We are now beginning our look at the first five premiers of Nova Scotia, as we continue our long journey through every premier in Canadian history. We have covered the first five premiers of Prince Edward Island and Alberta, and still have a couple hundred premiers to go.
So, let’s begin our journey in Nova Scotia with Hiram Blanchard, the first premier of Nova Scotia.
This is a short episode. I scoured the Internet for information but there was very little accessible. Some premiers will be short like this but I hope you enjoy the episode nonetheless.
Blanchard was born at West River, Nova Scotia on Jan. 17, 1820 to Jonathan Blanchard and Sarah Goggins. His father was a saddle and harness maker, and his father had come to the area in 1785 from Boston. His family had originally come to North America from France in 1637.
His brother, Jotham, was 20 years his senior and made his own mark in Canada when he served in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly from 1830 to 1836. Unfortunately, poor health resulted in his death at the age of only 39 in 1839.
Blanchard attended the same school his brother did, Pictou Academy, and after graduation he studied law.
In November 1841, Blanchard was admitted to the bar and the following year, married Eliza Cantrell. Together they had four daughters and one son, who died young.
Shortly after his marriage, Blanchard opened a law office in Port Hood, Nova Scotia and quickly gained a reputation for his skill with examining witnesses and his presentation of facts.
For the next two decades, he remained with his small law firm in Port Hood but his skill as a lawyer gained him notice over time. In 1860, he moved to Halifax to partner with Jonathan McCully, the solicitor general of Nova Scotia.
At this same time, he began his career in politics.
William Young had left politics to become the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia in 1859, and with the 1859 Nova Scotia election being heavily divided between Roman Catholic and Protestant voters, Blanchard felt it was time to move into politics with the goal of working with both sides.
On May 12, 1859, Blanchard was elected to the Nova Scotia Legislature in Inverness County.
As an MLA, he practiced the concept of equal rights to all, proscription of none, favoritism to none.
His rising above the religious quarrels earned him the respect of the Roman Catholic voters, despite the fact he was Presbyterian.
In the House of Assembly, Blanchard put light on the plight of the insane and the deaf in the province who were often ignored. He also supported the free schooling initiative of Premier Charles Tupper, but wanted the schools governed by a council made up of members of the Nova Scotia Executive Council.
As Confederation approached, Blanchard supported Nova Scotia becoming part of Canada. Charles Tupper had left as premier to move into federal politics, so Blanchard became the leader of the Conservative Party and the attorney general of the province.
With Nova Scotia joining Canada, Blanchard became the first premier of the province on July 4, 1867.
His time as premier was brief, only three months, before the Sept. 30, 1867 provincial election resulted to his party’s demise on the issue of Confederation as the Anti-Confederation Party swept to victory with 36 seats. Only two Conservative MLAs retained their seats, of which Blanchard was one.
It was stated in the Ottawa Daily Citizen that a considerable amount of money was put forward to defeat Blanchard in his riding. According to some sources, it was $50,000, amounting to amount $2 million. All that money spent didn’t defeat Blanchard, but that doesn’t mean he won his seat.
Unfortunately for Blanchard, his win was declared invalid as he had been appointed as a legal advisor to the federal government. A by-election was called and he lost his seat.
In 1871, he helped get Fort Massey United Church in Halifax built by donated funds for its construction. That church continues to stand, and was made a Provincially Recognized Property in 1996.
He returned to the Legislature in 1871, serving as the leader of the opposition until his death on Dec. 17, 1874 in Halifax at the age of only 54.
The Morning Chronicle said of him at his death that he was a man of,
“high reputation, a useful legislator, well-informed in public matters and an industrious worker.”
The Clinton New Era newspaper simply said,
“Mr Hiram Blanchard, leader of the Nova Scotia Opposition, died on the 17th aged 55.”
Years later, the C.W. Lunn of the Halifax Evening Mail stated that Blanchard was, “an exceedingly brilliant, able man.”
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Halifax Evening Mail, Wikipedia, Library and Archives Canada, Nova Scotians At Home and Abroad, Ottawa Daily Citizen.