"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Fair and Square, the Provincial Election of June 20, 1916

When big events happen the talk is always lively in Great Village. When the event is politics, villagers are as keen to discuss and debate as anyone. The war has had a strange effect on the provincial election, which was called a few months ago. Some folks worried that it would be too much of a distraction from the war effort, but many felt that it was more important than ever for people to have a say about how they are governed. After all, the boys are fighting in France for this kind of freedom.

The Liberal party has been in power for over thirty years. When Premier George H. Murray (1) called the election, the Conservative party, (2) as you might imagine, were keen to get on the campaign trail and fight a good fight under their leader Charles E. Tanner. (3) The Colchester Co. Conservatives nominated Col. Frank Stanfield and R. H. Kennedy (4) to do battle with the Liberal candidates G.H. Vernon and Capt. Fred B. Schurman. (5) Election day was set for June 20, 1916. As June progressed rallies across the province stirred up excitement and interest, newspapers daily carried advertisements and articles from each party, as well as by individuals and groups wanting to press on all the candidates their concerns about issues. One of the hottest debates was about temperance reform.

The Tory position from the start was to point out the problems of a “Go-as-you-please provincial government (34 years in the Saddle).” The Grits, of course, responded by arguing that this longevity meant experience and demonstrated the trust Nova Scotians had in the government’s policies. The Tories countered this argument of experience and trust with accusations of rampant patronage. The Grits countered by pointing to the Workmen’s Compensation Act, due to become law in October 1916, as evidence that the Murray government cared about ordinary people, not just political “friends.” The debate went back and forth for weeks, while folks attended the rallies, read the newspapers and talked politics on the streets, in their parlours, at post offices, barber shops and general stores.

The people of Colchester Co. take their politics no less seriously than any other place, and that is true of Great Villagers. In Truro the Conservatives held several rallies at the Princess Theatre, the Liberals at the Orpheum. Folks from Great Village regularly drove into town to attend and take their own measure of Messrs Stanfield and Kennedy, Vernon and Schurman, though Capt. Schurman was more or less a candidate in absentia, being away at his war duties for most of the campaign. However, he published several open letters to the people of Colchester County during the campaign, and thus had his say. People were divided as to what the affect both his absence and his war work would have on his chances. He was exhibiting a strong commitment to duty, but not being on the hustings meant that the Liberals were without one of their candidates persuasive voices.

The Truro Daily News had an open door policy to both parties; its pages carried advertisements from both in equal measure ─ its view being that since it is the principal newspaper for the county it must be as impartial as possible. Yesterday, the offices of the News was the hub of activity in Truro, as it was the site for collecting all the information about the results, not only from Colchester Co., but also from across the province. It was the place to be as the evening wore on and it became clear that while Colchester County went with the Conservatives Stanfield and Kennedy, the Murray Liberals were once again re-elected. The Grits would hold the reins of government for at least one more term. The final tally was an impressive one for the Grits:

Provincial Results:
Liberals 31
Conservatives 12
Majority 19

Colchester Co. Results:
Kennedy (Conservative) 2664
Schurman (Liberal) 2154
Stanfield (Conservative) 2756
Vernon (Liberal) 2218

Word spread like wild fire last night as the full picture became clear, though the details followed more slowly. In Great Village and its surrounding communities (Glenholme, Highland Village, Londonderry, Debert, Masstown, Mount Pleasant, Little Dyke, etc.), Messrs Kennedy and Stanfield took the vote but only by slim majorities. Still, it contributed to the overall win for the Tories in the county. However, these gentlemen would take their seats in a sea of Grits in the Legislature in Halifax. What would that mean for the county?

Telephones rang all over the county last night, and as soon as Amelia Spencer got to her switchboard this morning, they began to ring again. Great Villagers one and all wait eagerly today for the Truro Daily News, to read the account of the lively time in Truro:

The Hon. George Murray has again received the endorsation of his Government and his public policies in all departments by the people at the Polls. The election on Tuesday, though fought in war time, was carried on with much interest and a very large vote was polled all over the Province. There were some surprises as there are in all elections. The Liberal Government will now have 31 supporters in the House of Assembly of 43 members.

Generally, a fare and square election was carried on. There were some appeals that are to be regretted and probably both sides were to blame for these. Where the attacks on personal character was foolishly introduced, the attackers got their answer by a straight condemnation by the people. When will these novices in politics learn that the people take no stock in these personalities on the eve of an election.

Premier Murray is to be congratulated on his victory. The people have spoken out strongly for him and for his further regime, and good citizens all over the province should be satisfied for “Vox populi” is said to be “Vox Dei.”

These general observations were accompanied by a detailed account of the particulars in Truro, and readers always have a thirst for the specifics:

As was expected, a rush was made for the Truro News, as soon as the polls closed at 5 o’clock, and the big bulletin board in the News windows were ready for the returns from Colchester Co. The Polls had hardly closed before by telephone came the returns from Five Islands ─ the furthest District from the News office, and yet these returns were the first to be received. Many thanks to the sender; and here we thank very much the Deputy Returning Officers in the county who sent us in prompt and quick returns. We had more trouble in getting the returns from some Polling Districts near Truro, than from those in distant parts of the county. The returns from Upper Londonderry (Debert), and Salmon River and Tatamagouche West were not received without very great exertion on the part of both the News and the Central Telephone.

