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The Bench and the Bar

The Bench And The Bar

The first practicing lawyer in the County, as far as is known, was Nicholas Purdue Olding. For many years he was not only the father but the grandfather of the Bar. Born in England, 1751; educated at Oxford; his friends intended him for the Church, but on completing his course, he turned his attention to law. Having finished his law course, he came to America at the time of the American Revolution and took arms in defense of the mother country. At the close of the war, he came to Halifax with his wife and two children.

In 1784 he was admitted to the Bar, and entered upon the practice of his profession with great promise. But he had received a wound in the head, which rendered him unfit for the excitement of the Bar and the social habits of the time. About 1797 he received a grant of land at Merigomish from Governor Wentworth. Soon afterwards he moved there and settled on Point Betty Island, where he lived the remainder of his life.

He did not regularly practice as a barrister, but did considerable law business, writing deeds and issuing legal documents. He generally attended the court at Pictou until near the close of his life. Though brought up in the Church of England, he joined the Presbyterian Church, under Dr. McGregor's ministry. His wife died in 1841 in the 87th year of her age, and he in 1845, in his ninety-fifth year. They had lived together for the long period of sixty-four years. Mr. Olding was well educated, had a high sense of honor, and maintained throughout his life a reputation for integrity and justice.

Among the early members of the legal profession in the county were: Robert Hatton, who came from Ireland in 1813; Thomas Dickson, who was a Colchester man; Henry Blackadar of Halifax, who represented the district in the legislature for nearly a dozen years; Martin I. Wilkins, born at Windsor, practiced law in Pictou, and after wards became Prothonotary of Supreme Court in Halifax, which office he held up to time of his death. He was a Barrister of marked ability, but was rather eccentric in his manner. Daniel Dickson, born at Truro, N. S., died December 27, 1878, was father of Wm. A. Dickson of Pictou. A. C. McDonald the second son of George McDonald was born at the West River in 1821.

Having been admitted to the Bar, he entered into partnership with Daniel Dickson for the practice of law. In 1853 he married Sarah Brown DeWolfe of Pugwash. He died in 1869, in the forty-eighth year of his age. He was a man of good judgment; and fair dealing characterized his legal career.

John MacKinlay, son of Rev. John MacKinlay at one time pastor of Prince St. Church, practiced law in Pictou town for many years and died there December 1888. James Fogo, was born in Glasgow, came to Pictou when a lad, was educated at Pictou Academy, studied law in the office of Jotham Blanchard, was admitted to the bar in 1837, became Judge of Probate 1850. He died in 1897. Edward Roach was a native of Cumberland County and practiced in. New Glasgow. David Matheson was born at West River and died September 1886. For the last twenty-five years of his life he was Prothonotary and Clerk to County Court at Pictou.

One of the best known of the earlier members of the bar, was Jotham Blanchard. He was, by birth, a New Englander, but by education and residence a Pictonian. Inasmuch as his whole public life was spent in Pictou, the County can fairly claim him as one of her sons. Mr. Blanchard was born at Peterboro, N. H., in 1800. He was the eldest son of Jonathan Blanchard. When he was fifteen months old, his parents removed with him to Truro. A few years later the family removed to West River, Pictou, where his father bought George McConnell's farm and built what was known as the Ten Mile House.

Afterwards they removed to Pictou Town, where Jotham studied at Pictou Academy, being one of the first class of students in that institution. He studied law in the office of Thomas Dickson, and was admitted to the Bar in 1821. He soon became one of the most eminent practitioners in Eastern Nova Scotia. His time and energies were largely devoted to fearless advocacy of popular rights and to support of Pictou Academy and higher education.

Mr. Blanchard was an able lawyer, a keen debater, a forceful writer; and he used his powers unstinted for the best interests of the country. He ended his brilliant career in 1840-in the fortieth year of his age and it is not to the credit of his fellow countrymen, that his grave lies unmarked in the Old Cemetery in Pictou.

Hon. Hiram Blanchard was born in Pictou, in 1820, educated at Pictou Academy, and called to the bar of Nova Scotia in 1843, when only twenty-three years of age. He practiced law for some years in Halifax. He represented the County of Inverness in the Legislature for several years, and was for a short time Premier of the Province. He died in 1874.

Sir Charles Townsend, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia says: "Hiram Blanchard was at one time regarded as one of the best and most successful lawyers in the Province. While he could not be called a well read and diligent student of the law, yet he possessed in an eminent degree, the faculty of quickly absorbing all the facts, and the law bearing thereon in the case in hand." He was a brother of Jotham Blanchard.

A well known name of later years, was that of Hon. James McDonald, who was born at Bridgeville, East River, July 1, 1828. He was familiarly known and honored by his generation in Pictou County as " Jim " McDonald. His family was among the first Scottish Highlanders who came to Nova Scotia and settled on the East River. His grandfather, James Macdonald, known as "The Deacon," was one of the founders of the Anti-Burgher Church, and, like all the family was in politics a strong Radical. His father settled in New Glasgow where his son was educated. Some of the older people still remember him as the bright, active lad, who without any advantages, got himself an education and fought his way up to the high position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. He studied law in the office of the well known Hon. Martin I. Wilkins and was admitted to the Bar when only twenty-three years of age.

