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Pictou in Politics

The first election in Pictou County was held in 1799. These were the days of irresponsible Government, when an autocratic Executive at Halifax governed the Province, as they saw fit, and generally without regard to the just claims of the outlying settlements. It was natural, therefore, that the Scotsmen of Pictou should be strong in protest against this form of government, and when the opportunity was formally offered them they expressed themselves as strongly opposed to it.

At this time, the counties of Pictou, Colchester and Halifax were one for Electoral purposes, and were designated "Halifax" County. Out of the four candidates allotted to the county of Halifax, Pictou returned two, W. Cottman Tonge, and Edward Mortimer in opposition to the ruling element at Halifax. Mr. Tonge is said to have been a man of great independence, and fearless in asserting the rights of the people. In 1806, Colchester and Pictou again overruled Halifax by electing Edward Mortimer and S. G. W. Archibald of Truro. Edward Mortimer was of Scottish descent. He settled in Pictou town where he became a prominent merchant and shipper. Because of his wealth and influence he was sometimes styled "the King of Pictou." For over twenty years he represented the people in the General Assembly of the Province. Political seed was apparently sown in a fruitful field, and the men of Pictou have ever since taken the deepest and most intelligent interest in public affairs. Through worthy representatives they have made their influence strongly felt on the floors of successive Parliaments and Legislature.

The outstanding question in Pictou's early politics, and the one which contributed to a greater degree than any other in causing party strife, was the unfortunate controversy, lasting more than twenty years, over Pictou Academy's claims for Government aid, on lines similar to that accorded to King's College, Windsor, which was the special care of the Council of Twelve. Edward Mortimer, George Smith and Jotham Blanchard were successively the men who championed the cause of the Academy. In its earlier stages, the quarrel was ecclesiastical, as well as political, and intense feelings were aroused. Jotham Blanchard was elected in 1830 to the Assembly at Halifax. This was the year of the "big election," concerning which many stories of strife, bloodshed, and even death are told. Hon. J. W. Carmichael describes the famous election of 1830, when "Kirk" and "Antiburgher" were the war cries. Elections were not held then as now in one day. That one occupied three weeks, commencing in Halifax, adjourning to Truro, and then to Pictou, a week in each, the excitement increasing as the contest proceeded. From Truro came accounts of bands of electors marching in from Stewiacke, Londonderry and Tatamagouche with pipes playing, flags flying, and forming in a body around Court House Square.

The battle rolled on to Pictou and when Highlander met Lowlander then came the tug of war. A regular plan of campaign was marked out. On Monday, the Kirk men took possession of the town and drove the Antiburghers before them like leaves before the blast. The Antiburgher leaders took counsel with one another and orders were issued. Messengers sped over hills and dales; and "Anti-burghers to the rescue," was the cry. From East and West and Middle River came in the detachments, and revived the drooping spirits of their party. The college was guarded. A bodyguard was stationed in Blanchard's House. On Wednesday night a fierce and possibly fatal contest was prevented, solely by the interposition of Dr. McCulloch, who placed himself between the contending parties just as their columns were coming into conflict; and prevailed on both to retire. And so passed away the week a week eventful in the history of Pictou, and of Nova Scotia. It was decidedly the most exciting election ever held in the Province. The bitter feelings engendered in that strife have long passed away. There are now few, very few, remaining who can even call them to recollection.

Joseph Howe followed the polling to Pictou and reported the events there in the interest of his paper, the "Nova Scotian." Howe at that time was attached to the Party of Privilege and afterwards said that it was the impressions made upon him by Blanchard and the other Pictou reformers that turned his mind towards the popular side, as he expressed it, "those Pictou scribblers converted me."

Next came the agitation for Responsible Government, and Pictou was the centre of the movement. Jotham Blanchard was the first public man in the Province, by voice and pen to press for Responsible . Government, as we have it today. This he did through the columns of the Colonial Patriot and before the Home Government in 1831 when he went across to plead for justice to Pictou Academy. In 1836 the district of Pictou was established as a separate county. By that act, it received two representatives for the County and one for the township of Pictou. The first election under the new plan took place that year, when by a compromise between the parties, George Smith, a Liberal and an upholder of responsible government, and John Holmes, a Tory and openly opposed to the new order of things, were chosen. After a contest Henry Hatton was elected to represent the township.

