament held in 1916. But some sources list a predecessor - Dr. Stephen F. Smith, who is said to have been B.C. Champion in 1915. Before examining this claim in detail, here is a short biography (it should be noted that this research is ongoing, and hopefully further information will come to light on Dr. Smith.)
According to obituaries in the British Chess Magazine (BCM) and the [London] Times, Doctor Stephen Francis Smith died in London on May 12th, 1928, at age sixty-seven. This would place his date of birth around 1861. Census records give his place of birth as Ontario, Canada; he had a younger sister who was born in Seaforth in 1870. It is almost certain he was the son of the Doctor William R. Smith of Seaforth who played in the first completed Canadian Championship in 1873; presumably Stephen's introduction to chess was via his father. Sometime in the mid-1870s Smith's family emigrated to London, England. Following in his father's profession Smith trained as a doctor, eventually becoming a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a Licentiate of the Apothecaries' Society, the normal qualifications to be a general practitioner at the time. However, census records describe both Smith and his father as homeopathic medical practitioners, this at a time when considerable friction and antagonism existed between the traditional medical community and homeopathy.
Little else is know for certain about the rest of Smith's life; his profession would have made him a man of means, which allowed him to travel fairly frequently in later life. He visited both Ostende and Paris for tournaments, and seems to have left the British Isles for much of the duration of World War One. This time he appears to have spent in North America. Perhaps he still had family in Ontario, but it is known Smith was in Vancouver from late 1914 till at least April 1915, and was also in Southern California in 1917.
The City of London Chess Club team which fought a team from Yorkshire in a radio match, played December 18th, 1897. The umpire was Leopold Hoffer (standing, second from the left), Joseph Blackburne was the referee (standing at the right), Dr. Smith is seated, second from the right. On the evidence of this photo he was a large, imposing man.
As a chessplayer Dr. Smith was a strong amateur who was bested by the lower echelon of professional masters. For example, Smith often played in the British Championship but nearly always in one of the minor sections; he played several times at Hastings but never in the Premier. The Minor "Tourney" of the 1899 London International is typical - Smith scored 50% to finish seventh out of twelve, behind the likes of Marshall, Marco, and Mieses. A long-time member of the City of London Chess Club (he joined in 1887), Smith won its championship in 1895 and placed second in 1905-06. His best individual games were wins against a young Max Euwe in the 1919 Hastings Victory Congress and Vera Menchik at Hastings 1927-28; at his worst he suffered from the tactical oversights which John Nunn believes were a common feature of play in that era - see the games against Marshall and Koltanowski below.
The first record of Dr. Smith in B.C. occurs in the [Vancouver] Daily News Advertiser of December 6th, 1914, which noted he would give a simultaneous exhibition on the following Wednesday at the Vancouver Chess Club. Smith went on to win the club championship in the spring of 1915, along with giving a lecture on endings (February 2) and drawing with Frank Marshall in a Vancouver simul by the latter on February 17th. After this he seems to have left B.C.: there is no further mention of his presence in local sources.
However, this does not end his associations wth Canada. At the end of 1920 the BCM reported that a match for the "championship of Canada has been arranged between Sidney E. Gale, the Canadian champion, and Dr. S.F. Smith, late champion of Vancouver and ex-champion of the City of London Chess Club, England." The match was to be the best score out of nine games, draws excluded. Gale lived in Hamilton; if Dr. Smith still had relatives in Ontario, this may explan how the match came to take place. In any event, the match was abandoned after each player had scored one victory, "Mr. Gale being obliged to withdraw because of business reasons." [Victoria Daily Colonist, February 6th, 1921]
In 1924, in conjunction with the Olympic Games in Paris, a chess team event was organized. Unlike future chess olympiads, this event followed the ideals and organization of the Olympic Games: only non-professionals were allowed to take part, and everyone competed as an individual, the number of players on a "team" being variable. Dr. Smith played in the tournament as the sole representative of Canada, although there is no indication by whose authority he did this. During the event meetings and discussions took place with regard to the formation of an International Chess Federation. The Federation was duly inaugurated at the end of the Paris tournament, with fifteen countries signing the roll as first members; Dr. Smith signed on behalf of Canada. [The first president was Dr. Alexander Rueb of Holland, who lost to Smith in the consolation final of the team tournament.]
Dr. Smith is first mentioned as a B.C. Champion in the August 1925 edition of BCM; in a short report on the 1925 championship a list is given of champions for the previous ten years, headed by Dr. Smith in 1915. He is also so named in three separate articles in 1928, two in the chess column of the Victoria Daily Colonist, the last in his obituary in the BCM. The order of appearance of the references is important. The Daily Colonist chess column ran from 1916 to the early 1930s and had two editors in its history: Cyril F. Davie initially, then Thomas H. Piper after the early 1920s. Inclusion of local news in the column was infrequent; instead, both Davie and Piper relied heavily on international news stories from English sources, predominately the BCM and the chess column in The Field. All the references to Dr. Smith being a provincial champion in B.C. sources occur after the August 1925 BCM article, none before, and all these references occur at least ten years after the event in which Dr. Smith supposedly won the title. Contemporary B.C. sources (i.e., from 1915/16) state that he won the Vancouver Chess Club championship, but there is no mention of there being a B.C. championship in 1915, nor of Smith winning it. All contemporary reports indicate the first championship tournament was in 1916, won by John Ewing; half of the participants in the event had also taken part in the Vancouver CC championship the previous year, and would have been very much aware if Ewing had a predecessor for the title.
