Source: “John George Bourinot,” by George Stewart, in Les Hommes du Jour [Men of Their Times], 26th Series. Québec, February 1893. French translation by P. M. Sauvalle, re-translated into English by Kathleen Moore.
The little province of Nova Scotia has contributed greatly to the political, literary and scientific advancement of Canada, as well as to its progress in art and education. She gave to the Dominion a Prime Minister, a High-Commissioner in London, a Chief Justice of the highest court of the country, the principal of two of our larger universities, geologists whose fame extends throughout the whole world, eminent journalists, poets, historians and novelists.
Nova Scotia has also given us the highest constitutional authority on the practice and procedure of parliamentary government in Canada ; work which is cited and recognized in every colony of the British Empire where the representative system reigns ; work that has also passed through two editions in seven years and has brought to its author, among Parliamentarians and statesmen, a reputation at least equal to that of May1. What authors who wrote on the English constitution, its development and its flourishing, did for England, Mr. Bourinot has done for Canada and the sister colonies.
But I have already said that the Nova Scotians have appropriated in the Dominion eminent positions for all work where intelligence plays a paramount role. Gradually, year by year, they gravitated towards Ottawa, and settled in administrative armchairs which one is obliged to admit were well earned by a talent and skill which seem inherent in the race of their holders. Thus we find the Library of Parliament in the hands of a son of Nova Scotia; the head of the bureau of statistics in those of yet another; a judge of the Court of Exchequer, a third; while Deputy Minister, the principal officers of the Commons and of the Senate, not to mention the Clerks of second and
1 Erskine May.
third class, claim as their cradle this small province at the edge of the sea, whose total surface area is less of 21,000 square miles. How then is this done? We leave to ethnologists the task of settling this question. In every case, the fact exists.
The goal that I have set myself is to outline, as briefly as permitted by the limits of this work, the career of John George Bourinot, clerk of the House of Commons, publicist, journalist and man of letters. He was born in Sydney, on the island of Cape-Breton, on October 24th, 1837. His father, the late honourable Lieutenant-Colonel John Bourinot, resided at Sydney for a half-century and occupied the position of Vice-consul of France; those who had the opportunity to visit with him and to be received by him have preserved the memory of the expansive and generous way in which he did credit to his position. As of 1859 at the union of the provinces, he represented Cape-Breton in the assembly at Halifax and, at the time of Confederation, a royal proclamation called him to the Senate. Senator Bourinot is descended from a Norman Huguenot family, native to the Isle of Jersey. He married Jeanne, the second daughter of His Honor Judge Marshall, who was an intrepid temperance lawyer, a skillful writer on political and religious subjects, a sound jurisconsult and a gentleman greatly respected by those around him. His father, a captain in the English army, was an Irishman of deeply loyal and patriotic sentiment. Such is the line from which descended he who is the subject of this study. It should be no surprise, given the blood which runs in his veins, if he has succeeded in attaining the distinguished position which he occupies today in spite of all the obstacles which have arisen from time to time along his way. His father supervised his early education attentively and had the good fortune of securing for himself, as the young man’s tutor, the Reverend W.J. Porter, under whose care the latter’s intelligence made rapid progress. Mr. Porter was an excellent professor, quite devoted to education. He immediately saw the promise in his student and was unstinting so as to bring forth his brilliant qualities. He was not disappointed in his predictions. The young Bourinot astonished him by the speed of his understanding and the extent of his intellectual means, faculties developed well beyond his age. His father resolved to complete an education so well begun, and sent him to Toronto, where he entered the university at Trinity College. The years that he spent in college are still not forgotten by his
classmates. Scholarship was his passion and he adhered to his books with an eagerness, a perseverance and zeal which were admired by students and professors alike. He naturally harvested all the laurels and all the distinctions, among which the Wellington prize and several others. Upon leaving his alma mater, he found himself in a serious quandary as to what career he should pursue. Law was certainly the most advantageous; but the literary tastes of the young Bourinot were so fervent that he decided to follow his aspirations and to cultivate letters. Journalism initially offered him the opportunity he sought, and his beginnings in the press stood him in good stead as writer and parliamentary reporter. In those days, Jos. Howe and Chas. Tupper were in their full glory, and Bourinot had the task of taking down in shorthand the speeches they made in the old house of commons of Halifax. The acquaintance that he made of these statesmen then grew to become a firm friendship which continues today with Sir Chas. Tupper and which, for Howe, ended only upon his death. The speeches and the opinions expressed by these two men had a great influence on the future of the young journalist, and later he was often heard to say, that when he was looking for