Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Scottish Tradition in Canada
The Scot as Politician
A. Margaret MacLaren Evans

The first task of Scottish emigrants to the New World was to acquire a home and means of livelihood. As soon as it was accomplished, many of them, accustomed to years of struggle for economic and political freedom in their own land, began to turn their attention to public affairs.1 Politically articulate Scots made their appearance in the British colonies which are today Canada towards the end of the eighteenth century. In 1789, James Glenie, a brilliant St. Andrew's graduate recently turned lumberman in New Brunswick, was elected to the Colonial Assembly. There he rapidly came to the front by his fearless attacks on what he called the "Governor's pitiful Junto" for their system of land granting, their policy in military matters, their favouritism toward the Anglican Church, and their obstruction of measures passed by the Assembly. He lost support, however, when he went so far as to attempt a vote of censure of the governor, and the popular movement which he had begun collapsed for want of a leader when he left New Brunswick. Glenie was far from being the "violent Democrat and Jacobin" that the government had labelled him. He and his supporters had been motivated less by principle than by envy of the power and patronage of office. Yet they had made some claims concerning the constitutional rights of an assembly which were forerunners of the Reformers' claims of the next century.2

In the politics of Quebec in the same period, a Scot from Edinburgh, Dr. Adam Mabane, was prominent on the side opposing reform. After arriving in 1760 in the lowly position of surgeon's mate in the army, he had risen steadily in his profession, and in 1764 Governor James Murray had made him a councillor and a judge in the Court of Common Pleas. "Possessing marked ability, a strong character, and a warm Scottish heart," Mabane was one of the individuals with the most weight in the administration from these first civil appointments until his death in 1792.3 With his natural sympathy for the French Canadians, and his suspicion of the British merchants in Montreal and Quebec whom he regarded as republican innovators, he was the favoured adviser not only of Murray but also eventually of the next governor, Guy Carleton, and of his successor, Frederick Haldimand, who both believed in conciliating the French. Mabane left a dual imprint on Canadian politics. He was a reactionary who opposed immigration into Quebec and supported the old system, including seigneurialism. His warnings of the dangers in American democracy and of the need for resistance to political change were echoed in later Toryism. At the same time, as the chief builder of the "French party," Mabane expressed the vague hopes of French-Canadian nationalism which were given substance by the French-speaking reformers in the Assembly after 1791. Thus "the two parties to the constitutional struggle of the nineteenth century shared the political heritage of this half-forgotten leader. "4

It was clear even in the late eighteenth century that the Scots' experience with the English at home would affect their thinking on what should be done about practical questions arising in Canada. When Chief Justice William Smith ruled in 1786 that under the Quebec Act no British-born subject had lost his right to English law, he implied that all those born in Quebec since 1763 came under English law. Not only the French Canadians were horrified, but also Scottish officials such as Mabane in Quebec. To him, used to Scottish law, it was completely illogical to assert that British subjects must have English laws.

Similarly the career of Adam Lymburner, a Kilmarnock Scot who had become one of the wealthy Quebec merchants so much disliked by Mabane, exemplified the influence of the Scottish political background. When amendment of the Quebec Act was being considered following the Loyalist influx into the interior west of Montreal, Lymburner went twice to England as the trusted delegate of the British mercantile minority and the few French Canadians who favoured constitutional revision. In 1788 he urged on the British government the granting of an assembly in which representation would be apportioned "parmi les anciens et les nouveaux sujets."5 In 1791 he pleaded with the British government not to divide Quebec into two separate provinces. As a merchant he foresaw that the division would create problems in the commerce of the St. Lawrence valley and disputes "trs dangereuses la tranquillit et scurit." As a Scot he maintained that the difference in religion and civil law between the two parts of the province was not a reason for division. Such a difference was not "de grande consequence," he argued, using the analogy of his native land: the laws of Scotland were not those of England but were "presque les memes comme ceux de France."6

But these Scots in the early period of Canada's history, political-minded though they had been, were actually just leaders of groups or local factions. The words "politician" and "party" can be applied only loosely until after 1815 when the colonies first had conditions favouring the emergence of political parties in the modern sense: rapidly enlarging populations, maturing societies and economies, and particularly expanding communications which, made possible the spread of political ideas and the discussion of political problems. This chapter on the Scot as political!.

which must be highly selective because of its length, will concentrate on the nineteenth century, the time when the bases of the important Canadian political traditions were laid and also when persons of Scottish origin were more readily distinguishable than they are in the twentieth century. And the emphasis will be on the Scots who were in the political arena as elected members in the lower houses and on the issues which engaged them. The many Scottish governors and members of upper houses would constitute a chapter in themselves.


As men began to align with Tory and Reform parties, or their successors, the Conservatives and Liberals, Scots ranged themselves, with all the vigour and intensity of their nature, on both sides. Glengarry County in eastern Ontario is a predominantly Scottish area which illustrates this political cleavage. From the days of the original settlement by Scots Loyalists and the later immigration of a disbanded Highland regiment under its chaplain, Alexander Macdonell, the county was Conservative. Macdonell, as well as becoming the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Upper Canada, was a Legislative Councillor who stood resolutely against the Reformers to the point of co-operating with the Orangemen. It is not surprising, then, that the Glengarrian community of Maxville reminisces about staunch Conservatives like James Burton who "fought many strenuous battles. .. against those terrible Grits." But Maxville also remembers unswerving Liberals such as Malcolm J. Fisher who believed in "the political infallibility of Gladstone, Blake and Mowat," and James Ferguson who was "too generous to decry the Conservatives the right to enter within the pearly gates" but felt that "any of that ilk who gained such a favour would be located in the north east corner of Heaven - the most forbidding location."7

Since the Scots took their politics with such earnestness and such elan, some of the most entertaining, if disorderly, election contests occurred when the opposing political parties nominated Scottish candidates. In 1841 the Canada Company brought the prestigious James McGill Strachan into Huron County to oust the individualistic Dr. William "Tiger" Dunlop, a descendant of Robert the Bruce. The "Tiger," as a Canada Company officer, had promoted the settlement of that western part of the Company's tract in Upper Canada, but had become increasingly critical of the Company's policies. The story of the Huron election is a medley of bonneted Highlanders, marching children, blocked roads, military aid rushed from London to quell the threatening battle, a partisan returning officer, and finally investigation by a select committee which declared Dunlop the victor according to the "legal" votes.8

While it is easy to see the political enthusiasm of the Scots, it is more difficult to identify the factors which determined their party allegiance. Many nineteenth century emigrants left the British Isles with liberal political ideas formed by events there, but they did not necessarily stay of the same mind in the different environment of America. For many Scots, as for English and Irish, migration had a conservatizing effect. Patrick Shirreff reported after his tour of North America that "a feeling of toryism pervaded most people in the Canadas" with whom he had come in contact; he believed that men usually changed from being Whigs "after sharing the pickings of Tory governments."9 Adam Fergusson also, on his visit to Upper Canada, was assured by the solicitor-general that "however turbulent or discontented individuals may have been prior to their arrival in the province, comfort and plenty soon work wonders."10 In each colony there were Scots who grew more conservative as they attained prosperity or office. In Nova Scotia, Alexander Stewart, the son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister and himself a proficient lawyer, led a popular attack on the governing clique in the 1820s while he was the member for Cumberland; then, after being appointed an Executive Councillor, he turned to a defence of the Tory system with its checks against too much democracy. And earlier, in the young colonies of the late eighteenth century and the first years of the nineteenth century, Scots had had little reason to be political reformers since they practically controlled the governments: for example, John Fraser, William Grant, Hugh Finlay, James McGill, John Richardson, John Young, James Stuart, in the councils of Lower Canada; and John Munro, Robert Hamilton, Alexander Grant, John McGill, Thomas Scott, William Dickson, James Crooks in those of Upper Canada. In fact, in the latter province around the turn of the century, Scots so predominated in the government that it was called "the Scotch faction" or "the clan."11

Nevertheless, as the 1820s and 1830s wore on, numerous Scots manifested varying degrees of reformism and radicalism. They found inspiration in Jacksonian democracy to the south and the liberal movements in Britain and Europe. But most of all their own independent spirit reacted against the privileged oligarchies which were entrenched in British North America, controlling the government, the church and the economy, and overruling the wishes of the people represented in the assemblies. Scots who settled at a distance from the colonial capitals tended to develop a deeper feeling of separateness and of dissatisfaction with government policies. Although geographical and economic groups were never homogeneous politically, the division between the hinterland and the metropolis, between the farmer or fisherman and the urban classes, was reflected in the opposition of the Scots in Cape Breton to the Council of Twelve at Halifax, and of those in the western peninsula of Upper Canada to the Family Compact at Toronto.

