first election in Pictou County was held in 1799. These were the days of
irresponsible Government, when an autocratic Executive at Halifax governed
the Province, as they saw fit, and generally without regard to the just
claims of the outlying settlements. It was natural, therefore, that the
Scotsmen of Pictou should be strong in protest against this form of
government, and when the opportunity was formally offered them they
expressed themselves as strongly opposed to it.
At this time, the counties of Pictou, Colchester and
Halifax were one for Electoral purposes, and were designated "Halifax"
County. Out of the four candidates allotted to the county of Halifax,
Pictou returned two, W. Cottman Tonge, and Edward Mortimer in opposition
to the ruling element at Halifax. Mr. Tonge is said to have been a man of
great independence, and fearless in asserting the rights of the people. In
1806, Colchester and Pictou again overruled Halifax by electing Edward
Mortimer and S. G. W. Archibald of Truro. Edward Mortimer was of Scottish
descent. He settled in Pictou town where he became a prominent merchant
and shipper. Because of his wealth and influence he was sometimes styled
"the King of Pictou." For over twenty years he represented the people in
the General Assembly of the Province. Political seed was apparently sown
in a fruitful field, and the men of Pictou have ever since taken the
deepest and most intelligent interest in public affairs. Through worthy
representatives they have made their influence strongly felt on the floors
of successive Parliaments and Legislature.
The outstanding question in Pictou's early politics, and
the one which contributed to a greater degree than any other in causing
party strife, was the unfortunate controversy. lasting more than twenty
years, over Pictou Academy's claims for Government aid, on lines similar
to that accorded to King's College. Windsor, which was the special care of
the Council of Twelve. Edward Mortimer, George Smith and Jotham Blanchard
were successively the men who championed the cause of the Academy. In its
earlier stages, the quarrel was ecclesiastical, as well as political, and
intense feelings were aroused. Jotham Blanchard was elected in 1830 to the
Assembly at Halifax. This was the year of the "big election," concerning
which many stories of strife, bloodshed, and even death are told. Hon, J.
W. Carmichael describes the famous election of 1830. when "Kirk" and "Antiburgher"
were the war cries. Elections were not held then as now in one day. That
one occupied three weeks, commencing in Halifax, adjourning to Truro, and
then to Pictou, a week in each, the excitement increasing as the contest
proceeded. From Truro came accounts of bands of electors marching in from
Stewiacke, Londonderry and Tatamagouche with pipes playing, flags flying,
and forming in a body around Court House Square.
The battle rolled on to Pictou and when Highlander met
Lowlander then came the tug of war. A regular plan of campaign was marked
out. On Monday, the Kirk men took possession of the town and drove the
Antiburghers before them like leaves before the blast. The Antiburgher
leaders took counsel with one another and orders were issued. Messengers
sped over hills and dales; and "Antiburghers to the rescue," was the cry.
From East and West and Middle River came in the detachments, and revived
the drooping spirits of their party. The college was guarded. A body-guard
was stationed in Blanchard's House. On Wednesday night a fierce and
possibly fatal contest was prevented, solely by the interposition of Dr.
McCulloch, who placed himself between the contending
parties just as their columns were coming in to conflict;
and prevailed on both to retire. And so passed away the week-a week
eventful in the history of Pictou. and of Nova Scotia. It was decidedly
the most exciting election ever held in the Province. The bitter feelings
engendered in that strife have long passed away. There are now few, very
few, remaining who can even call them to recollection.
Joseph Howe followed the polling to Pictou and reported
the events there in the interest of his paper, the "Nova Scotian." Howe at
that time was attached to the Party of Privilege and afterwards said that
it was the impressions made upon him by Blanchard and the other Pictou
reformers that turned his mind towards the popular side. as he expressed
it, "those Pictou scribblers converted me."
Next came the agitation for Responsible Government, and
Pictou was the centre of the movement. Jotham Blanchard was the first
public man in the Province, by voice and pen to press for Responsible
Government, as we have it today. This he did through the columns of the
Colonial Patriot and before the Home Government in 1831 when he went
across to plead for justice to Pictou Academy. In 1836 the district of
Pictou was established as a separate county. By that act, it received two
representatives for the County and one for the township of Pictou. The
first election under the new plan took place that year, when by a
compromise between the parties, George Smith, a Liberal and an upholder of
responsible government, and John Holmes, a Tory and openly opposed to the
new order of things, were chosen, After a contest Henry Hatton was elected
to represent the township.
In 1838 Thomas Dickson succeeded George Smith, the latter
being elevated to the Legislative Council From 1840-1843 Holmes, Henry
Blackadar, and Hatton were the representatives. The next four years,
Holmes and George R. Young represented the County and Btackadar the
township. From 1847-1851 the members were Young, Andrew Robertson and
Blackadar. George R. Young was a member without portfolio of the first
real Reform Government that came into power after the election of 1847. In
1851 the Liberals lost the County and for four years the representatives
were Holmes, Robert Murray and Martin I. Wilkins.