inspiration, in order to find it, he had merely to refer to the speeches of Howe which he had previously collected. In 1860, Bourinot founded and wrote for the Halifax Reporter, a newspaper which enjoyed a shining reputation among its customers for the vigor and independence of its articles and also for the accuracy of its parliamentary reports. In 1861, the editor and reporter added to his occupations the task of preparing the reports of the debates in the Nova Scotia house of commons, and he accepted the post of head of the office of reporters. He occupied this position until Confederation, and then he was appointed senate stenographer and moved his residence to Ottawa. Nevertheless he continued to send reports to the newspapers at Halifax and Saint-John and to collaborate on a series of invaluable articles, generally historical, for Stewart’s Literary Quarterly Magazine of the latter city. He also wrote a number of news items for the Quarterly which attracted general attention and garnered for their author repeated requests from his friends to collect them in volume form. However, this has not yet been done, although a number of these studies, published from 1876 to 1882, were revised, expanded and reprinted in other
forms, in particular the accounts of the Isle of Cape-Breton, which became, in 1893, a monograph of prodigious size and the most complete and the most interesting history which has ever been written on this so picturesque portion of Nova Scotia. This study, which was read before the literary section of the Royal Society of Canada, is comprised in the volume of reports of this society; however, it has been published, for the benefit of those who cannot obtain these reports, in a special edition of this work together with all the maps, plans and original notes. This sumptuous work is affectionately dedicated to the memory of the author’s brother. It was an act of love and the work it contains is so perfect and so complete that no one who touches upon the same subject can do so without citing it, practically page for page.
Another historical study of Bourinot’s, which originally appeared in The Canadian Monthly and National Review of Toronto, is entitled: The old forts of Acadia. This monograph, subsequently revised and expanded, was included in the accounts of the Royal Society where it can be found under the title of: Some old forts by the sea. A short description of Louisbourg in 1870 is included with it.
Mr. Bourinot occupied the position of clerk of the senate until 1873; after which he went down to the Lower House to take up the post of second assistant-clerk of the House of Commons; at the end of six years, he was promoted to first assistant-clerk and, on December 18th, 1880, upon the retirement of the late Alfred Patrick, écuier, C.M.G., Mr. Bourinot became the chief clerk of the House, a position which he still occupies today.
The demanding nature of his duties as a public officer did not prevent Mr. Bourinot from collaborating uninterruptedly with major newspapers and periodicals, and he has provided to the various literary societies and universities here and abroad a great number of important works on a host of subjects. When the Toronto Mail started to publish and when the New York World was addressed to a more elevated clientele than at present, the prolific pen of Mr. Bourinot was often put (put at contribution; pressed into service). His clear and convincing style gave great importance to all that he had to say. Early on, the Canadian Monthly counted him among its dedicated contributors, and this was in the days when Goldwin Smith, W.A. Poster and Wm. J. Rattray addressed their best works to Canadian readers.
Bourinot published in the Monthly a complete series of works on the intellectual development of the Canadian people, in which he closely examined the social and political changes which accompanied our development and our intellectual progress; the system of education of the country from the French regime up to our own day, while advocating a national university; journalism in Canada and those who have made it what it is, and finishing with a survey of our original literature. The author, conceding to the wish of many who wanted to be able to conserve this work in a lasting form, published these (works) in 1881 in the form of a volume of 128 pages.
The proceedings of the Royal Colonial Institute, an association of which Mr. Bourinot has for many years been the honorary corresponding secretary, have often been filled by our author with important studies on his favorite subject, the political, economic and industrial growth of the Dominion. At the head of these works, I would mention the essays on the maritime industry and the national development of Canada, treatises which the English press has been quick to approve unreservedly. The major journals have always opened wide their columns to him. His article in Blackwood on the progress of the new Dominion earned him the following comment in the London Times: “that it was the best article which has ever been published on the subject in an English review.” Doctor Smith, the editor of the old English publication, the Quarterly Review, in accepting one of his manuscripts, wrote to him to send more of the same; the Westminster welcomed him with open arms, and the Scottish Review published at Paisely and at London, made space for his writings which a speed which demonstrates how much they were appreciated by the intelligent clientele of this famous review. In America, Mr. Bourinot sent most of his historical works to the Magazine of American History of New-York, which was published by Mrs. Martin J. Lamb, whose demise in early January 1893 has been lamented by all friends of literature and historical studies.
