Remembering Sackville’s Founder Josiah Wood

There were many reasons why Sackvillians voted in favour of incorporation on January 12, 1903. The need for improved streets and sidewalks, a water and sewerage system, fire protection, local policing and the attraction of new industry were among the factors that swayed ratepayers.

Yet, there was another and equally important explanation for the outcome. It was the intervention and political skill of one individual — Josiah Wood. Without his leadership, this achievement might well have been delayed by several years. Wood’s role as the towns founderwill placed in context by a brief biographical sketch.

Born in Sackville on April 18, 1843, he was the son of Mariner Wood and his wife Louisa Trueman of Point de Bute. After attending public school in Sackville, he entered Mount Allison Academy; later becoming a member of the first graduating class of the newly founded university, then known as Mount Allison Wesleyan College. Woods Bachelor of Arts degree (with honours) was conferred on May 20, 1863. In 1866 he was awarded a Master of Arts degree with admission to the Bar of New Brunswick occurring later in the year.

Fate then intervened through the illness and death of his brother Charles Wood. A career in law was put aside, and he entered the family business. As events unfolded, this was a sound move. A natural entrepreneur, Josiah Wood was able to build Mariner Wood & Sons into a successful wholesale and retail operation. In addition, the company became heavily involved in shipbuilding, shipping, farming and lumbering. On his fathers death in 1875 Josiah Wood assumed full control of the firm.

Meanwhile on Jan. 14, 1874 Josiah Wood married Laura S. Trueman of Sackville. Already a man of considerable wealth, he purchased the handsome Georgian style stone mansion near the intersection of Main and Bridge Street in Sackville. Later to be named Cranewood for its first two owners, William Crane and Josiah Wood, the house is today the official residence of the President of Mount Allison University. Over time, Wood became involved in a variety of enterprises such as: banking as agent for the Halifax Banking Company and real estate, including a large farm in Midgic plus the Wood Block in downtown Sackville. To this was later added investments in a variety of enterprises in Moncton.

But beyond these activities, it was his promotion of a branch rail line from Sackville to Cape Tormentine that will always be linked with his name. By 1882 Wood was president of the NB & PEI Railway Company and was able to use his position as a newly elected MP for Westmorland to further the cause of the railway. Readers interested in following the political trail of this railway are directed to an informative article by Dean Jobb inPeople and Place: Studies of Small Town Life In the Maritimes pp. 31 56.

Josiah Wood’s election to the House of Commons on June 20, 1882 was noteworthy because he defeated the incumbent Liberal member, Sir Albert Smith, a former premier and federal cabinet minister. Wood was to be re-elected in the elections of 1887 and 1891. It is significant that the 1882 federal election was not his first political contest. Four years earlier, in the provincial election of 1878, Wood was defeated in Westmorland, when he ran on the Liberal Ticket. Given the widespread nature of his business interests; a conversion to the Conservative party was not too surprising. His biographer Dr. Bill Godfrey has concluded: It was the tariff protection and railway building policies of the Conservative party that drew [Wood] into federal politics.

Throughout Wood’s long public career from 1882 until 1917, as a member of parliament, senator and finally lieutenant-governor, he was often unwilling to automatically follow the party line. This may help explain why he always enjoyed a measure of bi-partisan support. It was also a factor behind his endorsement of the campaign for Sackville’s incorporation.

A political realist, Josiah Wood recognized that support for incorporation crossed party lines. It also followed that any vote on the subject must recognize this situation. On December 18, 1901 he called a meeting in his Sackville office. Attending were the leading Liberal and Conservative supporters of town status. Shrewdly chairing the meeting and first calling for an exchange of views; Wood introduced his guest W. S. Fisher of Saint John, and invited him to address the group. The latter was a co-owner of the Enterprise Foundry and an active member of the Saint John Board of Trade.

Describing the Board of Trade as a businessmans parliament; Fisher went on to explain how the organization cut across traditional party lines in acting for the common good of the community. The bait was taken, and out of this informal meeting, a Sackville Board of Trade was organized. The new organization went to work immediately by establishing a number of working committees. Some examples were: New Industries, Railways and Shipping, Agriculture, Good Roads and Advertising Sackville. This political move on the part of Josiah Wood, helped set the stage for incorporation. Although the concept was defeated in the first round of voting, on Feb, 20, 1902; it was to be approved a year later.

Following the yes vote and the signing of the proclamation by the Lieutenant-Governor Hon. Jabez Snowball on Feb. 5, 1903, a public meeting was held to nominate a mayor and town council. To no ones surprise Josiah Wood was acclaimed Sackvilles first mayor; a post he was to hold uncontested for the next five years. It had been his hope that a non-partisan slate might also be acclaimed for the first Town Council. This did not happen; however, party politics was largely absent from civic elections over the next few years.

Two other incidents may be cited to illustrate an independent streak in the psyche of Josiah Wood. Prior to the federal election of 1896 Wood accepted an appointment to the Senate. For the first few years he kept a low profile in the Upper Chamber. In 1908 a bill came before the Senate calling for a substantial raise in the salaries of MPs and Senators. The matter caught the attention of the press and soon there was a public outcry that the Senate was too expensive and ought to be abolished. Its of interest that this refrain may still be heard today.

On March 24, 1908 Senator Josiah Wood entered the debate. In his speech he mounted a defense of the role of the Senate in Parliament. However, to the dismay of his colleagues, Senator Wood vigorously opposed the proposed salary scale. When the increase was later approved by both Houses, to the amazement of many, he refused to accept the extra stipend. Instead he ordered that the money so earned be invested in a special trust fund for some future worthy cause.

The most striking example of Woods non-partisanship and independence came during his tenure as lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick. On March 6, 1912, he was appointed to this post by fellow Maritimer, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. He could be forgiven if he looked upon this honour as a political reward for long time service to his party. Since the Conservatives were in power in both Ottawa and Fredericton, what could go wrong?

As events transpired, Wood soon found himself in the middle of a constitutional controversy. In 1914 a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate alleged fund raising irregularities on the part of the provincial administration of Conservative Premier J.K. Flemming. It found him to be guilty. Considerable pressure was placed on Lieutenant-Governor Wood to put the telescope to the blind eye. Instead, Josiah Wood insisted that under the circumstances the Premier must resign. This action has been described by political analyst, Arthur T. Doyle, as Josiah Wood’s finest hour Wood had a clear dedication to the responsibility of his office… his resolution was as hard as granite.

While these two incidents have nothing to do with civic politics in Sackville, they tell us a great deal about the towns first mayor and founder, Josiah Wood. Incidentally, the worthy cause mentioned in his refusal to accept a Senatorial pay raise was not revealed until just prior to his death on May 13, 1927.

The money was invested in a trust fund at Mount Allison University. Its purpose was to establish a lectureship to bring to campus persons who have contributed to public life. Provision was also made for the publication of their lectures. The first Josiah Wood lecture was given by Dr. Robert Falconer (1867–1943), a Maritimer and long time President of the University of Toronto. Since 1928, 15 other distinguished individuals have been invited to follow in his steps. One of the most recent, was the distinguished Canadian-born American academic, and confidant of Presidents, Dr. John Kenneth Galbraith. In 2003 Sackville has every reason to salute Josiah Wood, who may truly be called founder of the town.