Mr. Holmes was one of the earliest settlers on the East
River of Pictou. He came from Scotland when only eleven years of age. By
his industry, intelligence and public spirit he won the confidence of the
people and for many years represented them in Parliament. In 1858, he was
appointed a member of the Legislative Council and in 1867 to the Senate of
Canada. He died in 1876, aged 87 years.
In 1855 Captain George McKenzie and A. C. McDonald were
elected for the County and Wilkins again for the township. Mr. McDonald
was the first son of the soil to win the confidence of the electors of
Pictou. He represented the County in the Nova Scotia Legislature, in the
Liberal interest, for eight years, and was Speaker of the House of
Assembly before Confederation. Captain McKenzie was one of the old school
politicians and a leading man in the county. For eight years he
represented it in the Liberal interest. Mr. Wilkins, though not a native
of the county, was long identified with it. He went against his party at
Confederation and was elected in 1867 on the Liberal ticket, becoming
Attorney General in Mr. Annand's Government. In 1859 the County was
divided into two districts. Eastern and Western. From 1859 to 1863 Captain
George McKenzie and James McDonald represented the Eastern district and A.
C. McDonald and R, P. Grant, Western. From 1863 to 1867, the Eastern
district was represented by James McDonald and James Fraser, (Downie), and
the Western district by Alexander McKay and Donald Fraser.
After confederation, in 1867. the Dominion Parliament was
established and met at Ottawa, with one representative from Pictou County.
An additional member in the Local House was at this time given to the
county. Hiram Blanchard, a son of Pictou, who represented Inverness County
from 1857 to 1867 was sworn in on July 4, 1867 as the first Premier of
Nova Scotia after Confederation, holding the portfolio of Attorney
General. He was without mandate from the people and his stay in office was
brief, for at the general election which took place four months later,
September 17, 1867, he was utterly defeated, only two seats being carried
for the Government, his own, and Henry G. Pineo for Cumberland County. Mr.
Blanchard was unseated at the election in 1867 and remained in private
life until the general election, 1871, when he was again returned by
Inverness and became leader of the opposition in the Provincial House
until his death in 1874.
In 1867, Pictou elected to the Local House three
Liberals- Dr. George Murray, R. S. Copeland and Martin 1. Wilkins. In
1871, the pendulum swung back and Simon H. Holmes, Alexander McKay, and
Hugh J. Cameron, were elected, and again in 1874. In 1878 Simon H. Holmes,
Alexander McKay and Adam C. Bell, were chosen by the people. In 1878 Simon
H. Holmes became the fourth Premier of the Province, being leader of the
Government for four years. During his administration, several laws and
measures of great benefit to the Province, were passed, In May, l882, Mr.
Holmes retired from politics to accept the office of Prothonotary for the
Supreme Court at Halifax, which office he still holds.
Upon the retirement of Mr. Holmes, J. S. D. Thomson
became Premier and Adam C. Bell, Provincial Secretary. In an appeal made
to the country, three months later, the Government was defeated, although
Mr. Bell, with Robert Hockin and Dr. C. H. Munro were elected for Pictou.
In 1886, Bell and Munro were again elected with Jeffrey McColl, New
Glasgow, the first Liberal elected in Pictou for nineteen years. Mr. Bell
resigned in 1887, and ran for a seat in the Federal House, but was
defeated. His place in the Legislature was taken by William Cameron, who
was elected by acclamation, and again returned by popular vote in 1890 and
1894. From 1890 to 1894, Alexander Grant and James D. McGregor, with
William Cameron, represented the county.
James D. McGregor, New Glasgow, entered public life in
1890, and served for four years in the House of Assembly. He was returned
again in 1897. In 1900 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Commons.
In 1903 he was called to the Senate, and in 1910 succeeded another
Pictonian, the Hon. D. C. Fraser, in the office of Lieutenant Governor of
the Province. Mr. McGregor is a grandson of the Rev. Dr. McGregor. and
senior partner in the firm of R. McGregor & Sons. He has long been
prominentin Church and State. His elevation to the Governor's Chair was a
well-deserved honor to a worthy citizen.
Matthew H. Fitzpatrick represented the County in the
House of Assembly from 1897-1901. In 1901 George G. Patterson was elected
along with E. M. Macdonald and C. E. Tanner, and became a member of the
Murray Government, but failed of election, in 1906. Robert M. MacGregor,
son of the Hon. James D. McGregor, was nominated in 1904 to succeed E. M.
Macdonald in the Legislature, He was opposed by A. C. Bell, whom he
defeated. He was elected again in 1906 with Charles E. Tanner. John M.
Baillie represented county at Halifax from 1906 to 1911. In 1909, R. H.
MacKay was elected when Mr. Tanner sought to regain his seat. In the
election of 1911. Charles E. Tanner, Robert M. MacGregor and R. H, MacKay
were chosen and are the present representatives. Mr. MacGregor is a member
of the Murray Government, and Mr. Tanner Leader of the Opposition.
Reverting to the Confederation period, the County chose
as its first representatives to Ottawa, James W. Carmichael, a Liberal,
and a man of much ability, who served from 1867 to 1872, and again from
1874 to 1878. Redistribution in 1872 gave Pictou the right to send two
members to Ottawa, and James McDonald and Robert Doull, were elected on
the Conservative ticket. In 1898 Mr. Carmichael was called to the Senate,
but resigned in 1903 and died on May 1, 1903 in his eighty-fourth year.