In 1892, Lord Lorne, the Governor General, wishing to give to the arts, and to science and literature in Canada a stimulus and a direction which they were lacking, founded two societies. The Fine Arts Academy was an immediate success. The Royal Society, which combined
perhaps the best elements of the constitution of the Académie française and the English and American associations, was not so well received and even, in some quarters, elicited harsh criticism. The number of members was limited at first to eighty; to the two first sections, of twenty members each, were reserved history, archaeology, ethnology and literature in general. The first section is composed of French, and the second, of English; the two remaining sections are devoted to science in all its branches and in all its aspects. One might say in review that these latter were considerably better esteemed; however the literature sections each year exhibit a creditable vitality, which is especially noteworthy for the French section. The latter includes among its works poetry, news, drama, snatches of stage plays, without however excluding the most serious studies on philosophy, history and archeaology. The English are more conservative and, if on occasion the reading of poems is allowed at the meetings, the editorial committee strictly excludes their publication from its volumes of reports. To establish the Royal Society, Lord Lorne frequently consulted Mr. Bourinot and appointed him the first honorary secretary. If today the Royal Society has acquired any importance and any value for the country, one and the other are due to the energy and the untiring zeal that the honorary secretary has devoted to the enterprise. Not only did he prepare all the reports and handle the enormous correspondence which fell onto his shoulders, but further, one can say that he led the Society by the hand in all its first steps, until it felt strong enough to walk on its own; he contributed to filling the annual reports with a host of important works; he took care of all the details, and all the new presidents, when they came to direct the deliberations, were indebted to Mr. Bourinot for the relaxed and tranquil manner in which the meetings transpired, the great parliamentary experience of the secretary helping them considerably to obtain this result.
From the founding of the Society up to 1891, Mr. Bourinot remained the honorary secretary, then was unanimously chosen as its Vice-president. In May of 1892, on the motion of the late Sir Daniel Wilson and Sir James E. Grant, K.C.M.G., he was unanimously elected President.
One of the most useful series of works that has been published — vast in its scope and dealing with subjects of the
utmost importance from the political and historical viewpoint — is found in the collection of works comprising in the John Hopkins University Studies in Baltimore, Maryland. — In this oeuvre are published the works so carefully prepared by Dr. Bourinot and bearing the titles: Federal Government in Canada and Local Government in Canada. These attracted marked attention and contributed to the study of our parliamentary system by a host of people who heretofore had only had a limited understanding of Canadian institutions and their functioning. The John Hopkin’s University Studies are highly valued and the writers who collaborate on it, all having eminent reputations in the subjects they are dealing with, are sure to reach a group of readers who are the elite of the educated world. Canadians should certainly be proud to know that Mr Bourinot’s works are the most important published by the university and that their value has been amplified.
The “American historical Association” was founded several years ago in the United States by a certain number of amateurs and authors of historical studies, with Mr. George Bancroft as the first president. Very few Canadian men of letters had the honor to be elected members; but it was not long before the services rendered by Mr. Bourinot to this continent were recognized, and the association appointed him as one of the members of its Board. This society meets once a year in Washington, in December, to read and discuss the works which are submitted to it. It is at one of these sessions that Dr. Bourinot presented his remarkable monograph on parliamentary government in Canada, which was published and distributed by the association as being the most interesting and the most important of the great number of works presented that year. It was a particularly instructive and detailed study, extremely interesting as well on account of the comparison it makes of government by parliament and by congress, in which the two systems are clearly set out. Dr. Bourinot’s bibliographical notes on the constitutional literature added greatly to his reputation as an authority on the subject which he covers with so much success. The works of the “American Historical Association” are now distributed under the auspices of the government of the United States, which imparts to the institution, from every
viewpoint, an official character. It is worth mentioning here that Dr. Bourinot is a member of the Statistical Society of Great Britain, and also a member of the council of the American Academy of Political sciences; he is on the board of management of the International, auxiliary Congress of the congress of Historians and Historical Students, his colleagues being, for Canada, Dr. Douglas Brymner, F.R.S.C., of Ottawa, and Dr. George Stewart, F.R.G.S., of Quebec.