He practiced law first in Pictou for twelve years, and in 1863 removed to Halifax where he was conspicuous among the leaders of the Bar. In 1878 he was made Minister of Justice in the Sir John Macdonald's Government. He was appointed Chief Justice of Nova Scotia in 1881; retiring on a pension in 1904, he was presented with a handsome piece of silver by the bar of Nova Scotia as a testimonial. He declined the honor of Knighthood, and passed the closing days of his life at "Blink Bonnie" on the Northwest Arm, where he died October 3, 1912, in the 85th year of his age. Almost his entire life was spent in his native province.

He was married, in 1856, to Jane Mortimer of Pictou, by whom he had a large family. Two of his sons are in the legal profession; Wallace McDonald at Edmonton, Alta., and James A. McDonald at Halifax. One of his daughters is married to Sir Hibbert Tupper, Victoria, B. C., and another to Mr. Stuart Tupper, Winnipeg, Man., both sons of Sir Charles Tupper, a third is married to the Rev. L. H. Jordan, D.D., Oxford, England. In that great historic debate of giants in what is known as the Pacific Railway Scandal, in 1873, the palm was unanimously awarded to Hon. James McDonald, for his aggressive debating power and skill in defense. At that time Sir John A. Macdonald said of him, "As true as steel; and is, I think, the ablest man in the House of Commons."

On the first day of October, 1845, there was born at East River another lad, who afterwards became one of Pictou's most popular sons, Duncan C. Fraser. He too, was without material advantages; but he was of good Scottish ancestry. By push and perseverance he worked his way up until he attained the Governorship of the Province.

He received his education in the common schools, and later at the Normal School, Truro. After graduating with a B.A. degree from Dalhousie College, he taught school for some time before being called to the bar in 1873. He had a strong instinct for political life, and was a popular debater. Local politics paved the way for his career at Ottawa, where he represented the County of Guysboro for many years. He occupied a seat on the Bench of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a few years, but gave it . up to take the Lieutenant Governorship of Nova Scotia. His appointment was received with acclamation, and he was very popular with the people.

Governor Fraser had a notable career in Parliament, at the Bar, and on the Bench. His influence was widely felt throughout the country. He was one of the best stump speakers of his day, a rare story teller, and a genial companion. Because of his ready wit and powers of oratory he stood out prominently in the public life of his time.

He received the degree of LL.D., from Dalhousie College, and D.C.L., from St. Francis Xavier and King's Colleges. He died in. 1910. In 1878 he married Bessie G. Graham of New Glasgow. One of his sons, Alister Fraser, is practicing law at Moose Jaw, Sask.
Hon. James G. Forbes, has for nineteen years been County Court Judge of St. John, N. B., and a pillar of the Presbyterian Church of that city. For many years he has been connected with the Canadian Bible Society and the Lord's Day Alliance and also with the British and Foreign Society of London, of which he is one of the Vice Presidents.

He is a brother of the Revs. John F. and Adam G. Forbes and a native of the County, born in 1838. He took a course in law at Harvard University, and was admitted to the bar in 1865. He was long a successful practitioner in St. John where he has resided for over half a century.

Hon. Angus McGillivray was admitted to the bar in 1874, practiced in Antigonish, and was retained in many important cases, civil and criminal. He was appointed Judge of the County Court in 1902 and was Speaker of the House of Assembly in 1883. He resides at Antigonish, N. S.

East River has the distinction of having given to Canada, three political leaders, Hon. James McDonald, Hon. D. C. Fraser, and Hon. Simon H. Holmes. Mr. Holmes was born at Springville, in 1831, a son of Hon. John Holmes, Senator. He was admitted to the bar, and practiced successfully in Pictou for many years, devoting part of his time to journalism. For four years he was Premier of the Province. He resides at Halifax where he has been Prothonotary of the Supreme Court for thirty-two years.

John D. McLeod is at present, Judge of Probate for the County of Pictou, a position he has held for a number of years. He was born at West River, being descended from an old Highland family, was educated at Pictou Academy, studied law, and was admitted as a barrister in 1866.

Charles D. Macdonald, B.A., son of A. C. Macdonald, was born in Pictou in 1854. He entered Dalhousie College in 1869 when only 15 years of age. At 21 he was admitted to the bar. He practiced in his native place until 1890, when he removed to Halifax. In 1897 he located in. Edmonton, Alta., where he died some years later. He was a brilliant linguist. For several years he was editor of the Pictou News.

Hon. George Geddie Patterson was born at Green Hill, and is a son of the late Rev. George Patterson, D.D. He is a graduate of Dalhousie University and Law School, and practiced in New Glasgow, where he now resides. He was appointed Judge of the County Court in 1907.

Edward Mortimer Macdonald, was born in 1865. Educated at Pictou Academy and Dalhousie University, he was admitted to the bar in 1887. He has successfully practiced his profession at Pictou, where he is head of the firm of Macdonald, Ives and Chipman. He has represented the County of Pictou in Parliament since 1897. Mr. Macdonald has always taken an active part in political matters and is today one of the most influential leaders and supporters of the Liberal Party.

The leader of the Conservative party in the Local House, Halifax, is Charles E. Tanner, also a lawyer and a native of Pictou town, born there in 1857. In 1888 he was appointed Recorder and Stipendiary Magistrate for the Town and still holds that office.

Additional Resources

Names who entered the legal profession from Pictou County, Nova Scotia

Pictonians at Home and Abroad, 1914


Pictou County

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