What we are left with appears to be a "fisherman's tale" of chess exploits: Dr. Smith wins the Vancouver CC championship in 1915, but by 1920 this has turned into the Vancouver championship (see quote in connection with the Gale match above), finally becoming the B.C. championship in 1925, the latter two achievements first being mentioned in sources from the other side of the Atlantic. Dr. Smith may have been the strongest player in B.C. in 1915, but it is apparent that the honour of being the first B.C. champion rests with John Ewing.
Smith, Stephen - Marshall, Frank [D00] London-B London (1), 05.1899
1.d4 d5 2.e3 e6 3.Nf3 f5 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Ne5 Bd6 6.f4 0–0 7.0–0 Bxe5 8.fxe5 Ng4 9.Qe1 Bd7 10.Qg3 Kh8 11.e4 dxe4 12.Bxe4 Bb5 13.Rd1 Be2 14.Rd2 fxe4 15.c3 Rf1# 0–1
Smith, Stephen - Stevenson, Archibald [B18] VCC ch Vancouver 1915
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd8 4.d4 c6 5.Ne4 Bf5 6.Ng3 Bg6 7.Nf3 e6 8.c3 Bd6 9.Bd3 Bxg3 10.hxg3 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 Nf6 12.g4 g6 13.g5 Nfd7 14.Bf4 f6 15.O-O-O O-O 16.Rh6 Rf7 17.Rdh1 f5 18.Qe3 Qe8 19.Ne5 Nxe5 20.Bxe5 Nd7 21.Rxg6+ Kf8 22.Rgh6 Ke7 23.Rxh7 Nf8 24.g6 Rxh7 25.gxh7 Ng6 26.Qg5+ Kd7 27.h8=Q 1-0
Smith, Stephen - Yates, Bertram [C61] VCC Vancouver 1915
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.d3 Nf6 6.O-O c6 7.e5 cxb5 8.exf6 Qxf6 9.Re1+ Be7 10.Qe2 d5 11.Nd2 Be6 12.Nf3 Bg4 13.Bg5 Qxg5 14.Nxg5 Bxe2 15.Rxe2 Kf8 16.Nf3 Bf6 17.a4 b4 18.a5 Rc8 19.Ra4 b3 20.cxb3 Rc1+ 21.Re1 Rxe1+ 22.Nxe1 Ke7 23.Rb4 Rb8 24.Kf1 Kd6 25.Ke2 Kc5 26.Nc2 Re8+ 27.Kd1 b5 28.axb6 axb6 29.Ra4 Re7 30.Ra8 Rc7 31.Rb8 h6 32.g3 Be5 33.Kd2 Kb5 34.Rd8 Kc5 35.b4+ Kc6 36.b5+ Kxb5 37.Rxd5+ Rc5 38.Rd7 Ka4 39.b4 Rc7 40.Rxc7 Bxc7 41.h4 Bd6 42.Nxd4 Bxb4+ 43.Ke2 b5 44.Nf5 Bf8 45.Kd2 Ka3 46.Kc2 Ka2 47.Ne3 Bc5 48.Nd1 Bd4 49.f3 b4 50.g4 b3+ 51.Kc1 Be3+ 52.Nxe3 b2+ 53.Kd2 b1=Q 54.h5 Qb2+ 55.Ke1 Kb3 56.Nc4 Qg2 0-1
Smith, Stephen - Holloway, Edith [C64] olm final B Paris (2), 07.1924
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5 4.Nxe5 Bxf2+ 5.Kxf2 Nxe5 6.d4 Ng6 7.Nc3 N8e7 8.Rf1 c6 9.Bd3 d5 10.Be3 0–0 11.Kg1 f5 12.exd5 Nxd5 13.Nxd5 cxd5 14.c3 Be6 15.Qh5 Qd7 16.Rae1 Nh8 17.Bf4 g6 18.Qd1 Nf7 19.Qd2 Nd6 20.Bxd6 Qxd6 21.Re5 Kg7 22.Rfe1 Rae8 23.Bb5 Bd7 24.Rxe8 Rxe8 25.Rxe8 Bxb5 26.Re5 h5 27.Qg5 Kf7 28.h3 Bc6 29.Qf4 Qf6 30.b3 b5 31.Re3 Qd8 32.g4 hxg4 33.hxg4 Bd7 34.Qd6 fxg4 35.Qxd5+ Kg7 36.Qd6 Kf7 37.c4 bxc4 38.bxc4 1–0