At various times, Dr. Bourinot has read important studies on the parliamentary institutions of Canada before societies such as the Quebec Geographical society, Harvard University at Cambridge, Mass., McGill University in Montreal, the University of Trinity College at Toronto and the National Club of Toronto. He read his Responsible Government in Canada before the latter society. The conferences that he read to the students and friends of Trinity College then became part of the documents he presented before the Royal Society.
As a lecturer and speaker, Dr. Bourinot speaks clearly and distinctly, without oratorical brio and with very few gestures. His phrases are always well chosen and his way of presenting his arguments is close and convincing. So sure is he of his terrain that he cannot even presume a contradiction; nevertheless he has occasionally encountered some, though it is quite rare that it not be his adversary who is obliged to concede the battle in discomfiture.
The great work of Dr. Bourinot, absolutely great in the most complete sense of the word and which has made his name known in all parts of His Majesty’s dominions where constitutional government reigns, is his Parliamentary Procedure and Practice, a manual of practice and procedure for parliamentarians, accompanied by a review of the origins and development of parliamentary institutions in the Dominion of Canada. In this authoritative exposé, he calls upon his more than two and a half decades of experience observing Parliament functioning in Nova Scotia and in the Dominion. He was scrupulous in collating and preparing, for the day when the occasion would present itself, all this wealth of materials that he had collected up to then. A work of this kind had become an urgent necessity and the two books of Dr. Alpheus Todd, one on parliamentary gov-
ernment in England, the other on parliamentary government in the colonies, absolutely did not occupy the field which Dr. Bourinot had resolved to cover. There was room for the two authorities and, when it was known that Dr. Bourinot had undertaken to write the volume which bears his name, there was not a man who gave his advice more liberally, wished success more sincerely, encouraged the newcomer more cordially to achieve the task that he had set himself, than this good and benevolent savant who, for two generations, had so liberally placed at the disposal of the members of Parliament of his adoptive country his own life’s work.
Dr. Bourinot’s goal, in endowing Canada with his work, was to bring into clear view in precise language, in order to make them easily understood, the laws and principles which regulate the practice and procedure of Parliament. We know that these derive originally from the usages and orders of the Imperial Parliament; but, as the author points out, “In the course of years, divergences in practice have happened which have created a great number of precedents requiring a work of this kind.” “He therefore undertook to explain the rules and usages established in Canada,” and also to provide “rather broad references to the best authorities, and particularly to the works of Hatfell and May to allow readers to compare the Canadian and English procedures.” The introduction covers the origins and development of parliamentary institutions in Canada from the French régime to the present time; the author has moreover added thereto a summary of the decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and of the Supreme Court of Canada, which had borne on important matters relating to the jurisdiction and power of Parliament and of the Provincial legislatures. In the second edition, new additions were made, without however modifying the plan and form of the work. Upon publication, the book conquered the place which was due to it; it was not only an immense arsenal of facts and precedents, but it was also a lusciously written volume. In fact, against similar works undertaken by less skilful pens, Bourinot’s Procedure and Practice can be read with as much profit and pleasure as one takes in reading Green or Fronde: the style of the author from start to finish is vigorous, clear and polished. The Times of London, in a review which covered no less
than three of its wide columns, had only praise for the work. The press of Australia, Canada and the United States expressed opinions no less favorable on its merits, and the public men of the Empire, among them Mr. Gladstone, Lord Salisbury and other great names of the political field, spoke in the most laudatory terms of the value, the importance, the clarity and of the perfect accuracy of this work. As we have said, Mr. Bourinot’s book immediately became the uncontested authority on the subject in all the dependencies of the British Crown. At the request of a number of people, Dr. Bourinot prepared, thereafter, a handbook of the constitutional history of Canada from the first days of the colony up to 1883; this work, composed of chapters from the precedent, was dedicated in gracious terms to the Marquis of Lansdowne, then Governor General of Canada. Another book of Dr. Bourinot’s is entitled: Canadian studies in comparative politics, in three chapters: the first dealing with the English character of Canadian institutions, the second establishing a comparison between the political system of Canada and that of the United States, and the third devoted to the federal government in Switzerland and its comparison with that of Canada. This book, like the others, is of poignant interest and rich in notes and allusions.