Religion was also a strong determinant of party orientations. The Scot in nineteenth century Canada was affected both by the religious disputes of his native country and by the religio-political controversies on this side of the ocean. Here the Church of Scotland and the Church of England were very similar in their conservatism and social respectability, their urban character and their belief in a strong tie between church and state. Generally the Scots who belonged to either of these churches were Tories, whereas the Reform supporters came from the Dissenting churches with their special grievances such as the clergy reserves in Upper Canada or the government's refusal of an endowment to Pictou Academy in Nova Scotia. The Academy was a Presbyterian institution for higher learning founded in 1816 by the scholarly Thomas McCulloch, a Secession Church minister and educationalist from Renfrewshire. The Provincial Assembly's continuing inability to get its bill for a permanent grant passed in the Council pointed up the faults in the system of government and gave rise to a reform movement led by the Pictou Secessionists. Their organ for open criticism of the government was the Colonial Patriot, a weekly begun in 1827 and edited by Jotham Blanchard who had been a pupil of McCulloch. For the Scots of the area who adhered to the Church of Scotland, however, McCulloch's views were too radical. The Kirkmen sided with the Council of Twelve and in 1831 launched another weekly, the Pictou Observer, as the mouthpiece of Scottish conservatism. So strong was the politico-religious discord in Pictou that at one point the sheriff built a fence ten feet high across the main street to keep the contenders apart.12

The two Pictou weeklies demonstrate not only the interconnection between the religious and the political convictions of the Scots, but also the relation between politics and the founding of newspapers, a sizable number of which were managed or edited by Scots. Unlike the modern "independent" press, these papers took sides openly in the political conflicts of the day. G.M. Grant has remarked that at that time "it was almost impossible to be an editor without being a politician."13 For a populace without telephone, automobile, radio and television, newspapers were about the only means of public information and were very influential. Indeed, Joseph Howe, who began as a mild Tory and became the leading Maritime Reformer, credited his conversion to the "Pictou Scribblers." 14

Family was another component in the partisanship of a Scot. If he was born of a Liberal or a Conservative father in Canada, he was likely to maintain the same party connection and hand it on to his children. Some of the families became virtually political dynasties. The well-educated John Young of Falkirk, Scotland, settled in Nova Scotia in 1815 with his sons William and George; they were all to be famous in the affairs of that province. John, whose "Letters of Agricola" published in the Acadian Recorder stimulated the improvement of agriculture, represented Sydney in the Assembly for twelve years. George, a writer like his father, founded and edited the weekly Novascotian in Halifax, and was one of the first reporters of the proceedings of the Provincial Assembly. He and his brother were associates with Howe in the Reform opposition which worked successfully for a system whereby the government would depend for tenure on its command of a majority in the elected House and would thus be responsible to the people. William, a shrewd lawyer who would be the distinguished Chief Justice of Nova Scotia for the last twenty years of his life, was chosen Liberal leader in 1854 and elected premier in 1859. Throughout the 1850s he was active in the discussion of the topics vital to Nova Scotians: reciprocity with the United States, the public school system, and integration of the provinces by a maritime or larger union.

The Laird family had a similarly long relationship with the politics of Prince Edward Island. The father, Alexander, a Scottish farmer of high character who migrated from Renfrewshire in 1819, represented Queen's County for sixteen years. He was a Reform colleague of George Coles, the head of the first "responsible" ministry in the Island. Both of Laird's sons rose to be Liberal ministers too - Alexander in the province and David at Ottawa. The latter, the founder of the Charlottetown Patriot, spoke out against the Quebec scheme for federal union in 1864 because it did not provide for settlement of his province's perennial land problem or for communications with the mainland. In 1873 he was a member of the delegation which, having reached agreement on these matters with the Dominion government, brought Prince Edward Island into Confederation. Taking his seat as a new member in the House of Commons just at the time of the Pacific Scandal, "Dour Davie," always "the keeper of an alert Presbyterian conscience,"15 proceeded to denounce the government of John A. Macdonald for its lack of morality. His maiden speech resulted in instant Cabinet rank as Minister of the Interior under Alexander Mackenzie, and that was followed by appointment in 1876 as the first Lieutenant-Governor of the North West Territories - a big step from his Island home.

But some Scots politicians did not keep to the party affiliation of their families. Oliver Mowat, who by the 1890s was the Grand Old Man of the Canadian Liberal party, was the son of the Caithness immigrant, John Mowat, one of the leading Conservatives in Kingston. Some other Scots changed their political opinions several times during their careers. William McDougall was one of these. A smooth and capable politician, but prone to take up with each new movement, he began as a radical at mid-century, modified to become one of the foremost Liberals in the decade preceding Confederation, endorsed representation according to population as the remedy for the united Province of Canada, and then abandoned it for the principle of the double majority when he accepted office in the government of John Sandfield Macdonald and L.V. Sicotte in 1862. After 1867 he stayed on in the "coalition" ministry at Ottawa, in 1875 was elected to the Ontario Legislature as an Independent, and in 1878 returned to the House of Commons as a Conservative. "Wandering Willie" had been a source of embarrassment to his earlier Reform coworkers; he was an uncertain colleague of John A. Macdonald also. As the dispute over the northwest boundary of Ontario dragged on, he warned Macdonald that if it were "not soon disposed of," he and the other Ontario politicians who had seceded from the Liberals would be compelled to make their "peace with Blake & Co." 16 Still, Mowat and McDougall were exceptions. The pattern among Scottish politicians was usually one of hereditary party identification and fervent party loyalty.


In the rapidly changing provinces of the early nineteenth century, the small ruling elites were sure to be challenged by Scots and others who wanted governments more popularly-based and responsive to public opinion. In Upper Canada the Constitution of 1791 and the frontier environment, in which not many people had the time and the aptitude for office, had combined to produce a government by the few - the so-called Family Compact. The most powerful member of the Compact was John Strachan, the indomitable little Aberdeen schoolmaster who had come to Kingston in 1799 without money or influence, considering provincial politics "hardly worth notice,"17 but who had gone on to dominate for two decades the Legislative and Executive Councils. Imbued with characteristic Scottish concern for religion and education, Strachan became the first Anglican Bishop of Toronto, trained a whole generation of future political leaders in his own schools for the "sons of gentlemen," presided over the first provincial Board of Education, and began two institutions of higher learning - King's College and Trinity College. His political design for the province was essentially conservative: Upper Canada should be a balanced society in the Burkean sense with aristocratic leadership and an established church, and should be strongly identified with the British Empire and loyal to Britain. Yet his anti-democratic concept of government was entirely compatible with material progress. Strachan and his colleague William Allan, another transplant from Aberdeen, were both interested in the promotion of ambitious projects in land settlement, banking and canal-building. Allan exemplified the purposeful Scottish businessman in politics. As merchant, first President of the Bank of Upper Canada, Canada Company commissioner, first Governor of the British America Assurance Company and first President of the Toronto Board of Trade, he was the Compact's principal link with the commercial and financial world.

At the same time in Upper Canada, political radicalism was given an impetus by Robert Fleming Gourlay and reached its peak with William Lyon Mackenzie. The careers of these two Scots had many likenesses. They were the same egotistical, cantankerous and aggressive type, born muckrakers, fearless in exposing political abuses and unrestrained in their harangues against the government. Gourlay began innocently enough after his arrival from Fifeshire in 1817 by seeking statistics on economic conditions so that he might write a guide for emigrants. But his questionnaire to the settlers also invited their opinions on what was retarding provincial progress. Even at this stage Strachan sensed the strain of radicalism in Gourlay: "the man was a dangerous incendiary."18 The Compact's suspicions were fully aroused when Gourlay organized a series of township meetings at which petitions to Britain would be drawn up and representatives chosen for a provincial convention. In Tory eyes such activities savoured of subversion and republicanism. When prosecutions of Gourlay for criminal libel failed, he was tried under the alien clause of the Sedition Act of 1804 and banished from the province.

