Joseph Howe

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John C. Halliburton (1801-1884) challenged Howe to a duel John C. Halliburton (1801-1884).png
John C. Halliburton (18011884) challenged Howe to a duel

On January 1, 1835, Howe's Novascotian published an anonymous letter accusing Halifax politicians and police of pocketing £30,000 over a thirty-year period. The outraged civic politicians had Howe charged with seditious libel, a serious criminal offence. Howe's case seemed hopeless since truth was not a defence. The prosecution had only to prove that Howe had published the letter. Howe decided to act as his own lawyer. For more, he addressed the jury, citing case after case of civic corruption. He spoke eloquently about the importance of press freedom, urging jurors "to leave an unshackled press as a legacy to your children." Even though the judge instructed the jury to find Howe guilty, jurors took only 10 minutes to acquit him. The decision was a landmark event in the slow evolution of press freedom in Canada. [6]

Brenton Halliburton presided over the Libel trial of Joseph Howe. The outcome of the trial and Howe's writings in the Novascotian so enraged Haliburton's son John C. Halliburton that the son called Howe out for a duel. The duel took place on March 14, 1840, at Point Pleasant. When Haliburton missed with his shot, Howe "deloped" deliberately missing by firing his gun in the air. [7] (The last lethal duel in Nova Scotia took place in 1819, in which William Bowie was killed.)

Political career

Statue of Joseph Howe, Province House, created by famed Quebec sculptor Louis-Philippe Hebert JoasephHoweStatue.jpg
Statue of Joseph Howe, Province House, created by famed Quebec sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert

Eventually, Howe decided to run for office in order to effect the changes he championed in his newspaper. He was first elected in 1836, campaigning on a platform of support for responsible government. Howe initially proposed only an elected legislative council but he was quick to agree with the concept of a fully representative government. He was suspicious of formal political parties feeling that they were too restrictive. It was, however, largely his doing that members favouring Liberal principles were able to dominate assembly from 1836 to 1840. He formed a coalition with Conservative leader James William Johnston in 1840 hoping to further the cause of responsible government. Howe held the office of Speaker of the assembly in 1841 and collector of excise for Halifax in 1842.

House of Assembly, Province House, Joseph Howe (left) and James William Johnston (right), both paintings by Henry Sandham Nova Scotia House of Assembly Chamber.jpg
House of Assembly, Province House, Joseph Howe (left) and James William Johnston (right), both paintings by Henry Sandham

The coalition collapsed under various political conflicts, leading to Howe's resignation from the Council in 1843. The promotion of political ideas in his newspapers were rewarded with a seven-seat Liberal majority in the 1847 election. This led to the formation of the first responsible government in Canada in January 1848. While James Uniacke was officially the Premier, many regarded it as Joseph Howe's ministry. Howe assumed the post of Provincial Secretary, adapting existing institutions to the new system of government. He also began a campaign of railway construction, resigning as Provincial Secretary in 1853 to become Nova Scotia's first Chief Commissioner of Railways; as Commissioner he oversaw the initial construction of the Nova Scotia Railway. In addition, Howe was involved with recruiting American troops for the Crimean War. These activities left him with little time to campaign in the 1855 general election which he lost to Charles Tupper in Cumberland. This election also led to conflict with Catholic members of the Liberal party because Howe had ridiculed their religious doctrine. This resulted in a Liberal defeat in 1856. The Liberals did not return to power until 1860 at which time Howe became provincial secretary. When the Premier, William Young, was appointed as a judge later that year, Joseph Howe assumed the leadership of the party and therefore became Premier. He served as Premier until 1863 when he accepted the position of Imperial Fisheries Commissioner.

Confederation debate

Joseph Howe in 1871 Joehowe.JPG
Joseph Howe in 1871

Howe's fisheries duties prevented his attendance at the Charlottetown Conference. By the time he returned to Nova Scotia in November 1864, the Quebec Conference had taken place, and the Quebec Resolutions widely disseminated. He had no chance to influence their content. He led Nova Scotia's anti-Confederation movement believing the Quebec Resolutions to be bad for the province. Because he was still linked with the imperial fishery he expressed his initial opposition anonymously through the Botheration Letters, a series of 12 editorials that appeared in the Morning Chronicle between January and March 1865. This was the extent of his participation in the union debate until March 1866. He learned that Charles Tupper planned to force the Confederation Resolution through the legislature. When he failed to prevent passage of the resolution Howe began a vigorous campaign for repeal by delegations to London and then publishing a variety of anti-Confederation papers and pamphlets. This strategy failed to prevent the Imperial Parliament enacting the British North America Act in 1867. Nova Scotians elected 18 out of 19 anti-Confederation candidates as members of the first Dominion Parliament. Joseph Howe led the anti-Confederates in the House of Commons of Canada where he made a speech about his opposition to confederation.

Having failed to win repeal of Confederation in 1868, Howe recognized the futility of further protests. He refused to contemplate secession from the Canadian Confederation nor American annexation because of his loyalty to Britain. He ran in the great Hants County by election of 1869 to create better terms for Nova Scotia within Canada rather than continue to seek repeal of Confederation. The Great Hants Campaign of 1869 was very difficult and compromised Howe's physical health. Many Nova Scotians continued to support the anti-confederation efforts but the Hants County electorate continued to support Joseph Howe.