Dr. Bourinot has rightly been the object of many honors. The university of Queen’s College at Kingston conferred upon him, in 1886, the honorary degree of Bachelor of Law; two years later, his alma mater, Trinity College of Toronto, awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor, and, in 1890, at the time of the celebration of the centenary of King’s College of Windsor, (Nova Scotia,) this worthy institution added to his laurels the very envied title of Doctor of Law of his university. In recompense for his public services, the Queen created him, in 1890, a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
In private life, Dr. Bourinot is one of the most benevolent and most sociable men one can meet. His splendid residence in Ottawa is always broadly open to discrete hospitality. There, surrounded by his books, he likes to meet his friends, to discuss the events of the day or the latest volume of history, poetry or news, and, in every case, the abundance of
his reading and the finesse of his observations never fails to throw a useful light on the discussion. An ardent supporter of Imperial federation, he was appointed, in 1885, in a public meeting held in Montreal, a member of the executive committee of the league, with responsibility for disseminating and advancing the project of close union with the mother country.
In October 1865, Dr. Bourinot married Miss Emily Alden Pilsbury, the daughter of the American consul at Halifax, a woman of rare beauty and endowed with the most brilliant qualities. To the great sadness of a circle of numerous friends, Mrs. Bourinot died, in September 1887. In the month of July 1889, Dr. Bourinot married Miss Isabelle Cameron in Regina, N.W.T.. The family of the latter lived in Toronto until 1888. Her father, now deceased, was a well known and highly regarded wood merchant of Georgian Bay. Her grandfather, on her mother’s side, was the late reverend Canon Bleasdell, D.C.L., of Trenton, Ontario.
Quebec, February 1893.
(French translation by P. M. Sauvalle.)
(Re-translated into English from the French of Sauvalle by Kathleen Moore)
– 30 –
I’m going to supplement this article with an excerpt from a biography of John George Bourinot by Margaret Banks entitled Sir John George Bourinot, Victorian Canadian, His Life, Times, and Legacy from McGill-Queens University Press, 392 pages, April 2001, ISBN 9780773521919.
the following excerpt goes to show that as a founder of The Halifax Reporter newspaper, Bourinot was personally aware of and reported on the “secession” news from the United States, as the American Civil War was developing.
In an age before the advent of radio, television, and the Internet, newspapers played a more vital role in providing news and commentary than they do today. In the mid-1860s, eighteen newspapers were published in Halifax — one daily, seven tri-weekly, four political journals, three religious journals, one devoted to temperance, one to agriculture and another to education, the last two being published monthly.6 This gives some idea of the competition Crosskill and Bourinot faced when they began to publish The Halifax Reporter in 1860. Probably their chief competitors were the long-established Acadian Recorder and The Nova Scotian, founded in 1813 and 1824 respectively, The Morning Chronicle, The Sun, and The British Colonist, all founded in the 1840s, and The Evening Express and Commercial Record, founded in 1858.7
Early issues of The Halifax Reporter were produced in the Victoria Buildings on Hollis Street. Later, the office moved to another building on Hollis Street (Number 165), built expressly for the business. A further temporary move to Somerset House at the corner of Prince and Granville Streets took place at the beginning of 1867; in May 1867, the office moved again to Coppins’ Building on Bedford Row.8
A 1975 newspaper article relating to the building at 165 Hollis Street notes that Crosskill and Bourinot owned the first steam press in Halifax. It adds that the press was described by a contemporary as “a large patent double cylinder press, specially built to print 5,000 impressions an hour … and by ingenious apparatus, patented in Germany, the number of sheets printed is accurately shown.” In fact, the author of the article notes, the press printed 3,500 sheets each hour. The Reporter also owned the first folding machine in the Maritimes; it could make up to four folds in 2,500 to 3,500 sheets an hour.9
Throughout the years 1860-67, Crosskill and Bourinot were described as proprietors and editors of their newspaper, but it appears that Crosskill was chiefly responsible for the business side and Bourinot for the editorial. In a bibliography of his writings, published in 1894, Bourinot stated that when he was with the Reporter the editorials were, for the most part, from his pen.10 Though editorials are unsigned, it is assumed in the pages that follow that those noted state Bourinot’s views.