The figures posted on the News Bulletin Boards soon showed that the Liberal-Conservatives would be elected but few expected such large majorities for Messrs Frank Stanfield and R.H. Kennedy. The losers made a good fight and the candidates themselves carried on a good-natured and fair contest in every way. It is to be said for Capt. Fred Schurman that he put up a fine fight considering the little time he was in the county. He is fighting our battles in khaki and had but little time to consider his own political interests. We congratulate the Colchester winners, and we only wish the Opposition, as long as the Murray Government is sustained, was larger. A strong Opposition always makes good government.

When Colchester was settled, then came returns, largely over Western Union wires, from all over the Province, and the results were such that the cheering Tories in front of the News office by hundreds became sad and silent, and the good Grits began to cheer to “Beat the Band” and crowed louder than the Morning Chronicle’s old rooster, over the glorious results they heard from all over the Province, as the Murray Government was sustained by an increased majority and the “old horse Government” ─ apparently a pretty lively “34 year older” ─ has to bear Provincial burdens for another 4 or 5 years.

Our town returns were either brought in by some of our own Staff, or telephoned in by interested friends, and we extend especial thanks for prompt work. The Central Telephone, the Western Union especially, and the C.P.R. gave as much assistance in getting before the public prompt and accurate returns. The bicycle-mounted messenger boys of the Western Union did their work in fine shape ─ they would make fine scouts for the front, and we can recommend them to Col. Stanfield and Major Innis for fast field work if such are wanted.

By 9.45 the News bid good night to the crowd outside the office building ─ the hundreds departing with the knowledge that the Murray Government had been sustained and that Colchester had continued Liberal-Conservative but by enormously increased majorities.

View of Great Village from Hustler Hill

The dawn of June 21, 1916 ─ the first day of summer, the longest daylight of the year, a breezy, sunny morning ─ brings folks in Great Village much to discuss. As the village wakes up thoughts turn towards the election and the war, towards the many chores and errands, meetings and visits, comings and goings which will fill the day. The day passes in its usual way for most people ─ the Murray Government stays the course, the war continues, the fields are tended, the cows are milked, the clothes washed and tea made. Villagers tip their hats to each other and pause to talk about the recent excitement of the election, about what is playing at the theatres in Truro, about the evening’s missionary lecture. Election fever fades away quickly, when the next telegram arrives at the post office from the War Office.

And inside each house, families live their lives, privately and not so privately. Everyone knows that the wagon crossing the bridge early this morning is a difficult journey for the Bulmers. Will and Arthur Bulmer had taken time to cast their votes yesterday, but their civic conscience was rather distracted by the packing going on inside the house. Gertrude has been so agitated by the election campaign, arguing strongly that women should have the right to vote, hadn’t Manitoba just given them that right!? It was hard to calm her down when she began to talk women’s suffrage, then she’d collapse on the sofa as if she was utterly spent. Will was afraid that she would be agitated again when she heard the results, but she was remarkably quiet when she came downstairs, though she refused to eat breakfast. She already seemed far away. Little Elizabeth knew something was happening, but Lizzie had Mary keep the child occupied outside in the sunshine after she’d had her porridge.


1. George Henry Murray (1861–1929), barrister, was a member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Victoria Co. from 1896–1923. He was Premier and Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia from 1896–1923. His services to Belgian Relief during World War I brought to him in 1920 the Grand Order of the Crown of Belgium (Elliott, p. 165).

2. The Conservative party was officially the Liberal-Conservatives, which made for some confusion in the papers. This name was eventually changed to the Progressive Conservatives.

3. Charles Elliott Tanner (1857–1946), barrister, was an MLA for Pictou Co. from 1894–1897, 1900–1908, and again 1911–1916. He was Leader of the Opposition from 1902–1908, then from 1912–1916; and was leader of the Conservative Party from 1909–1916. He was called to the Senate of Canada in 1917, where he served until his death (Elliott, p. 213).

4. Frank Stanfield (1872–1931), manufacturer, was an MLA for Colchester Co. from 1911–1920, and then again in 1925–1930, when he resigned. He became Lieutenant-Governor for Nova Scotia in December 1930, a position he did not hold long, as he died in September the following year (Elliott, p. 208). Frank Stanfield’s son, Robert, became one of Canada’s most prominent politicians. He was an MLA for Colchester Co. from 1949–1967. He was Leader of the Opposition from 1950–1956, and Premier of the province from 1956–1967, when he resigned and entered federal politics (Elliott, p. 208). Robert Hamilton Kennedy (1869–1951), farmer, was an MLA for Colchester Co. from 1911–1920. He was a Captain and quartermaster of the 78th Pictou Highlanders on active service overseas during World War I (Elliott, p. 108).

5. G. H. Vernon and Capt. Fred Schurman never served in the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia.

No comments:

Post a Comment