BOURINOT, JOHN, merchant and politician; b. 15 March 1814 at Grouville, Jersey; m. in 1835 Margaret Jane Marshall, and they had 11 children; d. 19 Jan. 1884 in Ottawa, Ont.
John Bourinot was educated in Caen, France, and came to Nova Scotia as a young man. He carried on business as a ship-chandler in Sydney, supplying mainly French ships, and shortly after his arrival he was appointed French vice-consul there. He also became an agent of Lloyd’s of London and a justice of the peace. Marriage in 1835 into the “blue-blooded” Marshall family aided his rise to prominence in the colony. Mrs Bourinot was the daughter of John George Marshall*, mla for Sydney County for almost 12 years and chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas in Cape Breton from 1823 to 1841. A cousin, John Joseph Marshall*, mla, was to be financial secretary in James William Johnston*’s administration and speaker of the assembly in the 1860s. It seems that Judge Marshall opposed his daughter’s marriage to a newcomer, several years younger than herself.
In 1840 Bourinot took an active part in the “independence agitation” in Sydney. A number of its residents believed that the interests of Cape Breton Island had been neglected by the Nova Scotia government, especially in the matters of roads and the administration of justice. They unsuccessfully petitioned London that year for a return to independent status for the island. In 1851, with other citizens, Bourinot advocated Sydney as a terminus for the projected European and North American Railway. Eight years later the voters of Cape Breton County sent him to Halifax as a Conservative mla. In the assembly, as later in the Senate of Canada, he chose to devote himself to regional interests and became the champion of Cape Breton Island. Changing ground several times during the debates over confederation in the early 1860s, Bourinot eventually joined the “whiskered rats” who, deserting Joseph Howe*’s cause, voted for Charles Tupper*’s union resolution in 1866. In so doing he likely reflected the views of his constituents, but the most important factor in his decision to support the Quebec resolutions may well have been the interests and attitudes of his family. One son, Marshall, was a mining promoter who looked to central Canada to replace the coal markets in the United States which would decline with the passing of reciprocity; another son, Sir John George Bourinot*, was an ardent advocate of colonial federation and an owner of the strongly pro-confederate Halifax Evening Reporter.
Bourinot’s appointment to the Canadian Senate in 1867 was regarded by many people as a reward for bolting the anti-confederate ranks, but he was never a strong party man, was not particularly popular with Tupper and his “crew,” and had already favoured colonial federation in the early 1860s.
Bourinot’s career in the Senate was not spectacular, and his only involvement was in committee work and in negotiations for grants to aid the development of Cape Breton. His role of elder statesman and retired gentleman was ended by a paralytic stroke in Ottawa, where he had gone to attend the opening of parliament in 1884.
[R. J. Uniacke], Uniacke’s sketches of Cape Breton and other papers relating to Cape Breton Island, ed. C. B. Fergusson (Halifax, 1958). British Colonist (Halifax), 10 Nov. 1863. Cape Breton Advocate (Sydney, N.S.), 1840–41. Royal Gazette (Halifax), 22 June 1859. Directory of N.S. MLAs. Dominion annual register, 1884. B. D. Tennyson, “John George Bourinot, M.H.A. and senator,” Essays in Cape Breton history, ed. B. D. Tennyson (Windsor, N.S., 1973), 35–48; “Economic nationalism and confederation: a case study in Cape Breton,” Acadiensis, 2 (1972–73), no.1: 39–53.