Similarly Mackenzie, of humble Dundee background, seemed harmless at the outset. His biting editorials in the Colonial Advocate made that weekly the main anti-government organ in the 1820s. Nevertheless, he was the spokesman not of radicalism but of agrarian conservatism in his attacks on the Compact's economic policies. Like the rest of the Reformers, Mackenzie seems parochial and reactionary when his insistence upon economic retrenchment is compared with the forward-looking provincial schemes of the Scots in the government. In his political views in the 1830s, however, he swung decidedly to the left. The Seventh Report of the Select Committee on Grievances which he chaired in 1835 was an omnibus condemnation of Compact rule. While he was increasingly convinced that fundamental constitutional change was necessary and that there was no hope of obtaining it by appeals to London, he was also coming to admire the American elective system. By 1837 he was proclaiming in his new paper, The Constitution, that Upper Canada would achieve real self-government only by resort to arms and separation from Great Britain. "The clan Mackenzie was at war again with England," comments Mackenzie's biographer.19

As in the Gourlay incident, the oligarchy equated democratic reform with disloyalty, this time with some justification. In his disillusionment with Britain, Mackenzie had said, "I am less loyal than I was." Gourlay, on the other hand, had been no rebel. He thoroughly disapproved of the Mackenzie uprising, and was in fact one of the early proponents of a union of British North America in order to bind it closer to the mother country. The government contained the threat posed by Mackenzie almost as easily as that by Gourlay two decades earlier. Mackenzie's extremism had split the Reform movement and alienated the moderates; in the end he led a mini-rebellion and like Gourlay was exiled. Some years before, Thomas Talbot, dismayed at the Reform sympathies among the Highland settlers in his tract north of Lake Erie, had predicted that they would become "most inveterate Rebels."20 In 1837, however, Mackenzie's help came not from the Scottish Presbyterians in the western peninsula but from sections of the province settled largely by Americans. The option offered between Strachan, stability and the British connection on the one side, and Mackenzie, violence and "Yankee" republicanism on the other, made very clear the conservative bias of the great majority of Scots as of other Upper Canadians.

Although the province would have had a more tranquil history without the assertive Scots, Strachan, Gourlay and Mackenzie, the three with all their faults had been sincere in pursuing what they thought was best for Upper Canada. Strachan, if too high-handed and too exclusive in his point of view, perhaps "the most imperious and obdurate tory who has left his stamp on Canadian history,"21 had done much for cultural and economic advancement and had established the Tory political tradition which would carry forward into mid-century Conservatism. Gourlay and Mackenzie, for their part, had established a radical Reform tradition emphasizing anti-privilege and anti-monopoly, American democratic principles, the separation of church and state, and economic policies to serve an agrarian society. Gourlay had prepared the stage for the Reform leaders of the 1820s by making the different communities of Upper Canada aware that they had common grievances which called for common political remedies, and by supplying Reform editors and assemblymen with a martyr, for the conservative forces had over-reacted in their proceedings against him. Mackenzie's rebellion along with that in Lower Canada ultimately cut through the political confusion in the colonies by prompting Lord Durham's investigation, the first step towards the peaceful democratic revolution of the 1840s. In the long view of political development, there is surely a place for the agitators like Gourlay and Mackenzie who rouse attention to political ills, even though they themselves are not of the stuff to devise the remedies. W.L. Mackenzie King, at any rate, found great satisfaction in thinking of his grandfather as a "true patriot" who had struggled for the "rights of free men."22

In Lower Canada the "state of things" culminating in rebellion in 1837 was characterized by Lord Durham as a "struggle, not of principles, but of races."23 Although in large measure Durham was right, a glance at the divergence among the Scots alone tempers the impression left by his Report that the English-speaking population of the province was all on one side, and the French-speaking on the other. Scots, it is true, were powerful in the British-controlled councils. The "Scotch party" was another name for the Chateau Clique which managed affairs as the Compact did in Upper Canada. Also, Scots were active in the English-language Tory press, especially in Montreal where both the Gazette and the Herald crusaded against the French popular party. The bilingual Gazette was bought in 1822 by Thomas Andrew Turner of Aberdeenshire. Publishing it in English only, he made it the organ of the commercial interests in the city. The Herald had a series of Scots associated with it: William Gray and Mungo Kay as founders, to whom John Strachan advanced some of the necessary money; Archibald Ferguson and Robert Weir as subsequent owners; Dr. Alexander Christie and Adam Thom as editors. The paper's bias was especially strong under Thom, a lawyer and schoolteacher, who wrote the abusive "Anti-Gallic Letters" and advocated severe punishment for the rebels of 1837-38.

On the other hand, there were Scottish editors and members in the canadien-dominated Assembly who worked with the French Canadians for reform. The best-known was John Neilson, a man well informed on the currents of political thought in the western world and respected for his integrity. He had come from Kirkcudbrightshire in 1790 as a protege of his uncle, William Brown, owner of the bilingual Quebec Gazette, and later inherited the journal. Under his direction for over half a century, it was one of the principal papers in the province. Neilson, as a member of the Assembly after 1818, evinced a liberalism "of a sober and sedate cast,"24 which led to warm friendship and close political collaboration with the French-Canadian leader, Louis-Joseph Papineau. For some years Neilson had prestige in the French party as high as that of Papineau. On two occasions the Assembly sent him to England as their very effective representative: in 1823 with Papineau to oppose the proposed union of the Canadas, and in 1828 with Papineau's cousin, Denis Viger, and Au-gustin Cuvillier to urge that the Assembly should have a larger voice in the government of the colony. In the early 1830s, however, the moderate Neilson, who still thought that the Constitution of 1791 could be made to work without radical change, drew apart from the extremist Papineau, who like Mackenzie in the sister province had come to believe an elective council and other amendments essential. Neilson's editorials in the Gazette after 1834 made "des attaques tres dures contre le parti cana-dien."25 But the Scot, whom Papineau had termed "tout bon canadien," was deserting les patriotes or the Papineau radicals, not the French-Canadian cause as he conceived it. After the rebellion, since Neilson considered that the projected union of Lower Canada with Upper Canada would be dangerous to French rights and society, he headed a movement, which included the French clergy, for the maintenance of the Constitution of 1791.

Outside the cities, too, there were Scots who sided with the French. A "fiery, flaxen Celt,"26 the merchant William Henry Scott of Saint-Eus-tache west of Montreal, represented Deux-Montagnes in the Assembly from 1829. Although an adamant Presbyterian, he had the confidence of the Roman Catholic French Canadians. Feeling their grievances against the ruling cliques his own, he gave steadfast support to Papineau until the very eve of the rebellion. Then he vacillated, and finally, in spite of pressure and threats, refused to lead the local patriotes. Moreover, he and his younger brother Neil tried to dissuade Dr. Jean-Olivier Chenier who was resolved on using arms. The Scotts, however, had had such close assoca-tions with the patriotes that they were compromised in the eyes of the authorities and were imprisoned. Yet William, though less moderate in disposition than Neilson, had had a moderating effect on the events at Saint-Eustache by failing to join in the insurrection. Amury Girod, the adventurer who prodded the local patriotes on to military action, wrote in his diary for December 5, 1837: "Depuis que Scott nous a abandonnes, les habitants sont sans courage."27 The French case in Lower Canada obviously had not been presented by that race alone.

The Atlantic provinces did not have the racial division of Lower Canada or the bitterness engendered in Upper Canada by the alien question and clergy reserves to breed radicalism and rebellions. Each colony, however, had its own inequities and Scottish settlers who worked for reforms.28 In winning two notable victories of the first half of the century representative government in Newfoundland and responsible government in Nova Scotia - Scots had conspicuous roles. Soon after coming to St. John's from Kirkcudbrightshire in 1808, the public-spirited Dr. William Carson began criticizing naval rule. He demanded that Newfoundland be governed like a typical British colony by governor, upper house and popular assembly. For a quarter of a century he kept the issue of representative government alive through pamphlets and letters in the Newfoundland Patriot, a Reform paper which he set up. A Liberal party, predominantly Roman Catholic, gradually gathered around the Protestant Carson in the Assembly granted by Britain in 1832. The alliance was not unlike that of Neilson and Scott with the French Catholics in Quebec. In Nova Scotia, the Loyalist Joseph Howe was the outstanding Reformer, but several others in the embryonic Liberal Party were Scots: William and George Young, the sons of "Agricola"; Beamish Murdoch, the author of a history of the province, and S.G. W. Archibald, a learned lawyer from an old and respected family, who were moderate Reformers of the 1820s; Hugh Bell and James McNab, both of whom in 1848 entered the first "responsible" government in Nova Scotia; and especially William Annand. Annand, the son of a well-to-do Banffshire merchant, had a lengthy career alongside Howe, from the 1830s when he entered the Assembly, through to the 1860s when with Howe he vehemently opposed Confederation. The Novascotian, edited by Annand from 1843 and widely read in the province, was in the van of the Reform movement during the struggle for responsible government; and the Morning Chronicle, founded by Annand in 1844, was the vehicle for Howe's "Botheration Scheme" letters and other vigorous anti-Confederation articles in 1865.

