Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Right Honourable Sir John Sparrow David Thompson

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 14
Right Honourable Sir John Sparrow David Thompson

by Joseph Andrew Chisholm


Jurist and first Catholic Premier of Canada, b. at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 10 Nov., 1844; d. at Windsor Castle, England, 12 Dec., 1894. He was the son of John Sparrow Thompson, queen's printer in Nova Scotia, superintendent of the money order system, and native of Waterford, and of Catherine Pottinger, who was of Scottish descent. The parents on both sides were rigid Protestants. Young Thompson made a short course in the common schools and in the Free Church Academy in his native city. At the age of fifteen he began the study of law and at the same time of stenography. He was admitted to the bar in 1865 and for a short period he assisted in reporting the debates in the Nova Scotia Legislature. In 1870 he married Miss Annie E. Affleck and shortly afterwards became a Catholic. His progress in public life was rapid and brilliant. Beginning as an alderman in Halifax in 1871, he became a member of the House of Assembly in 1877, attorney-general in 1878, Premier of Nova Scotia in 1882, and a judge of the Supreme Court in the same year. In 1885 he became Minister of Justice of Canada, and from the time of his first great speech on the Riel question in 1886, his position as one of the greatest of Canadian parliamentarians was never disputed. In the federal arena his successes were brilliant and unbroken. In 1887 he went to Washington as legal adviser of the British Government in connection with the Fisheries Commission, and for this service was knighted by Queen Victoria. In 1892 he became Premier of Canada, and a year later he sat as one of the British arbitrators on the Behring Sea Commission at Paris. In recognition of this service he was appointed a member of the Privy Council of Great Britain. He died suddenly at Windsor Castle whither he was summoned by the queen, and his remains were conveyed to Halifax on H.M.S. Blenheim. A state funeral attended by state and church dignitaries from all parts of Canada, took place on 1 Jan., 1895. His remains were buried in Holy Cross cemetery. "All things considered", says Mr. J.S. Willison, a distinguished Canadian writer, "his is the most remarkable career which Canadian politics have developed."

HOPKINS, The Life and Work of the Right Hon. Sir John Thompson (Toronto, 1895); House of Commons Debates (Ottawa, 1886-94); MORRIS, An Elegy (London, 1894); O'BRIEN, Funeral Sermon on Sir John Thompson (Halifax, 1906); BOURINOT, Builders of Nova Scotia (Toronto, 1900).

Joseph A. Chisholm.