Mr. Carmichael was the son of James Carmichael and
Christian McKenzie, his wife, both natives of Canada, of Scotch descent.
He was born at New Glasgow, Dec. 16, 1819. Educated at Pictou Academy,
married 1851, to Maria, daughter of Duncan McColl, of Guysboro, N. S.,
(she died Dec. 1874). Mr. Carmichael was long one of the best and most
prominent citizens of Pictou County. He was widely and honorably known
throughout Canada, as a business man and as a public man. From 1874-1878,
John A. Dawson, represented the county in the Dominion Parliament with Mr.
In 1878, with the return of Sir John A. Macdonald to
power, James McDonald and ·Robert Doull, were once more successful. For
many years, Mr. McDonald was in the political arena, As a young man, he
showed great aptitude for political life and leadership. He afterwards
became one of the most prominent politicians in Canada. Elected by his
native county to the Local and Dominion Parliaments, he soon took a
leading place as a public speaker and debater. That James McDonald's honor
and ability was recognized by his contemporaries is evidenced by the
numerous responsible positions which he held. He was Financial Secretary
for Nova Scotia, Railway Commissioner in Nova Scotia, Imperial
Commissioner in a crown difficulty in Jamaica and member of several
national trade commissions.
In 1878 he became Minister of Justice in the.Sir John A.
Macdonald's Government, and three years afterwards was appointed Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. His place in Parliament was
taken by John McDougald, C.M.G., who was re-elected in 1882, 1886, 1890
and 1896, retiring in that year to accept the position of Commissioner of
Customs for Canada, which he still holds. Robert Doull was the colleague
of Hon. James McDonald from 1872 to 1874 and again from 1878 to 1882. In
1882, Charles H. Tupper, now Sir Charles H. Tupper of Victoria, B. C.,
came in and continued to represent the County until 1904.
Edward M. Macdonald, first appealed to the Electors in
1894 at the Provincial election but was unsuccessful. In 1896 he was a
candidate for the Dominion Parliament with the same result. In 1897 he won
the election to the House of Assembly, and again in 1900. He resigned to
stand for the Dominion House but was again defeated by Adam C. Bell. He
was, however, returned to the Legislature unopposed. In 1894, Charles E.
Tanner was elected to the Legislature with Wm. Cameron and Alex. Grant. In
1897 he was defeated, but elected in 1901 and 1906. He resigned in 1908 to
run for the Federal Seat against E. M. McDonald and was defeated. He
sought re-election to the Assembly, but was defeated by R. H. McKay. He
was re-elected in 1911. In the general election of 1896, Adam C. Bell was
nominated in place of John McDougald and secured election as he did again
in 1900. In 1904 Edward M. Macdonald was elected to a seat in the Dominion
which he has since held, being re-elected in 1908 and 1911, having now
represented the County continuously in Legislature and Parliament for
The first Pictonian in the Legislative Council, was the
Hon. James Fraser, Drummond, of New Glasgow, who was was appointed in
1867. Mr, Fraser was a man of much force and character and was a leader in
Church and State. He died in 1884, at the advanced age of 82. The next was
the Hon. John D. McLeod in 1887. He served as Liberal Leader in the
Council. Another Pictonian, a native of Durham, Hon. W. D. R. Cameron of
Sherbrooke, became a member of the Council in 1892. In 1864 he settled in
Sherbrooke and held office of Registrar of Deeds, from 1869-1902. He died
at Halifax April 7, 1914, aged 77 years.
The County of Pictou was represented in the Senate by the
Hon. John Holmes, 1867 to 1876. The Hon. R. P. Grant, a native of
Scotland, was appointed in 1887. The first Pictonian called to the Senate
was, Thomas McKay, of Truro in 1881. Mr. McKay was born at Hopewell,
Pictou Co., and was long engaged in mercantile pursuits in Truro, N. S.
For seven years he represented the County of Colchester before he was
called to the Senate. The next was Clarence Primrose of Pictou, followed
by James W. Carmichael of New Glasgow, 1898; James D. McGregor in 1903 and
Adam C. Bell, 1911, both of New Glasgow. Thomas Fraser, Rogers Hill,
represented California in the Senate for several years. Mr. Primrose, was
the son of late James Primrose, a native of Scotland. He was born at
Pictou, Oct. 5, 1830. Educated at Pictou Academy and the Univ., of
Edinburgh. Became the head of the firm Primrose Bros., Commission
Merchants, Lumber and Shipping Agents.
Adam Carr Bell was born in Pictou on November 11, 1847,
and was the son of Basil Bell and Mary Carr. The progenitors of the Bells
were natives of Scotland, and the Carrs were from England. Basil Bell was
a distinguished man of letters and taught in the Pictou Academy when
Senator Bell was born, while on his mother's side, Adam Carr was the first
man to mine coal for commercial purposes at the Albion Mines.
Mr. Bell received his education in the New Glasgow
Schools, at Mount Allison University and at the Glasgow University,
Scotland. Always a studious man of affairs