Between these Reformers or Liberals and James William Johnstone there was a long political duel in Nova Scotia. Johnstone, Jamaica-born but of a lineage going back to the estate of Annandale in Scotland, was talented and striking in appearance, an excellent constitutional lawyer and the champion of the large Baptist denomination in the province. When the old council was reconstructed in 1838, Governor Sir Colin Campbell acted wisely in choosing a man with such qualifications as chief adviser. By the 1840s, Johnstone was recognized as the leader of a second political party which the Liberals called "Tory." Yet Johnstone, in spite of his aristocratic instincts, was not opposed to reforms. He believed that government should be responsible to the people in that the executive should not continue if it lost the confidence of the Assembly. But he did not agree that the ministers should be members of that Assembly, where they would dominate policy-making and themselves be exposed to undesirable political pressures. In the 1850s Johnstone outdid the Liberals by favouring the democratic electoral practices of simultaneous voting and full manhood suffrage. As first minister until 1848, leader of the opposition from 1848 to 1857 and 1860 to 1863, and premier from 1857 to 1860 and again in 1863, he established the Conservative Party in Nova Scotia on a progressive base. The Scots in the Maritime provinces did not agree politically any more than Scots elsewhere. But they had in common that they were dedicated and extraordinarily durable politicians.


With the achievement of responsible government towards the middle of the century, the Tories and Reformers in the Maritimes thus merged almost imperceptibly into Conservatives and Liberals, whereas in the united Province of Canada a variety of political groupings appeared. Out of these, two new parties were fashioned. They did not represent a division between right and left like the Tories and radicals, but were centrist combinations. After Confederation they would evolve into Canada's first national parties - the Conservatives and, a generation later, the Liberals. Since each of these parties owed its beginnings to Scots in Canada in the 1850s, the politicians of that province merit attention.29

On the Canadian Assemblies of the 1840s and 1850s, the Scots were bound to leave their mark because of their numbers and their individual strengths. The veterans of the pre-rebellion era who were members would now play out the last acts of their careers in a province adjusting to the union of Upper and Lower Canada and to the idea of responsible government. Among the old-timers were Neilson and William Scott, still enjoying the trust of constituencies in Canada East though they had defected from the patriotes. Neilson was not reconciled to the union or willing like Louis LaFontaine to make common cause with the Reformers of Canada West led by Robert Baldwin. On the contrary, Neilson agreed with Viger and Papineau that la survivance could best be achieved by separatism. It was to strive for repeal of the union that Neilson participated temporarily in the united Legislature and directed the editorials in the Quebec Gazette in the 1840s.30 Back, too, from Canada East were Robert Christie, the Gaspe merchant who had been expelled from the Assembly five times by the popular party between 1829 and 1834 because he had slighted the Reformers; and James Leslie, a Montreal merchant and old Reformer, who accompanied LaFontaine into the first responsible ministry in Canada in 1848.

From Canada West as well there were two Scots whose paths had crossed many times - Colonel Allan Napier MacNab and the amnestied Mackenzie. Not only had they had fierce encounters in the old Assembly, but also it was under MacNab's leadership that the militia had easily dispersed the Mackenzie rebels in 1837. Although a man of great ambition and of business and political prestige in the Hamilton area, MacNab had never made his way into the inner circle of Strachan's Compact at Toronto. By the 1840s he was at last one of the main Tory leaders. As such he led a frenzied attack on the Rebellion Losses Bill of 1849, charging that it indemnified treason in Lower Canada, and in extravagant statements stigmatizing the whole French-Canadian race as rebels and aliens. Yet in the political flux of the early 1850s, even a vehement Scot like MacNab found himself setting aside some of his prejudices and forming a partnership with the French Canadians. From 1854 to 1856 he headed a ministry with A.N. Morin and in 1856 with E.P. Tache. MacNab is usually depicted as attaining this high office only by seniority and as being a liability to his party in the 1850s because he was a demagogue without real ability and with political views of the old order.31 His famous remark, however, that "my politics now are railroads" suggests that, as far as economic developments were concerned, he was very much in tune with the political philosophy of the decade. His forte, like that of some other Scottish politicians, had always been in projects for the commercial prosperity of the young province - roads, canals, steamship companies, railways.

Mackenzie was less attuned to the new age. Unruly as ever, he re-entered political life in 1851 as the member for Haldimand, and launched another paper to berate the government - the Weekly Message, unsuitably named for it came out only when he could find the funds. He never accepted the union or the principle of responsible government. Perhaps this attitude was natural in one so thoroughly an independent as Mackenzie, one whom it is impossible to imagine at the head of a department in a collectively responsible cabinet. Paradoxically, though, he helped to condition the working of the new type of government when, as Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts 1854-55, he made certain that the ministers discharged their responsibility to the Assembly in spending the public money.

Other Scots such as the two Macdonalds were just beginning their political careers. John Sandfield Macdonald, a native of Glengarry County who had become a lawyer of repute in Cornwall, entered the Assembly in 1841. Proud and sensitive, he would prove a somewhat difficult member in Reform ranks. But with his Highland blood and the Gaelic tongue, he wore well in eastern Ontario for thirty years. The Kingston lawyer, John Alexander Macdonald, did not leave political life from his election as a Tory in 1844 until his death in 1891. He would be criticized at times for opportunism and procrastination. Nevertheless, "Old Tomorrow" would be acknowledged as a superb party tactician and the most charismatic of all the Scots in Canadian political history. At first he had a strong rival among the young Tories in John Hillyard Cameron, an eminent Toronto lawyer, who had influence in the Church of England and the Orange Order as well as connections with the Toronto British Colonist edited by another Scot, Hugh Scobie. Cameron, however, remained with MacNab on the dogmatic right wing of the party whereas Macdonald adapted to the moderating currents of the 1850s. Two others who embarked on politics - Alexander Campbell in the Legislative Council, which was elective after 1856, and Alexander Morris in the Assembly - would hold office under Macdonald after Confederation, which each had a hand in initiating. The moderate Morris, a son of William Morris, the member for Lanark from 1820 to 1836 who had been the Church of Scotland's champion for a share in the clergy reserves, was the go-between who helped to bring about the Great Coalition in 1864. The urbane Campbell, who accompanied Macdonald to the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences, was one of the official "Fathers" of Confederation.

Among other new Scottish members in the Canadian Assemblies was John Young, a Liberal Montreal businessman, who was a member of the Hincks-Morin ministry which replaced the faltering Baldwin-LaFontaine ministry in 1851. Concerned as other business politicians were in the 1850s with improving commerce and transportation, Young favoured free trade and an intercolonial railway. On the other hand, the Toronto Liberal, Isaac Buchanan, one of the wealthiest merchants in Canada West, supported a protective tariff and the Great Western Railway which was designed to tap the trade of the American midwest. Buchanan was linked with the early career of the forceful George Brown, who was to be John A. Macdonald's greatest adversary. Strongly sympathetic to the Free Church, Buchanan backed the Toronto Banner, begun in 1843 as the Free Kirk journal under Peter Brown and his son George. But the latter, a British Whig in background, found the religious paper less challenging than the political controversies of the province. In 1844 he founded the Toronto Globe as the organ of the Baldwin Reformers. Brown's stirring editorials coupled with modern publishing methods steadily advanced the circulation of this paper. In 1851 he started the other side of his political career when, reacting against the "state churchism" of the Hincks government, he was elected as an independent Reform member for Kent in the southwest corner of the peninsula.

During the years between the achievement of responsible government and Confederation, this imposing array of Scots had plenty of scope for their varied talents and political beliefs in the many shifting party alignments in the Province of Canada. After the triumph of moderation and of biracial co-operation in achieving responsible government in 1848, political extremes had quickly reappeared. It looked as if the Tory forces on the right might be reconstructed on a platform of friendly separation from Great Britain. The majority of the signers of the Annexation Manifesto issued in Montreal in 1849 were big business Tories, among whom were a number of Scots - Peter Redpath, David L. Macpherson, D. Lome Mac-dougall, James Ferrier, John Rose, and Alexander Tilloch Galt - all connected with the financial, commercial or railway interests of the city. They took this step not because they were inherently disloyal, but because, discouraged by the depression of the late 1840's, they resented Britain's apparent desertion of her colonies in moving toward free trade, and her upholding of the Rebellion Losses Bill. Tory annexationism so motivated died with the return of prosperity and did not become a party policy. At the same time, Scots not satisfied with the Baldwin-LaFontaine brand of liberalism or moderate reform took part in a revival on the radical left in both parts of Canada. In the East, Galt, the clever son of the Scottish novelist John Galt, allied himself with le parti rouge, while in the West a small band of advanced Reformers meeting in the Toronto office of William McDougall organized the Clear Grits. Of the eight or nine men who were the leaders of the original Clear Grits, four were Scottish Canadians. Two of these were young radicals - the lawyer McDougall and Edinburgh-born David Christie, an affluent farmer. The other two - the businessman James Lesslie, a native of Dundee, and the Sarnia lumberman and shipbuilder Malcolm "Coon" Cameron - represented continuity with the rebellion years. Lesslie had been labelled by Sir Francis Bond Head a "notorious rebel" and had been imprisoned in 1837. Since 1844 he had kept Mackenzie's ideas before the public in the Toronto Examiner of which he was the proprietor and editor. Cameron had been a radical assemblyman since 1836. Blunt and confident, he was very popular in western Ontario, where he represented at different times Kent, Lambton and Huron. He threw himself into the temperance movement and was the introducer of the first prohibition measure in the Canadian Legislature. Like many Scottish politicians he founded political newspapers - the Bathurst Courier at Perth in eastern Ontario, and at Goderich the Huron Signal, which he put under the able editorship of his friend, Thomas McQueen, a native of Ayrshire.