In 1838 Thomas Dickson succeeded George Smith, the latter being elevated to the Legislative Council. From 1840-1843 Holmes, Henry Blackadar, and Hatton were the representatives. The next four years, Holmes and George R. Young represented the County and Blackadar the township. From 1847-1851 the members were Young, Andrew Robertson and Blackadar. George R. Young was a member without portfolio of the first real Reform Government that came into power after the election of 1847. In 1851 the Liberals lost the County and for four years the representatives were Holmes, Robert Murray and Martin I. Wilkins.

Mr. Holmes was one of the earliest settlers on the East River of Pictou. He came from Scotland when only eleven years of age. By his industry, intelligence and public spirit he won the confidence of the people and for many years represented them in Parliament. In 1858, he was appointed a member of the Legislative Council and in 1867 to the Senate of Canada. He died in 1876, aged 87 years.

In 1855 Captain George McKenzie and A. C. McDonald were elected for the County and Wilkins again for the township. Mr. McDonald was the first son of the soil to win the confidence of the electors of Pictou. He represented the County in the Nova Scotia Legislature, in the Liberal interest, for eight years, and was Speaker of the House of Assembly before Confederation. Captain McKenzie was one of the old school politicians and a leading man in the county. For eight years he represented it in the Liberal interest. Mr. Wilkins, though not a native of the county, was long identified with it.

He went against his party at Confederation and was elected in 1867 on the Liberal ticket, becoming Attorney General in Mr. Annand's Government. In 1859 the County was divided into two districts, Eastern and Western. From 1859 to 1863 Captain George McKenzie and James McDonald represented the Eastern district and A. C. McDonald and R. P. Grant, Western. From 1863 to 1867, the Eastern district was represented by James McDonald and James Fraser, (Downie), and the Western district by Alexander McKay and Donald Fraser.

After confederation, in 1867, the Dominion Parliament was established and met at Ottawa, with one representative from Pictou County. An additional member in the Local House was at this time given to the county. Hiram Blanchard, a son of Pictou, who represented Inverness County from 1857 to 1867 was sworn in on July 4, 1867 as the first Premier of Nova Scotia after Confederation, holding the portfolio of Attorney General. He was with out mandate from the people and his stay in office was brief, for at the general election which took place four months later, September 17, 1867, he was utterly defeated, only two seats being carried for the Government, his own, and Henry G. Pineo for Cumberland County. Mr. Blanchard was unseated at the election in 1867 and remained in private life until the general election, 1871, when he was again returned by Inverness and became leader of the opposition in the Provincial House until his death in 1874.

In 1867, Pictou elected to the Local House three Liberals Dr. George Murray, R. S. Copeland and Martin I. Wilkins. In 1871, the pendulum swung back and Simon H. Holmes, Alexander McKay, and Hugh J. Cameron, were elected, and again in 1874. In 1878 Simon H. Holmes, Alexander McKay and Adam C. Bell, were chosen by the people. In 1878 Simon H. Holmes became the fourth Premier of the Province, being leader of the Government for four years. During his administration, several laws and measures of great benefit to the Province, were passed. In May, 1882, Mr. Holmes retired from politics to accept the office of Prothonotary for the Supreme Court at Halifax, which office he still holds.

Upon the retirement of Mr. Holmes, J. S. D. Thomson became Premier and Adam C. Bell, Provincial Secretary. In an appeal made to the country, three months later, the Government was defeated, although Mr. Bell, with Robert Hockin and Dr. C. H. Munro were elected for Pictou. In 1886, Bell and Munro were again elected with Jeffrey McColl, New Glasgow, the first Liberal elected in Pictou for nineteen years. Mr. Bell resigned in 1887, and ran for a seat in the Federal House, but was defeated. His place in the Legislature was taken by William Cameron, who was elected by acclamation, and again returned by popular vote in 1890 and 1894. From 1890 to 1894, Alexander Grant and James D. McGregor, with William Cameron, represented the county.

Pictonians at Home and Abroad, 1914


Pictou County

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