In 1869 Howe joined the Canadian Cabinet as President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada after receiving a promise of "better terms" for Nova Scotia. In November 1869, he became secretary of state for the provinces in which post he played a role in Manitoba's entry into Confederation. He resigned his Cabinet post to become the 3rd Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia post Confederation in 1873. He died in office only a few weeks after his appointment. He is buried in Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Railway promotion

Joseph Howe Portrait, 1881 $5 Bill Bank of Nova Scotia 1881 $5 Bill Bank of Nova Scotia.png
Joseph Howe Portrait, 1881 $5 Bill Bank of Nova Scotia

In 1854, he resigned as the provincial secretary in order to head a bi-partisan railway commission. Due to the cost of the project, it was never fully completed. However, Howe was successful in completing lines from Halifax to Windsor. [8] This railway enabled Halifax to monopolize the trade of Minas Basin because it passed through the land between Halifax and Hants County. This wealth helped the midland counties improve their economic stability. [8] Due to the economic benefits being realized in Halifax, Howe even proposed the creation of a hotel to attract wealthy travellers using the railway, however this was never built. [8]


Howe created a substantial body of poetry, much of it related to his appreciation of Nova Scotia and its history. [9] While he had published some poems during his life and had been preparing others for publication, it was not until a year after his death that his family made them public through the publishing of Poems and Essays. [10] [1]


Prior to his marriage, Howe had a son by a woman other than his later wife, whose identity is unknown. This first child was Edward Howe, who lived with his mother in a home Howe maintained in Maitland, Nova Scotia. [11] [12]

Joseph Howe later married Catherine Susan Ann McNab, daughter of Captain John McNab, Nova Scotia Regiment of Fencible Infantry, [13] on February 2, 1828. [12] She was born in 1808 in the barracks at the entrance to the harbour of St. John's, Newfoundland, where her father was in command of the troops. She lived with her father on McNab's Island, which had previously been occupied by her uncle, Peter McNab. In Joseph Howe's "Poems and Essays" (Montreal: 1874), there are two poems addressed to his wife. Towards the close of her life, the Legislature of Nova Scotia granted her a small pension. She died in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, July 6, 1890, and is buried alongside her husband in Camp Hill Cemetery, Halifax.

Joseph Howe had ten children with Catherine Susan Ann McNab.


Joseph Howe Park, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia Joseph Howe Park, Halifax, Nova Scotia.jpg
Joseph Howe Park, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Joseph Howe Park, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia JosephHoweParkDartmouthNS.jpg
Joseph Howe Park, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia


There is a Joseph Howe fonds at Library and Archives Canada. [19]


Electoral record

Joseph Howe
Joseph Howe 1.jpg
Howe, PC, MP, MLA by William Notman
3rd Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia
In office
May 1, 1873 June 1, 1873
1867 Canadian federal election : Hants
Anti-Confederation Joseph Howe 1,530
UnknownJames King956
By-election on 24 April 1869

On Mr. Howe being called to the Privy Council and
appointed President of that body, 19 January 1869

Liberal–Conservative Joseph Howe1,512
Liberal Monson Henry Goudge 1,129
1872 Canadian federal election : Hants
Liberal–Conservative Joseph Howe acclaimed

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Beck, J. Murray (1972). "Howe, Joseph". In Hayne, David (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography . Vol. X (1871–1880) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  2. Beck (1982), pp. 8–9.
  3. Kesterton, W.H. (1967) A History of Journalism in Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, pp. 21–23.
  4. Punch, Terrance M. and Marble, Allan E. (1976), p. 318-20.
  5. Hopkins, J. Castell (1898). An historical sketch of Canadian literature and journalism. Toronto: Lincott. p. 223. ISBN   0665080484.
  6. Kesterton, pp. 21–23.
  7. Marsh, James H. (March 4, 2015) [January 2, 2011]. "Joseph Howe: Tribune of Nova Scotia". The Canadian Encyclopedia (online ed.). Historica Canada.
  8. 1 2 3 Beck (1982), p. 148.
  9. "At the sign of the hand and pen; Nova Scotian authors".
  10. "Howe, Joseph - Representative Poetry Online".
  11. "The Enfield Weekly Press. September 27, 2011". Archived from the original on February 6, 2016.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Punch, Terrance M.; Marble, Allan E. (September 1976). "The Family of John Howe, Loyalist and King's Printer". Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly. 6: 323.
  13. Piers, Harry (1927). "The Fortieth Regiment, Raised at Annapolis Royal in 1717; and Five Regiments Subsequently Raised in Nova Scotia". Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society. Halifax, NS. XXI: 175.
  14. Morgan, Henry James, ed. (1903). Types of Canadian Women and of Women who are or have been Connected with Canada. Toronto: Williams Briggs. p.  165.
  15. Punch, Terrance M. and Marble, Allan E. (1976), p. 322-323.
  16. 1 2 Punch, Terrance M. and Marble, Allan E. (1976), p. 323.
  17. philcovex. "Postal History Corner" . Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  18. Coins and Canada. "Coins and Canada - Halifax - Joseph Howe Festival - Trade dollars and municipal tokens" . Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  19. "Joseph Howe fonds, Library and Archives Canada" . Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  20. Film Review
  21. "Episode Guide for Explorations".
  22. "Episode Guide for Folio".

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Political offices
Preceded by Premier of Nova Scotia
Succeeded by