On February 14, 1851, the North American, McDougall's new paper instituted to be the mouthpiece of the Clear Grits, published their platform. It called for secularization of the clergy reserves, retrenchment in government expenditure, biennial parliaments, abolition of property qualifications for parliamentary representatives, application of the elective principle to all government offices, extension of the suffrage, and vote by ballot. The platform was a mixture of the earlier radicalism of Mackenzie, contemporary British Chartism, and North American frontier democracy. To Brown it amounted to American republicanism. He disapproved of the Clear Grits as much as he did of the Hincksites. In the very section of the province from which the Grits derived their strength the independent Reformer soon had his own following. In 1853 the Globe became a daily paper and began to be the "Scotchman's Bible" from Toronto westward. It won Brown lifelong political friends in two fellow-Scots Archibald McKellar of Chatham, too jovial to make a discreet politican but efficient in organization, and Alexander Mackenzie, thoroughly upright and reliable, the self-educated Perthshire stonemason who was now a rising contractor in Sarnia. Brown had other firm friends in western Ontario in William Notman, a Free Church Scot and Reformer who sat for Middlesex and later for Wentworth North, and Adam Johnston Fergus-son Blair, the member for Waterloo and later for South Wellington whose father had originated the Scottish settlement of Fergus. Brown did not have strength, however, in eastern Ontario, the domain of the moderate Roman Catholic Sandfield Macdonald, who had more rapport with the French Liberals of Canada East than with the Presbyterian voluntaryist Brown.

Thus, with the high Tories MacNab and Hillyard Cameron, the moderate Tory John A. Macdonald, the British Liberals Brown and Alexander Mackenzie, the virtually independent Reformer Sandfield Macdonald and independent radical Lyon Mackenzie, the rouge Galt, and the radical Grits Lesslie, Malcolm Cameron, McDougall and Christie, Scots were prominent in all the political fragments resulting from the break-up of the old Tory and Reform parties in the 1850s. But along with the divisive tendencies there were centripetal political forces activated by some of these same Scots. Professor Donald Creighton has unfolded the development of John A. Macdonald's idea of a "great, middle, constitutional party" to achieve which it would be necessary to build friendly relations with the French Canadians and to liberalize the "old Conservative programme" in Canada West. These objectives Macdonald did, in fact, accomplish in the broadly-based coalition of 1854 between the conservative bleus of Canada East, the Tories and liberal Conservatives of Canada West, and the conservative Liberals of both sections. MacNab was the nominal leader from the West, but Macdonald was his heir apparent. In 1856 the latter succeeded to the leadership.32 The great bi-racial Liberal-Conservative party of the future had been born. Macdonald's adroitness in winning men to his party of the centre can be seen in his overtures to Galt:

You call yourself a Rouge. There may have been at one time a reddish tinge about you, but I could observe it becoming by degrees fainter. In fact you are like Byron's Dying Dolphin, exhibiting a series of colours - "the last still loveliest" - and that last is "true blue," being the colour I affect . . . pray do become true blue at once: it is a good standing colour and bears washing.33

Yet the Toryism of Strachan, MacNab and Hillyard Cameron did not die. It remained "a strong constituent element in the party, without which Liberal-Conservatism would have lost its essential character."34

Although Macdonald's success in uniting political groups in 1854-56 further weakened the Reformers, the other powerful Scot, George Brown, would begin the task of rebuilding them. The gradual rapprochement between the Brownites and the original Clear Grits is described by Brown's biographer, Professor J.M.S. Careless.35 The disunity in the Reform press at least was ended by 1855 when the Globe absorbed both Lesslie's Examiner and McDougall's North American. Opposition to separate schools, representation by population, and westward expansion -persistent themes in the Globe - were issues on which the Grits and Brown agreed. By the time of the Reform Convention in Toronto in 1859, the original Clear Grits, though still possessing their power base in agrarian western Ontario, had been transformed into a Grit-Reform Party under the leadership of an urban and professional group dominated by Brown and his metropolitan paper. This party was as middle-of-the-road and respectably British as were the Conservatives; it, too, linked with the business community, had a major concern for material development. In the legislature Brown now had the assistance of McDougall, a former political foe, as well as of newer members, notably the canny lawyer Mowat. The latter had entered politics with a victory in 1857 over J.C. Morrison, also of Scottish descent, one of the moderate Liberals enticed by Macdonald into the Conservative ministry.

Still, Brown's Reformers were very decidedly a sectional party. Not until they became associated with the movement for Confederation was it clear that they, like John A. Macdonald, could enter into a harmonious working relationship with Canada East. The two days' Brown-Dorion administration in 1858 had hardly been a test. Confederation was also the issue which led the new Conservative and Reform parties in Canada to join forces with the rising Conservative and Liberal parties in the Maritimes.

The main Fathers of Confederation from Canada, except for George E. Cartier and D'Arcy McGee, were Scots. Their contributions have been fully recognized: Macdonald's efforts to establish a strong central government and his genius in reconciling differences amongst the delegates and in conveying his own vision of a nation a mari usque ad mare; Brown's decisive step in joining his political opponents, Macdonald and Cartier, in 1864 which alone made possible the Great Coalition, and his expositions of the constitutional details of a federal union both at the conferences and through the Globe; Gait's expertise in effecting the financial terms under which the provinces would enter the Dominion; and Mowat's and McDougall's work on the division of powers between federal and local legislatures. Not nearly so well-known are the Scottish politicians from the Atlantic provinces who were associated with Confederation.36

In New Brunswick, which was the key province since it connected the Canadas and Nova Scotia geographically, two men of Scottish extraction gave valuable aid to the Liberal premier, Samuel Leonard Tilley, in obtaining finally a verdict favourable to Confederation. The first was the eloquent and elegant lawyer, John Hamilton Gray, a Conservative, who, after attending the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences, had a firm belief in union and began a series of public meetings with Tilley to explain the scheme to New Brunswickers. But Gray went down to defeat along with the Tilley government in 1865 when the people of the province renounced Confederation. Gray was right when he assured George Brown that the setback was transitory. The man who had much to do with reversing the results of 1865 was the headstrong and energetic Peter Mitchell, a Reform lawyer and lumber merchant whose parents had come from Scotland. Hand in hand with Lieutenant-Governor A.H. Gordon, who had been instructed by Britain to use every means possible to carry Confederation, and aided by Canadian money and a fortuitous Fenian raid on the border, Mitchell engineered the sweeping defeat of the anti-Confederate government in 1866 - thereafter being dubbed by his enemies "Bismarck" Mitchell.37 He headed the new government which hastened to carry through the legislature a resolution for union contingent upon the building of an intercolonial railway.

In Nova Scotia the Conservative premier, Dr. Charles Tupper, also faced with strong opposition to Confederation, had urgent need of support from both parties to prevent a hostile vote. The polite but firm Scottish Canadian, Robert B. Dickey, a Conservative delegate at Charlotte-town and Quebec, was not won over to the Quebec terms. His place at the London Conference was given to a strong unionist, John W. Ritchie, a member of a Scottish family in the province distinguished throughout the century in politics and law. But most important to Tupper and the Confederate cause was the calm, cool Adams George Archibald, of Scottish descent and irreproachable character, an assemblyman since 1851 and Howe's successor as Liberal leader. At Quebec Archibald was on the special committee which arranged the financial resolutions; and it was his consistent support of Confederation which kept it from taking on the complexion of a Conservative party scheme in Nova Scotia, for other leading Liberals followed Howe in opposition to it. For instance, A.W. McLelan, a level-headed, practical Scot, was afraid of the financial consequences for his native province; and Hugh McDonald, a lawyer of Scottish lineage in Inverness county, went with Annand and Howe to England in 1866 to affirm that the people should be consulted before the Constitution was changed. Archibald's reply to such arguments was to refer to the union of Scotland with England on which there had not been an appeal to the people. The Scots then, like the anti-Confederates in Nova Scotia now, had feared that the smaller state would be swamped by the larger. But, Archibald declared, this had not happened; instead, "Scotchmen could take their place with Englishmen in any part of the world."38