Unfortunately, the first five issues of The Halifax Reporter have not been preserved. When the Canadian Library Association, as part of its Canadian Newspapers on Microfilm project, was seeking all available issues of the paper, the earliest it found was volume I, issue number 6, dated 9 August 1860.11 However, several of the early issues that are available include a statement of the newly-established newspaper’s policy regarding news and editorials. Published each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, the newspaper was to be devoted to news of all kinds and to carefully prepared editorials on the leading topics of the day. Shipping, commercial, and general intelligence were also to be included, and an interesting and instructive family department would help to ensure that the newspaper would be acceptable in the homes of the people.
Crosskill and Bourinot emphasized their newspaper’s accurate reporting and independent position. “By carefully avoiding all partial and garbled statements we have every confidence that we shall give satisfaction to all classes, of whatever political or religious opinions.”12 The Halifax Evening Reporter is often described as a conservative, rather than an independent, journal, but this applies to the years after Confederation, when Bourinot was no longer associated with it.13
A review of early issues of The Halifax Reporter reveals that they did indeed contain a wide variety of news and features. There was usually some fiction, accompanied by a poem, often on the front page. News was by no means limited to Nova Scotia. Considerable space was devoted to events in Britain and the United States. Bourinot evidently kept in touch with former associates on the staff of The Daily Leader in Toronto, for The Halifax Reporter often quoted long passages from it, giving news of the Province of Canada and sometimes reporting what the Canadian papers said about Nova Scotia. Items relating to Nova Scotia included news from the police court and the mayor’s court, news of steamship arrivals in Halifax and of ships going from Halifax to other ports, such as New York. There were miscellaneous items giving news of sports, theatres, and Sunday church services. Most issues had some letters to the editor and numerous short paragraphs consisting of little stories and jokes. Sometimes there were book notices. Information also appeared relating to revenue law, tariffs, and post office regulations. It is difficult to know what The Halifax Reporter‘s prospectus meant by the family department. Perhaps it referred mainly to the fiction section; only occasionally did there appear a section headed “The Housekeeper.” Under this heading on 16 October i860 there were domestic receipts (recipes) for such things as “queen’s cake,” “carrot pudding” and “to clean black silk gloves, kid
boots and shoes.” The last mentioned consisted of mixing three parts egg white with one part ink.
Editorials in the 1860 issues of The Halifax Reporter, early examples of Bourinot’s published writing, demonstrate that he already had a wide knowledge and understanding of current events, at home and abroad, and the ability to clearly express his views regarding them.
An editorial entitled “The Progress of Canada,” published on 23 August 1860, shows that Bourinot was already advocating some sort of union between Canada and the Maritime provinces. After commenting favourably on the progress of Canada during the previous quarter of a century, he quoted from The Daily Leader, which praised Canada’s railway system — “From Quebec to Toronto in less than twenty hours!” — its system of municipal government — “not surpassed by any other country in the world” — and its educational system “which is doing much to elevate the character of the people.” Bourinot concluded his editorial with an expression of hope that “these Maritime Provinces” would soon be united with their “progressive sister colony.”14
Editorials in October and November 1860 demonstrate Bourinot’s interest in American politics. On 23 October he discussed the forthcoming presidential election, and on 15 November, after the election of Abraham Lincoln, he remarked that this event had caused much excitement in some of the states that upheld slavery. He was incorrect, however, in predicting that the excitement would probably not end in a secession of any of the southern states, “a step which every man of common sense must see would be most detrimental to the best interests of the Republic.” His statement that “South Carolina appears to give the most trouble so far” led to a follow-up editorial on 17 November, after some American papers arrived by steamer from Boston. Headed “The Secession Movement in the Southern States,” it reported that the legislature of South Carolina had passed an act authorizing a state convention on union and secession to be held on 17 December. After debate on the issue, the delegates to that convention voted unanimously to dissolve “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states,”15 thus becoming the first state to secede.