Of “Knighthoods” And Dorchester’s Two Knights

1919 was a turning point in twentieth century Canadian history. Overshadowed by 1918, and the end of the war to end all wars; some of it’s highlights deserve to be better known.

The major event was the Paris Peace Conference — a meeting of the Allied powers to draft treaties following the war. Canada’s contribution to the war effort and the insistence of Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden led to four important steps toward Canadian nationhood.

In 1914 when Britain declared war, Canada was automatically involved. Five years later, the country’s wartime coming of age made possible: separate representation at the Paris Peace Conference along with membership in the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization. In addition, Borden gained the right for Canadian ratification of the Peace Treaty.

Lost in the midst of these stirring events was an intense, but related debate, in the House of Commons during the spring of 1919. A parliamentary committee recommended an end to the granting of knighthoods to Canadians. Soon thereafter, a resolution to this effect was moved by William F. Nickle MP for Kingston Ontario. Known as the Nickle Resolution it was subsequently passed by Parliament.

Of particular interest were the positions taken by the knighted Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden (temporarily absent at the Paris Peace Conference) and the knighted acting Prime Minister, Sir Thomas White. The latter assured the House that both unreservedly supported the bill. Regretably, the also knighted Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Leader of the Opposition, had died a few weeks earlier. Although no longer present, it was recognized that he would have supported the resolution.

This eighty year old debate returned to the limelight in 1999 when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien used the Nickle Resolution to block the granting of a title to British newspaper publisher, and Canadian citizen, Conrad Black. Black’s fury and later lawsuit against the government provided fuel for cartoonists and columnists alike. Dalton Camp referred to Black as Lord Almost; while Alan Fotheringham suggested no less than three titles: Lord Nearly Nearly; Lord Not Quite and Lord Black of Red Ink.

As to the outcome, we’ll have to await the court’s resolution of Black vs the Government of Canada. Leaving knighthood’s ruffled feathers aside, let’s go back to the day when such honors were accepted practice and Dorchester could claim two knights of the realm.

The first, Sir Albert James Smith (1822–1883), was born in Shediac. Educated in local schools,, he was to choose law as a career and article in the Dorchester law office of Edward Barron Chandler. Admitted to the bar in 1847, Smilh was elected as one of the MLA’s for Westmorland four years later.

After serving in the cabinet of Premier Leonard Tilley, Smith broke with the latter over Confederation. In the election of 1865 he led the anti-confederate forces, defeating an over confident Tilley. His victory was short-lived. In 1866 the confederation party forced another election and with Imperial backing, Canadian money and good luck, including a Fenian invasion during the campaign, Smith lost office. New Brunswick was to enter confederation in 1867.

In the second phase of Smith’s career, he switched to federal politics and was elected MP for Westmorland in the first Canadian general election of 1867. Six years later he found himself on the winning side, as the Macdonald government was defeated over the Pacific Scandal. From 1873 until the 1878 overthrow of Alexander Mackenzie’s Liberal government, Hon. Albert J. Smith served as Canada’s minister of Marine and Fisheries.

This was undoubtedly the high point of Smith’s career. He specialized in marine law, had a personal interest in shipbuilding; while the fishery was of great importance to New Brunswick. Prime Minister Mackenzie relied on him as regional minister for the Maritimes. Smith’s period in office saw the completion of the Intercolonial Railway, the rebuilding of Saint John following the disastrous fire of 1877 and the erection of a federal penitentiary in Dorchester. He demonstrated his political skills, behind the scenes, at the Halifax Fisheries Tribunal in June 1877. On this occasion Canada managed a favorable financial return for opening it’s east coast fishery to the United States. On May 25, 1878 Smith was knighted by Queen Victoria.

The Mackenzie government suffered defeat in the general election of 1878; although New Brunswick supported the Liberals. Smith sat on the opposition benches for the next four years only to suffer personal defeat in 1882 at the hands of a talented young lawyer from Sackville, Josiah Wood. After 30 years in the rough and tumble of politics, Sir Albert J. Smith retired to his estate, Woodlands in Dorchester, where he died on June 30, 1883.

The ancestors of the second knight from Dorchester, Sir Pierre-Armand Landry (1846–1916) were among the earliest settlers in Acadia. Although his family escaped deportation by fleeing to Ile St. Jean (later PEI), their lot was little different from those expelled in 1755.

Following a brief exile in France, the Landry’s returned across the Atlantic, to St. Pierre and Miquelon and by 1767 had resettled in Memramcook. Almost eighty years later, in 1846, Pierre-Armand’s father, Armand Landry, was elected as one of the MLA’s representing Westmorland — the first Acadian member of the New Brunswick legislature.

Pierre-Armand Landry received his education at Fredericton Collegiate School and St. Joseph’s College. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1870. His career and that of Dorchester’s first knight intersected, as Landry articled in Smith’s law office before establishing his own practice in the shiretown.

Immediately, he followed his fathers footsteps and entered politics. In 1870, in his 24th year, he was elected as one of the MLA’s for Westmorland. Landry served in the Fraser-Hanington governments as Provincial Secretary and later Commissioner for Public Works. In assuming these offices, he became the first Acadian to achieve cabinet rank. While holding the second portfolio, Landry supervised the construction of the present legislative building in Fredericton. In the election of 1883, he turned to federal politics and was elected Conservative MP for Kent; representing that constituency until 1890.

Although Pierre-Armand Landry’s political career was important, the courtroom was where he made his enduring mark. Landry’s interest in law went well beyond that of a country lawyer. For a time, he lectured in law at the University of Ottawa; however, the pull of Acadie proved too strong. Landry began his judicial career in 1890, as a county court judge in Westmorland-Kent. Three years later he was elevated to the Supreme Court of New Brunswick. Once again, the family made history, as Pierre-Armand Landry became the first Roman Catholic to be appointed to the High Court of the province.

Judge Landry’s strong legal background, fluency in French and English, combined with a keen sense of humor made him a popular and respected judge. To no one’s surprise, on Dec. 11, 1913, he was named Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench for New Brunswick.

The climax of a long career in public service as a trail blazing MLA, cabinet minister, MP and judge, came with the award of a knighthood by King George V on June 13, 1916. For the record, Landry was the first and last Acadian to be so honored. Unfortunately, he did not have long to enjoy this distinction. Chief Justice Sir Pierre-Armand Landry died at his home,The Maples, on July 28, 1916. Significantly, both Woodlands and The Maples still stand in Dorchester — recalling the careers of two outstanding New Brunswickers.

Although the granting of knighthoods was effectively settled in 1919 by the Nickle Resolution, it did not solve the question of an Honors List for distinguished Canadians. The Bennett government attempted in the 1930’s to restore the practice of awarding knighthoods; but it was short-lived. None were bestowed after 1935.

Many years were to pass before an Honors solution was found. In 1967, as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations, Prime Minister Lester Pearson presented a proposal to Parliament creating the Order of Canada. Passed without opposition, the Order fulfilled the need for an appropriate Canadian system to mark excellence in any field of endeavor.