In Prince Edward Island the Conservative premier, the other John Hamilton Gray, a retired army officer of Glasgow descent, had been caught by the spirit of a great new nation at the Charlottetown Conference, of which he was chairman. But in December, 1864, realizing that he could not convey his enthusiasm to the Islanders, he resigned office. Professor Waite maintains that, although the loss of Gray, "a strong man politically," was serious, the opposition of the people to Confederation was such that no party could have taken up the cause and survived, and nothing any man could do would have altered their attitudes.39 Until 1873 the province was controlled by the anti-Confederates. Typical of their belief that the Quebec Resolutions were not fair to the Island's small population either politically or economically was the Liberal, Andrew Archibald Macdonald, who at Quebec had contended unsuccessfully for the appointment of senators by the provincial legislatures and for equal representation for each province in the Senate in accord with the American example.40

Thus the Scots in the eastern provinces included opponents to union just as the Reformer Sandfield Macdonald and the Conservative Matthew Crooks Cameron stood aloof in Canada West, while the Scottish Protestant Witness run by John Dougall raised its voice in Montreal against Confederation. On the other hand, the Maritime Scots who were unionists had set aside party differences and staked their political futures on Confederation. At the conferences they had mostly upheld the rights of the provinces, especially the smaller provinces. In comparison with the Canadians they had had a small impact on the negotiations. Their major contributions had been in their own bailiwicks as they attempted to overcome the reluctance and suspicions of the people. They failed in Prince Edward Island until 1873; but they had been among the forces which carried New Brunswick and Nova Scotia into the Dominion in 1867. Archibald and Mitchell were rewarded by places in Macdonald's first ministry. An Ottawa post was one of the ways in which provincial politicians would coalesce into the national parties after Confederation.


In the last third of the century, Canadian Confederation "only yet in the gristle" had to harden "into bone."41 During this critical time newspapers still expressed the opinions of the parties, and again a number of the politically powerful editors had Scottish blood: John Cameron, the founder of the London Advertiser and the Toronto Liberal, who took over the editorship of the Globe after the Browns, and who in turn was followed by John S. Willison; John Ross Robertson of the Toronto Telegram; A.H.U. Colquhoun of the Toronto Empire; P.D. Ross of the Ottawa Journal; Hugh Graham (later Lord Atholstan) of the Montreal Star; and J.J. Stewart of the Halifax Herald. Though the daily paper published in the large urban centres was now the main forum for political discussion, the weekly still held sway in some smaller communities. Here, too, there were Scots editors with frank political leanings, such as M.Y. McLean of the Huron Expositor in Seaforth or Robert Sellar of the Gleaner in Huntingdon, Quebec.

In this period, while the political creation of 1867 was being tested, only about 16% of Canada's population gave their ethnic origin as Scottish. Yet for a generation the new national government was headed by Scots -the Conservative John A. Macdonald and the Liberal Alexander Mackenzie. During his first ministry, a coalition which rapidly took on a Conservative complexion, Macdonald realized his goal of a nation extending from ocean to ocean.42 He rounded out the Dominion territorially by adding the Provinces of Manitoba, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island, and he combated the repeal movement in Nova Scotia by granting "better terms" which won over Howe and McLelan. Only Newfoundland resisted his expansionist programme. But the young nation already had problems which Macdonald would have to face in the future. In Nova Scotia the provincial government was still controlled by the anti-Confederates under the obdurate Scottish premier, Annand. Perhaps Sir John Bourinot was right in suggesting that Annand saw his chance at leadership when the last of his rivals in the party reconciled themselves to the union.43 At any rate Annand, becoming vituperative towards Howe, his former friend and idol, continued to charge that the province had been wronged by the way in which it had been forced into Confederation. This last-ditch campaign to release Nova Scotia ceased with Annand's premiership in 1875, but the seeds of secessionism would spring up again in the next decade. As for the West, Macdonald's handling of the Red River rebellion in 1870 left a legacy of racial and religious bitterness in Canada, and his promise to British Columbia of a railway involved the government in negotiations with financiers which led to the "Pacific Scandal" of 1873 and resignation.

Mackenzie, who succeeded as prime minister for the next five years, epitomized the good qualities often attributed to Scots - intelligence, industry, conscientiousness, rectitude, and the inner strength which comes from profound faith in God.44 With Scottish grit he served the country until his death in 1892, seldom absent from his seat in the Commons, faithful to his committee duties even though a throat malady made it increasingly difficult for him to speak. In administration he stood for honesty, economy and efficiency. If these are criteria of good government, Canada has never been so well governed as in the Mackenzie interlude of the 1870s. In his way, too, Mackenzie was a nation-builder. His government's discussions with Great Britain through Edward Blake, the Minister of Justice, on such matters as the Supreme Court Act, the prerogatives of the Governor-General, the treaty-making power, and authority over extradition and merchant shipping, advanced Canada along the path towards national autonomy within the Empire. Mackenzie's railway policy, slower-going than the Conservatives, but realistic in view of the small population and capital in the country, resulted in considerable stretches of completed road. Yet it aroused the anger of British Columbia which thought it a repudiation of the agreement to build a line to the coast within ten years. Mackenzie's greatest disadvantage, however, was the economic depression which just coincided with his term in office. To Canadians, discouraged in the hard times, the strait-laced prime minister with his careful programmes seemed unimaginative and uninspiring, while his aversion to bestowing the accustomed partisan favours heightened his image as a parsimonious Scot. The people rejected him in the elections of 1878 and, forgetting the Pacific Scandal, swept back into power the dynamic Macdonald who promised benefits to all parts of the country through his "National Policy."

Macdonald, prime minister again until 1891, devoted himself to uniting the country economically through protective tariffs to encourage industry, a transcontinental railway, the populating of the prairies, and the promotion of trade on an east-west axis. The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 was his most dramatic achievement. It took great faith in the future of Canada to embark on this vast undertaking, and great resolution to persevere with it in face of the immense problems in construction and financing. Macdonald was fortunate to secure the aid of a sagacious group of men, all Scots by birth, for the syndicate with whom the contract was made to build the railway: George Stephen of the Bank of Montreal, his cousin Donald A. Smith, who had first-hand knowledge of the West, the wealthy businessmen Duncan McIntyre and Robert B. Angus, and John Rose, formerly Macdonald's Finance Minister, who was now a member of a London banking house. The skilful chief engineer, Sandford Fleming, was also a Scot.45 When Macdonald died, the Liberal leader, Wilfrid Laurier, rightly paid tribute in the Commons to his statesmanship, his patriotism, and his great gifts in the "supreme art of governing men" and in the "intricate management of a party."46 In Macdonald's hands, the organized and disciplined national political party had been made a unifying agency in the far-flung country with its disparities in resources and development, languages and creeds.

Meanwhile the Liberals could not compete in national organization. Brown before 1867 had not been able to make the unionist cause a bond to tie the Liberals in British America together, as Macdonald had with the Conservatives. Nor had Mackenzie succeeded in welding the loose alliance of provincial Liberal parties over which he presided. Still, in the provinces strong men arose whom Laurier would merge in the 1890s into a compact national Liberal party. One of these was Andrew George Blair, a New Brunswick lawyer of Scottish ancestry and high reputation, who found only six Liberals in the provincial assembly of 41 members when he was elected to it in 1878. Five years later under his leadership the Liberals had the majority. Blair remained as Premier of New Brunswick until Laurier called him to head the busy Department of Railways and Canals in 1896, and was noted as a progressive though cautious administrator. Another Scottish premier, the veteran Mowat of Ontario, was invited by Laurier into his "ministry of all the talents" in 1896 as Minister of Justice.47 Mowat had the prestige of having given his own province since 1872 sound and just government, including the deft handling of several thorny Protestant-Catholic problems. Moreover, he had already helped to strengthen the federal Liberal party by influencing its convention in 1893 to approve a revenue tariff. This platform healed the divisions on fiscal policy which had plagued the Liberals nationally, gave electors an acceptable alternative to the Conservative National Policy, and was one of the major factors in Laurier's victory in 1896.

