A Dip in Federal Politics: The Three Sackville Senators

Just in case you may be wondering this column is not about a hockey team; although, if you continue reading, youll find a reference to the sport. Instead, it will highlight three members of the Canadian Senate, all of whom called Sackville home.

Last fall during the federal election, it was noted that an unusually large number of Westmorland MPs later became Senators. It even appeared to be the most obvious route to the Senate. However, over the years, there have been exceptions, including a Senator to be mentioned in this column.

Another exception, is present day Senator and Port Elgin native, John Bryden, appointed in 1994. His younger brother Rod Bryden, did not have to look far when naming his NHL hockey team, the Ottawa Senators! Now back to history.

The 1890s were unsettled years in Canadian federal politics. On June 10, 1891, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald died. With no obvious successor in sight, Canada was to experience four Prime Ministers during the next five years.

It was one of these almost unknown Prime Ministers, Senator Sir Mackenzie Bowell who appointed the Westmorland MP, Josiah Wood, to the Upper House in 1895. He was the first native of Sackville to be so honoured. While a Senator, Wood also had the distinction of being elected the first mayor of Sackville in 1903.

Following graduation from Mount Allison, a member of the first class of 1863, Josiah Wood practiced law, but soon switched careers to devote full time to the family business. This included the building and ownership of a large fleet of ships. These traveled around the world during the Golden Age of Sail; bringing considerable prosperity to the area.

Josiah Wood was sworn in and took his seat in the Senate, on Jan. 7, 1896. In keeping with his business background, Senator Woods first speech stressed the importance of trans-Atlantic trade. Recognizing that the age of sail was over, he pointed out the geographical advantages of Eastern Canada as a terminal for steamship service to Europe. He asked: Why should New York have a monopoly of this trade?

Throughout his years in the Senate, Josiah Wood’s speeches were brief and to the point. However, one matter did arouse a spirited response. MPs and Senators were about to vote themselves a raise. This provoked suggestions in the press that the Senate was too expensive, and ought to be abolished. A refrain that may still be heard, nearly a century later.

In a speech on Mar. 24, 1908, Wood mounted a strong defense of the Senate. However, to the dismay of many colleagues, the Senator vigorously opposed the proposed pay hike. When the increase was finally approved by both Houses, the Senator from Sackville refused to accept the extra stipend. Instead, he ordered that the extra money so earned, be invested in a special trust fund for some future worthy cause.

On Mar. 6, 1912, Senator Josiah Wood became one of a very small number of Senators ever to resign their seat. This time, another important honour awaited him. He was named lieutenant governor of New Brunswick by Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. Wood served in this post until 1917. He died at Sackville on May 11, 1927.

Just prior to Woods death, details of the promised Trust Fund were revealed. He established the Josiah Wood Lectureship, designed to bring to Mount Allison distinguished persons who had contributed to public life. Provision was also made for publication of the lectures. Since their inauguration in 1927, fifteen individuals have been invited to give the Josiah Wood Lecture. Speakers have included such well known figures as: Governor General Vincent Massey, Dr. Wilder Penfield, Robert L. Stanfield and John Kenneth Galbraith.

In common with the 1890s, the 1920s were stormy years in Canadian federal politics. For most of the decade, successive minority governments clung to power, with a western protest party, the Progressives, holding the balance. At the beginning of the decade, Sir Robert Borden resigned as Prime Minister, to be succeeded by Arthur Meighen. In an election held on Dec. 9, 1921, the Meighen administration was defeated and Mackenzie King became Prime Minister for the first, but not the last time in his long career. One of Meighens final acts before the election, was the appointment of Sackvilles Frank Bunting Black to the Senate.

Senator Frank B. Black was born on Feb. 28, 1869 and married Eleanor Louise Wood, a daughter of Hon. Josiah Wood, on Feb. 24, 1898. Following graduation from Mount Allison, he entered the family business, becoming President of Joseph L. Black & Sons Ltd. In addition, he was also involved in a wide array of enterprises ranging from the New Brunswick Telephone Company to Marvens Limited of Moncton. As well, Senator Black served on the boards of several Maritime firms.

A distinguished military career began in 1890 when he joined the reserve unit of the Princess Louise Hussars. Serving on active duty overseas in World War One, he was promoted to colonel and gazetted brigader-general. Mentioned in dispatches and the recipient of several service medals, Black was wounded in December 1915. Aside from war service, Senator Black was mayor of Sackville 191718, and completed a term as MLA in the New Brunswick legislature.

In the same year that Senator Black was appointed to the Upper House, another Sackville resident, Arthur Bliss Copp (1870–1949) was re-elected to the House of Commons. A native of Jolicure, he also attended Mount Allison. This was followed by studies at Dalhousie Law School and Harvard. Admitted to the Bar of New Brunswick in 1895, Copp was to practise law in Sackville for the next 22 years. This period included a long apprenticeship in politics, first as MLA (1901–12) and MP (1917–1925).

In 1921, A.B. Copp was selected by Prime Minister Mackenzie King to be Secretary of State and New Brunswick representative in the federal cabinet. Copp served in this post until appointed to the Senate on Sept. 25, 1925. In common with his fellow Sackville Senators, Copp took his turn in the Mayor’s chair in 1931.

For 20 years, until Senator Blacks death on his 76th birthday, Feb. 28, 1945, Sackville could lay claim to two representatives in the Senate, a Conservative from York Street and a Liberal from Bridge Street. Few other small towns, either before or since, could say the same. Space does not permit a full discussion of their long careers. Instead, what follows are comments made by people who knew both men personally.

Of Senator F.B. Black, the Sackville Tribune’s C.C. Avard wrote: Keen of intellect, he was an administrator of notable ability Looking back, I forget our differences and cherish only a kindly memory of Frank Bunting Black. Another referred to Blacks personality: F. B.(as we called him) was tall and had a military mien; leading people to think he was distant. Actually, inside, he was soft and affectionate, though shy.

Senator A.B. Copp outlived his colleague by four years. He died at Newcastle NB on Dec. 5, 1949. The previous week Copp had been in his place in the Senate as Deputy Government House Leader. As the House rose for the weekend, he assured a fellow Senator: I’ll be back on deck sometime next week. While enroute home to Sackville by train, he fell ill and died in the Newcastle hospital.

The Government House Leader and fellow Maritimer, Hon. Wishart MacL. Robertson, paid a glowing tribute to Senator Copp. After summarizing his lengthy political career, Robertson concluded: He was considerate, he was loyal; he was forthright and solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.

Adding to this comment, C.C. Avard wrote: Copp was a lawyer, statesman and orator Sackville will remember A.B. as a genial and friendly man, known by people in all walks of life he never lost the common touch.