CRONAN, DANIEL, mariner, merchant, and jp; b. 1807 in London, England, eldest son of Daniel Cronan and Mary McCarthy; d. unmarried 22 Sept. 1892 in Halifax.
The son of a minor government official with roots in County Cork (Republic of Ireland), Daniel Cronan came to Halifax with his parents in 1815. Cronan Sr, now a sea captain, sent Daniel to Walter Bromley*’s recently opened Royal Acadian School. The boy was then apprenticed to John McNeil, a local hatter and fur dealer. From the late 1820s into the mid 1830s Daniel developed his talents for business, mainly by working as a fur buyer on remote coasts of the Gulf of St Lawrence. In 1837 he went into trade with his father, who ran premises on the Halifax waterfront while Daniel served as captain on a schooner that prowled Labrador and Newfoundland waters in search of furs and seal oil. Following his father’s death in 1842, Daniel took charge in Halifax and sent his younger brothers, John and William, to sea as commanders of the small fleet the firm used to trade in the gulf and also in the Caribbean.
Throughout the 1840s the Cronans remained minor members of Halifax’s business community, but the following decade became for them an era of major expansion. Although never involved in such lucrative enterprises as the international carrying trade or speculation in cotton during the American Civil War, Daniel did cash in on Nova Scotia’s mid-Victorian economic boom, primarily by specializing in the exchange of fur, seal oil, fish, and sugar between eastern British America and the West Indies. In 1863, for example, he employed 3 brigantines and 22 schooners, which made 79 voyages in and out of Halifax, mainly on runs to Labrador, the Îles de la Madeleine, and Puerto Rico. The focal point of all this activity was a sprawling wharf and warehouse complex on Halifax’s Upper Water Street, valued at $50,000 and run by Daniel in combination with his brother John and a brother-in-law, Daniel H. Pitts.
Although subordinate to others in terms of shipping activity, Daniel Cronan excelled in the accumulation of wealth. That success was proclaimed during the 1850s and 1860s by his acquisition of extensive real estate holdings in high-status areas such as Spring Garden and Tower roads. Halifax’s Anglo-Protestant establishment slowly began to confer private and public offices on Cronan. In the mid 1860s, for example, he became both a director of the Bank of Nova Scotia and a justice of the peace for Halifax County. Simultaneously “Old Dan,” assisted by a reputation for geniality and generosity, emerged as a leading figure in the city’s prestigious yacht club.
Partisan politics had little appeal for Cronan, but he did get involved in the debate over confederation, coming forward as an opponent of union, a gesture that placed him in conflict with Roman Catholic archbishop Thomas Louis Connolly*. Cronan’s behaviour on this occasion illustrated the conservatism of Halifax’s merchant élite, but like the others he was not completely opposed to change. His capacity for innovation, even in his later years, was demonstrated early in the 1880s, when he actively participated in the twin campaigns to give Halifax a sugar refinery and a cotton factory. His enthusiasm for industrialization remained guarded, however; less than one per cent of his capital went into manufacturing ventures.
At his death Cronan left an estate of about $720,000, an amount sufficient to establish him as “the wealthiest man in Halifax.” Some 40 per cent of his assets were made up of business and household real estate, together with furnishings, stock, and cash. The rest consisted of an investment portfolio, dominated by government securities but also including stocks in banking, insurance, and utility companies, along with mortgages. The caution revealed by this inventory extended to Cronan’s behaviour as benefactor. Ninety-seven per cent of the estate went to the immediate family, much of it under restrictive covenants designed to inhibit rapid dispersal of his wealth. Although initially slighted by the terms of the will, Halifax’s Roman Catholic hierarchy soon became a major recipient of Cronan money, thanks to the generosity of Daniel’s surviving sisters and brother. The provincial government also got a share of his wealth because of newly legislated succession duties, which had gone into effect three months before his demise.
A man of property and respectability, cherished by Halifax’s Irish Catholics as an example of their successful integration into a once hostile community, Daniel Cronan became for other Nova Scotians the focus of nostalgic yearning for an era when the West Indies trade had supposedly offered a sustained “golden age” of material prosperity.
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, nos.4305, 4480, 5413, 6257. Halifax County Registry of Deeds, Deeds, 69: f.281; 101: f.171; 109: f.535; 110: f.162; 111: f.385; 141: f.321; 154: f.427; 287: f.82; 288: f.168; 301: f.323. Acadian Recorder, 2 Sept. 1837; 2 Aug. 1882; 23–24, 26–27 Sept., 1 Oct. 1892. Halifax Herald, 23, 26 Sept. 1892. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), June–December 1863, 24 Dec. 1864, 16 Sept. 1867, 19 April 1893. Novascotian, January–June 1863, 23 July 1866. Belcher’s farmer’s almanack, 1859–78. Halifax directory, 1869–82. Mercantile agency reference book, 1871, 1886. P. R. Blakeley, Glimpses of Halifax, 1867–1900 (Halifax, 1949; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1973). History of the Bank of Nova Scotia, 1832–1900; together with copies of annual statements ([Toronto, 1900]). T. M. Punch, Some sons of Erin in Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1980). Acadian Recorder, 13 Oct. 1923. Maritime Merchant and Commercial Rev. (Halifax), 8 March 1928.
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