George Bryce felt that the large number of Scotsmen occupying "representative positions of trust" in the world could be accounted for by "the interest in national affairs, so general among Scotsmen."48 Scottish Canadians had, if possible, more zest for politics after Confederation than before, since now there were both federal and provincial elections to be fought. Not just among leading men in the parties, but among the grassroots Scots as well, political interest was a vital part of everyday life. Letters passing between Scottish friends made frequent mention of public figures and events. If the writers were Liberals, a common theme was righteous indignation at Conservative tactics:

We had some excitement at our election. We did not expect any opposition in our County but the Tories got a man out of the Lunatic Asylum to oppose Mills and took us all by surprise. Half of our party did not know there was any opposition, and consequently would not go near the polls if not roused to action. I was counting I drove my team about forty miles election day after voters. However, we got our man elected with over 500 majority but the way the Tory party acted in our County this election was just as disgraceful as the selling of the Pacific Railroad Charter to Sir Hugh Allan.49

Reinforcement for the Liberals' sureness of their own higher political morality - as if any were needed - came in letters from friends in Scotland:

In reading the paper you kindly sent me I was very much struck with the extraordinary amount of corruption and jobbery that obtains in the Canadian Government. I hope the leader of the Reform Party will soon gain the victory. I thought that when you had the government in your own hands that you would be perfection. If Ireland when it gets Home Rule will do no better it will be a bad job.50

Political interest, however, was not enough to solidify provincial parties either in New Brunswick or in the new western provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia in the nineteenth century. In the other old provinces, coherent modern parties did develop, often under Scottish leaders such as the Conservative Simon Hugh Holmes and the Liberal George H. Murray in Nova Scotia, or the Conservative Neil MacLeod in Prince Edward Island. Even the French-speaking province of Quebec had a premier with a Scottish name in the Conservative John Jones Ross (1884-87). But, above all, it was Ontario under Mowat which effectually dispelled the notion abroad at the time of Confederation that political parties would have no place at provincial level in the new Dominion.51

Though performing on a smaller political stage than Macdonald, the wary Mowat was as skilful in the craft. He had the same faculty for sensing the aspirations of the people, and he understood equally well the brokerage function which a strongly-organized and broadly based political party can fulfill in reconciling conflicting interests. The opposition cried "ascendancy" and "exclusiveness" because of the number of Scots in Mowat's cabinets. But it was primarily because they were efficient and hard-working that the premier appointed such men as James Young, a businessman from Galt who had been the publisher of the Dumfries Reformer; the scholarly Adam Crooks and buoyant George W. Ross, the first two Ministers of Education; the Roman Catholic Christopher Findlay

Fraser, who directed Public Works for twenty years; the meticulous Alexander McLagan Ross, Provincial Treasurer; and John Morison Gibson, the author of several social welfare bills. Mowat and his colleagues took over the moderate Brownite Reform tradition of Canada West, and gave it new emphases to suit the needs of a province which was moving rapidly into the industrial age and which, with the acquisition of the disputed territory to the northwest, doubled in size. The many social and economic services added by the Ontario government under Mowat, together with its victories in several constitutional disputes with the Dominion, destroyed permanently the concept of the Fathers that the provinces would be no more than large municipalities. And the stability parties achieved in Ontario over the twenty-four years of his premiership was evidence that responsible government by party would obtain in the provinces as at Ottawa.


Although the Scots had had their faults and failures as well as their strengths and successes, they had, as parliamentarians, been connected in impressive numbers with every important Canadian political development of the formative nineteenth century. Never so numerous in the population as the English or the Irish, they had nevertheless played significant parts in originating the Tory and radical traditions, in shaping the Reform movements which preceded responsible government in the Mari-times and Canada, in building the provincial Conservative and Liberal parties before 1867, and in moulding the political policies in the new nation both federally and provincially after 1867. In the events leading to Confederation they had been constructive leaders. Also, a remarkable number of Scots had been managers or editors of influential newspapers; they had understood the power of the press in that century in diffusing opinion on political questions. As late as 1908, Goldwin Smith remarked: "The voting is in Parliament, but the national debate is in the press."52

In evaluating the qualities which the Scots brought into Canadian politics, it would be correct enough to include courage, stubbornness, diligence, competence, astuteness, resourcefulness, and even colour, wit, humour and eloquence. But these, after all, were not unique to Scottish politicians. More distinctive were their combinations of qualities. They had the capacity at the same time to dream dreams and to be practical, to emphasize stability and to promote economic and social progress, to hold firm views of their own and to co-operate with others of a different political or religious stripe. Possibly there was an instinct inherited, as some writers have surmised,53 from ancestors in the days of the "Auld Alliance" between Scotland and France which helped them to be effective politically in the cultural dualism of Canada. Noteworthy, too, were their high levels of education - lawyers predominating - and of adaptability. The latter enabled them to move throughout the century with the growing country, the changing concepts of government, and the altering nature of the political party.

Finally, whichever party label the Scots chose to wear, they were, on the whole, men who sought the middle course politically and the British mode of action. Gourlay and Strachan, John A. Macdonald and Alexander Mackenzie, were equally "loyal." Neilson, the Archibalds, Johnstone and Blair were typical of the Scots of the centre. The name of Canada's first national party, which had been fathered by a Scot, was "Liberal" Conservative, and the temperate Reform principles of Brown and Mowat were modelled on those of British Victorian Liberalism. Even though a few Scots had moved farther to the left or the right, the Toryism of MacNab was only relatively "High," the extremism and republicanism of William Lyon Mackenzie was rejected by his fellow countrymen, and the Clear Grit radicalism and Americanism of McDougall and "Coon" Cameron were soon watered down. This essential moderation and Britishism of the Scots who occupied such a large place in the mainstream of Canadian public life in the nineteenth century passed into the political tradition of Canada.

Richard Van Loon, in analyzing the ethnic origins of Canadian members of Parliament and cabinet ministers, has commented on the continuing "Scottish proclivity for gaining the seats of the mighty" in the first four decades of the twentieth century. Persons of Scots derivation had declined to about 12% of the population by the census of 1941. Yet from 1896 they had been the largest ethnic group in the House of Commons -constituting over one-quarter of its membership - and in the administration. According to Van Loon, 20% of Wilfrid Laurier's cabinet appointees were Scottish Canadians, 13.3 of R.L. Borden's, 26.9 of Arthur Meighen's, 23.9 of W.L.M. King's, and 28.6 of R.B. Bennett's.54

As in the nineteenth century, a number of Canadian Scots have gained political prominence at both provincial and national levels. The best known of the Scottish-Canadian politicians is William Lyon MacKenzie King, descendant of the "old rebel" William Lyon Mackenzie and of a Scottish officer of the Royal Horse Artillery, and the man who held the office of prime minister longer than any other politician in the British Commonwealth. Thomas Alexander Crerar, active in western farm politics, was appointed Minister of Agriculture in the Union Government (1917-19), led the National Progressive Party (1921-22), and served in King's Liberal government as Minister of Railways (1929-30) and Minister of Mines (1935-45). Charles Stewart, the Premier of Alberta (1917-21), became King's Minister of the Interior (1921-30). The Scots-born Ian Alastair Mackenzie, Provincial Secretary in British Columbia in 1928, accepted in succession the federal portfolios of immigration (1930), national defence (1935-39), pensions and national health (1939-44), and veterans affairs (1944-48). Simon Fraser Tolmie, the Minister of Agriculture under both Borden and Meighen (1919-21, 1926), returned to British Columbia as the provincial Conservative leader and premier (1928-33). James G. Gardiner, the Saskatchewan premier (1926-29, 1934-35), headed the Canadian Department of Agriculture under King and Louis St. Laurent (1935-57). Similarly, Stuart Sinclair Garson left the premiership of Manitoba (1943-48) for the post of Minister of Justice under St. Laurent (1948-57), and Hugh John Flemming, the premiership of New Brunswick (1952-60) for the post of Forestry under the Conservative government 1960-63). Angus L.Macdonald interrupted his tenure as premier in Nova Scotia (1933-40, 1945-54) to aid King as Minister of National Defence for naval services (1940-45). Thomas C. Douglas, a native of Falkirk, Scotland, went from the CCF premiership of Saskatchewan (1944-61) to the national leadership of the New Democratic Party (1961-71).

Since about 1940 there has been a growing tendency among parliamentarians to call themselves simply "Canadian" or "British." Nevertheless, the Scottish penchant for politics is still clearly identifiable in the House of Commons of 1975, headed as it is by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Pierre Trudeau, whose mother was Grace Elliott, and enlivened by former prime minister John George Diefenbaker, who acknowledges his descent from the Highland emigrants to the Red River Valley in 1813. Many other members are of Scottish stock: for example, Allan Joseph MacEachen, Minister of External Affairs; John Carr Munro, Minister of Labour; Mitchell W. Sharp; J. Angus MacLean, former Conservative Minister of Fisheries (1957-63); and Donald MacInnis, Conservative member from Cape Breton.

In the last half-century a new component has entered Canadian political history. After World War I paved the way for the participation of women in politics, the pioneers at Ottawa again were of Scots blood: Agnes Campbell Macphail, the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921), and Cairine Mackay Wilson, the first appointed to the Senate (1930). Today, Flora Isabel MacDonald, a native of Nova Scotia who represents the Conservative riding of Kingston and the Islands, is the first woman seriously to compete for the leadership of a major national party. The presence of women with such ability and spirit as these promises enrichment of the Scots political tradition in Canada in the coming years.