Smith, Stephen - Duchamp, Marcel [B03] olm final B Paris (4), 07.1924
1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.f4 dxe5 5.fxe5 Bf5 6.c3 e6 7.Bd3 Bxd3 8.Qxd3 Nc6 9.Nf3 Be7 10.0–0 0–0 11.Nbd2 f6 12.Ne4 fxe5 13.Neg5 Bxg5 14.Nxg5 Rxf1+ 15.Kxf1 Qf6+ 16.Kg1 Qf5 17.Ne4 g6 18.Bh6 exd4 19.Rf1 Qh5 20.Qd2 dxc3 21.bxc3 Ne5 22.h3 Nf7 23.Be3 Qh4 24.Nc5 Nxe3 25.Qxe3 Qg5 26.Qf2 Qe7 27.Nxb7 Nd6 28.Nc5 e5 29.Re1 Rf8 30.Qe2 Re8 31.Ne4 Kg7 32.Qf2 Nxe4 33.Rxe4 Qa3 34.Qe3 Qa5 35.c4 Qxa2 36.Rh4 h5 37.g4 Qb1+ 38.Kh2 Qc2+ 39.Kg3 Qxc4 40.gxh5 Qe6 41.hxg6 Rh8 42.Rxh8 Qxg6+ 43.Kh2 Kxh8 44.Qxa7 Qc2+ 45.Kh1 Qe4+ 46.Kh2 Qf4+ 47.Kh1 e4 48.Kg2 Kg7 49.Qd4+ Kh7 50.Qd7+ Kh6 51.Qe6+ Kg7 52.Qe7+ Kh6 53.Qe6+ Kg5 54.Qe7+ Kf5 55.Qc5+ Ke6 56.Qc6+ Ke7 57.Qc5+ Qd6 58.Qg5+ Kd7 59.Qf5+ Qe6 60.Qb5+ c6 61.Qb7+ Kd6 62.Qb8+ Kc5 63.Qa7+ Kd5 64.Qa2+ Kd6 65.Qd2+ Qd5 66.Qf4+ Kc5 67.Qc1+ Qc4 68.Qa3+ Kd5 69.Qa5+ c5 70.Qd8+ Kc6 71.h4 Qe2+ 72.Kg3 Qf3+ 73.Kh2 Qf4+ 74.Kh3 e3 75.Qe8+ Kd5 76.Qd7+ Ke4 77.Qc6+ Kd4 78.Qa4+ c4 79.Qd1+ Ke4 80.Qb1+ Kd4 81.Qb2+ Kd3 82.Qb1+ Ke2 83.Qb2+ Ke1 84.h5 Qf3+ 85.Kh4 Qf2+ 0–1
Smith, Stephen - Wreford Brown, Charles [D00] olm final B Paris (8), 07.1924
1.d4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.Bd3 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nd2 e6 6.f4 Qc7 7.Ndf3 Bd6 8.Ne5 Bd7 9.Qf3 cxd4 10.exd4 Rc8 11.Ne2 h5 12.0–0 Ne7 13.Bd2 Qb6 14.Rab1 Bb5 15.Bc2 Qa6 16.Rfe1 Nc6 17.Nc1 Nxd4 18.cxd4 Rxc2 19.Bc3 0–0 20.Qd1 Ba4 21.Nb3 Rxc3 22.bxc3 Rc8 23.Qf3 Be8 24.Rb2 Ba3 25.Rc2 b5 26.f5 Ne4 27.Qxh5 Rxc3 28.Rxc3 Nxc3 29.fxe6 Qxe6 30.Nd3 Ne4 31.Nf4 Qf6 32.Qxd5 Bc6 33.Qe5 Qxe5 34.dxe5 Ng5 35.Kf1 a5 36.Nd4 Bd7 37.Rb1 Ne6 38.Nfxe6 fxe6 39.Nxb5 Bb4 40.Nd6 Kf8 41.Rb3 Ke7 42.Rg3 Kd8 43.Rxg7 1–0
Smith, Stephen - Koltanowski, George [C22] Hastings27-28 Hastings, 1927
1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7 6.Bc4 0–0 7.h3 a6 8.Bd2 Re8 9.0–0–0 d6 10.Nd5 Nxd5 11.Bxd5 Bf6 12.g4 Be6 13.Bxe6 Rxe6 14.f4 Qe7 15.e5 dxe5 16.f5 Rd6 17.Nf3 e4 18.Ng5 Rxd2 0–1
Smith, Stephen - Menchik, Vera [B00] Hastings27-28 Hastings, 1927
1.e4 Nc6 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 g6 5.Be2 Bg7 6.0–0 0–0 7.d5 Nb8 8.Be3 c5 9.h3 h6 10.Qd2 Kh7 11.Nh2 b6 12.Ng4 Nxg4 13.hxg4 Ba6 14.g3 Bxe2 15.Qxe2 Nd7 16.Kg2 Rh8 17.Rh1 Kg8 18.g5 hxg5 19.Rxh8+ Bxh8 20.Bxg5 b5 21.Rh1 b4 22.Nd1 Bf6 23.Qg4 Bxg5 24.Qxg5 Qf8 25.Qh4 Kg7 26.Ne3 e5 27.Nf5+ 1–0