So, we have reached the fifth premier in our series for Nova Scotia. After this, we will be covering the first five British Columbia premiers.
I skipped Sir John Sparrow David Thompson, the fifth premier of Nova Scotia since I covered his life in the first season of the podcast.
Now, we go to William Thomas Pipes.
William Thomas Pipes was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia on April 15, 1850.
As a youth, he was educated at Amherst Academy and pursued a law degree. In 1875, he was called to the Nova Scotian bar.
On Nov. 23, 1876, Pipes married Ruth McElmon, and together they had three daughters.
In 1878, he ran in the federal election against fellow Nova Scotian Charles Tupper but lost. Tupper had held the seat since 1867, and most considered him to be impossible to unseat. Despite the odds, Pipes did well, taking 42 per cent of the vote. His party applauded his forcefulness in the election campaign and his good showing.
In 1882, Pipes ran as a Liberal in the Nova Scotia provincial election, winning his seat.
The Liberals had not expected to win the election, and the party had no leader at the time. William Fielding, the editor of the Halifax Morning Chronicle and the man who directed the Liberal campaign, was offered the premiership but he declined as his financial resources were limited.
As a result, Pipes, who had only been in the Legislature for two months, was made premier on Aug. 3, 1882. Many were surprised by this appointment as Pipes was 32, had never sat in the Legislature and was relatively unknown within the party.
The Halifax Herald wrote on Aug. 18,
“We fear, however, that he is ignorant of what his duties are in the premises. Notwithstanding his long experience of public life and his intimate acquaintance with the work devolving upon a chief Minister of the Crown it is just possible that in the tremendous strain of incessant toil and arduous mental labor, that is evidently breaking him down.”
Since the premier did not receive pay for the position, Pipes continued to work as a lawyer.
Overall, Pipes did not seem to enjoy his time as premier. James Fraser, a fellow MHA, said he was a morose and distant man. Through the years he served as premier, Pipes established a rapport with few members of his government other than his friend Fielding. He rewarded Fielding for his friendship by making him a minister without a portfolio.
In his first session as premier in 1883, his ability to bring together complex facts and research conclusions helped him and the first session was without trouble.
Throughout his time as premier, Pipes continued what previous governments had tried, securing the transfer of the Pictou railway line from the federal government, and to purchase the Eastern Extension Railway.
He also borrowed $2.46 million, effectively creating the provincial debt. This borrowing was to buy the Pictour railroad and complete the Eastern Extension Railway. It was his hope that the proposals would open up new avenues for trade.
Since the provincial and federal governments could not agree on a price, the project was abandoned.
Pipes also refused to hand over the railroads in the province to a syndicate that had been created.
Pipes stated that the syndicate’s financial soundness was suspect and the directors had given up none of their own money.
“We have taken no precautions that we would not have deemed necessary if we had been transacting our own business.”
Nonetheless, the treasury was empty and the government had to do something about it.
Pipe also attempted to get financial assistance for the province from the federal government, but this was not successful. Like those before him who sat in the premier’s chair, he was forced to cut spending to balance the books of the province. The cutbacks meant that the province weakened its case for better financial terms of union with the rest of Canada.
In May of 1883, Pipes travelled to England as a delegate with the provincial government to complete arrangements for the sale of the provincial debenture under the Loan Act.
Throughout the two years that Pipes served as premier, financial problems due to the lack of attention he could give his law practice, and his own personal problems, made being premier untenable for him.
His wife was dealing with depression, and their newborn baby made things difficult for the family. Add in that Pipes often had to be in Halifax, away from the family, it did not help the happiness of the family unit.
On July 15, 1884, he resigned as premier and named William Fielding as his replacement.
The Halifax Herald wrote,
“The old friends of the ex-premier long for the fulfilment of the promise which was made in the brilliant debut of William Pipes. Like Lucifer of old, Pipes has fallen from heaven. He did not come with lightning speed, but sank gradually to Earth.”
Despite no longer being premier, Pipes was always found in the Legislature throughout 1884 and 1885. He showed his support to Fielding who was dealing with the same problems Pipes had dealt with.
Fielding began to push forward the notion that if Nova Scotia did not receive relief from the federal government, it would repeal the British North America Act it had signed to join Canada. Pipes supported this as he felt it was the best way to get the issue of repeal out of the air, as he felt it was not feasible. The repeal legislation went through in 1886, and Fielding began to talk about annexation with the United States. The resolution was carried 15 to 6, and in the 1886, Fielding won a majority due to the repeal being a major issue.
By this point, Pipes did not support the repeal nor annexation with the United States. He chose not to run in the 1886 election and his friendship with Fielding collapsed.
Pipes would refer to the campaign to leave Canada as the putrid carcass of repeal.
Later in 1887, Fielding came to Pipes to ask for a loan of $1,000 on the security of a life insurance policy. Pipes refused this after learning he had made a similar request from others.
In 1887, Pipes attempted to get back into politics, and once again ran against Tupper for a seat in the House of Commons. Once again, he lost.
The Halifax Herald wrote,
“William T. Pipes has been nominated as the grit candidate for Cumberland county. He is no repealer. It was within the memory of people still living that Mr. Pipes said that no political party could thrive on the putrid carcass of repeal.”
In 1891, Pipes was offered a vacancy on the Legislative Council by Fielding, but he turned this down.
For the next two decades, Pipes practiced law.
In 1894, when the Liberals did not contest a by-election in Cumberland, Pipes wrote that the party leaders were only leaders in name, and that the party was dumb as oysters. Fielding then called Pipes mutinous. Pipes responded by saying how could it be mutinous to attack those who throw away electoral success on the topic of repeal. Fielding responded by saying Pipes was simply growling and grumbling and that he should stop finding faults and work with the Liberals.
Later that year, Pipes lost his wife and he fell into a deep depression for months. To help him, George Murray, the new premier of Nova Scotia, appointed him as the government leader in the Legislative Council in January 1898.
He spent the next nine years in the upper house and chaired a committee on government bills where he was able to use his legal expertise.
In 1904, Fielding, who still respected Pipes for giving him the premiership, and was now in the federal government, asked Murray to appoint Pipes as the Minister of Public Works and Mines for Nova Scotia. He was unable to take this position until 1905, and he did not enter the Legislature until after the 1906 election.
After the election, he became the attorney general and commissioner of Crown lands for the province.
For Murray, he was an incredible asset and Pipes was able to get a bill put through for an independent audit of public accounts, and he also drafted a bill to establish the first public utilities board in Canadian history.
As attorney general, he also put in place the strongest temperance bill in the history of Nova Scotia.
He continued to serve as the attorney general of Nova Scotia until he died suddenly on Oct. 7, 1909 from a heart attack while visiting Boston.
Premier Murray said he was more than a colleague, but a personal companion for many years.
The Amherst Daily News said that,
“His fine physique, his magnificent presence, his convincing and forcible manner of speaking, combined with material that was logical and full of meat, won the attention of listeners.”
A Justice Graham stated,
“He will be very much missed, not only because of the high position to which he had attained, but because of his ability in our profession. I think he possessed all the essential qualities of a good lawyer. He had a remarkable gift of eloquence and he measured his words notwithstanding his eloquence.”
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Wikipedia, Halifax Herald, Montreal Gazette,