1. The four volumes of W.J. Rattray, The Scot in British North America (Toronto: Maclear, 1880) contain considerable information about Scots in Canadian politics but this, like the material in works on the Scots in Canada, is mainly useful for biographical background. Political analysis must be drawn from other sources, such as those indicated in subsequent notes.

2. S.D. Clark, Movements of Political Protest in Canada, 1640-1840 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1959), pp. 158-164, 166-167; W.S. MacNutt, New Brunswick: A History 1784-1867 (Toronto: Macmillan, 1963), pp. 100-117.

3. A.L. Burt, The Old Province of Quebec, Carleton Library Series (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968), I, 77.

4. Hilda Neatby, "The Political Career of Adam Mabane," Canadian Historical Review, xvi (1935), 150.

5. See "Instructions . . . Adam Lymburner," Bulletin des Recherches His-toriques, XXXVII (1931), 691.

6. Louis Francois Georges Baby Collection, Public Archives of Canada, Adam Lymburner (Londres) J. Perrault l'aine, 5 Janvier 1791. Copy of original in the Archives of the University of Montreal.

7. Maxville Women's Institute, History of Maxville and the Community (Maxville, 1967), pp. 50, 51,53.

8. Robina and Kathleen M. Lizars, In the Days of the Canada Company 1825-1850 (Toronto: Briggs, 1896), pp. 236-280.

9. Patrick Shirreff, A Tour through North America (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1835), p. 104.

10. Adam Fergusson, Practical Notes Made during a Tour in Canada, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1834), p. 115.

11. W. Stewart Wallace, The Family Compact, Chronicles of Canada, xxiv (Toronto: Glasgow, Brook, 1915), p. 4.

12. George Patterson, History of the County of Pictou (New Glasgow, N.S., 1877), pp. 321-363.

13. G.M. Grant, Joseph Howe, 2d ed. (Halifax: A. and W. MacKinlay, 1906), p. 28.

14. D.C. Harvey, "The Intellectual Awakening of Nova Scotia," Historical Essays on the Atlantic Provinces, G.A. Rawlyk, ed., Carleton Library Series (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967), p. 117.

15. M.O. Hammond, Confederation and Its Leaders (Toronto: McClelland, 1917),p.309.

16. John A. Macdonald Papers, PAC, McDougall to Macdonald, April 11, 1881.

17. John Strachan: Documents and Opinions, J.L.H. Henderson, ed., Carleton Library Series (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1969), p. 21, Strachan to Dr. James Brown, March 31, 1801.

18. George W. Spragge, ed., The John Strachan Letter Book: 1812-1834 (Toronto: Ontario Historical Society, 1946), p. 163, Strachan to Colonel John Harvey, June 22, 1818.

19. William Kilbourn, The Firebrand (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1956), p. 160.

20. U.C. Sundries, PAC, Talbot to Secretary George Hillier, March 19, 1824.

21. Aileen Dunham, Political Unrest in Upper Canada 1815-1836, Carleton

Library Series (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1963), p. 53. Cf. Gerald M. Craig, Upper Canada: The Formative Years 1784-1841 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1966), p. 170.

22. J.W. Pickersgill, The Mackenzie King Record, I, (1939-1944) (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960), p. 565. Cf. Wilfred Campbell, The Scotsman in Canada: Eastern Canada (Toronto: Musson, n.d.), p. 335 ff.

23. Lord Durham's Report, Gerald M. Craig, ed., Carleton Library Series (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1963), p. 23.

24. Helen Taft Manning, The Revolt of French Canada 1800-1835 (Toronto: Macmillan, 1962), p. 161.

25. Andre Beaulieu et Jean Hamelin, Les Journaux du Quebec de 1764 a 1964 (Quebec: Les Presses de l'Universite Laval, 1965), p. 212. See also Mason Wade, The French Canadians 1760-1967, rev. ed. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1968), I, 138-144, on the division in the popular party between the followers of Papineau and of Neilson.

26. Joseph Schull, Rebellion: The Rising in French Canada 1837 (Toronto: Macmillan, 1971), p. 94.

27. Aegidius Fauteux, Patriotes de 1837-1838 (Montreal: Les Editions des Dix, 1950), p. 373.

28. A general background for the reform movement in the Maritimes is found in W.S. MacNutt, The Atlantic Provinces (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968). Edward Manning Saunders, Three Premiers of Nova Scotia (Toronto: Briggs, 1909) is detailed on J.W. Johnstone.

29. For general discussions of the politics of the Province of Canada consult: J.M.S. Careless, The Union of the Canadas (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1972); and Paul G. Cornell, The Alignment of Political Groups in Canada, 1841 -1867 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962).

30. On this stage of Neilson's career see: Racism or Responsible Government: The French Canadian Dilemma of the 1840's, Elizabeth Nish, ed., "Issues in Canadian History," ed. Morris Zaslow (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1967), pp. 2-5, 23, 31-34, 94, 102, 118-119,173-174.

31. E.g., J.C. Dent, The Last Forty Years: The Union of 1841 to Confederation (1881), Carleton Library Series (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1972), pp. 40, 248, 256. A more favourable view is taken in: Carl F. Smith, "The Political Career of Allan Napier MacNab (1825-1836): A Study in Detemination," M.A. thesis, University of Guelph, 1971.

32. Donald Creighton, John A. Macdonald: The Young Politician(Toronto: Macmillan, 1952), pp. 174-237. Cf. James A. Roy, The Scot and Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1947), pp. 104-105.

33. O.D. Skelton, The Life and Times of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (Toronto: Oxford, 1920), pp. 229-230, Macdonald to Galt, November 2, 1857.

34. Creighton, p. 238.

35. J.M.S. Careless, Brown of the Globe (Toronto: Macmillan, 1959-1963), I, 195-237, II, 13-14; and "The Toronto Globe and Agrarian Radicalism, 1850-67," Canadian Historical Review, XXIX (1948), 14-39.

36. Scattered references are found in such works as: Lorne C. Callbeck, The Cradle of Confederation (Fredericton: Brunswick Press, 1964); Donald Creighton, The Road to Confederation (Toronto: Macmillan, 1964); W.L. Morton, The Critical Years (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1964); W.M. Whitelaw, The Maritimes and Canada before Confederation (1934; reprinted Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1966).

37. George Stewart, Canada under the Administration of the Earl of Duf-ferin (Toronto: Rose-Belford, 1878), pp. 240-241.

38. J.C. Dent, The Canadian Portrait Gallery (Toronto: Magurn, 1880), I, 88.

39. P.B. Wake, The Life and Times of Confederation (2d ed.; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962), pp. 180, 183, 191-192.

40. [A.A. Macdonald], "Notes on the Quebec Conference, 1864," Canadian Historical Review, i (1920), 35-37. Macdonald was one of the few who kept notes of the proceedings at Quebec; he reported his own speeches in some detail.

41. Correspondence of Sir John Macdonald, Sir Joseph Pope, ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, n.d.), p. 165, Macdonald to John Rose, March 5, 1872.

42. On Macdonald as Prime Minister, see Donald Creighton, John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain (Toronto: Macmillan, 1965).

43. Sir John G. Bourinot, Builders of Nova Scotia (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1900), p. 82.

44. On Mackenzie as Prime Minister, see Dale C. Thomson, Alexander Mackenzie: Clear Grit (Toronto: Macmillan, 1960), pp. 169-343.

45. John Murray Gibbon, Scots in Canada (Toronto: Musson, 1911), pp. 137-138.

46. Canada, House of Commons, Debates, 1891, pp. 884-887.

47. On Mowat's career see: A. Margaret Evans, "The Mowat Era, 1872-1896: Stability and Progress," Profiles of a Province (Toronto: Ontario Historical Society, 1967), pp. 97-106; and "Oliver Mowat: The Pre-Premier and Post-Premier Years," Ontario History, lxii (1970), 137-150.

48. George Bryce, The Scotsman in Canda: Western Canada (Toronto: Musson, 1911), p. 328.

49. Private collection, MacLaren Family Papers, Donald McLaren, Kent County, to Robert MacLaren, Huron County, Ontario (author's greatgrandfather), January 31, 1874. The reference is to David Mills who was returned as the member for Bothwell in the federal elections of January 22, 1874.

50. MacLaren Family Papers, Robert Fergusson, Stirling, Scotland, to Robert MacLaren, June 6, 1892.

51. Martin Robin, ed., Canadian Provincial Politics (Scarborough: Prentice-Hall, 1972), passim.

52. Quoted in Alexander Brady, Democracy in the Dominions (3d ed.; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968), p. 568.

53. John Murray Gibbon, Canadian Mosaic (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1938), p. 109; Roy, Scot and Canada, p. 109.

54. Richard Van Loon, The Structure and Membership of the Canadian Cabinet, Report no. 8, Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1966), pp. 44-48.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus