O’LEARY, HENRY, businessman and politician; b. 13 May 1832 in Castledown (Republic of Ireland), son of Theophilus O’Leary and Ellen Power; m. first Mary Ann Brittain (d. 1873), and they had four sons and a daughter; m. secondly 1875 Mary O’Leary of Saint John, N.B., and they had four sons, including Henry Joseph*, who would become Roman Catholic archbishop of Edmonton, and Louis James, future bishop of Charlottetown; d. 7 Nov. 1897 in Dorchester, N.B.
Nothing is known about Henry O’Leary’s early life. He came to British North America in 1852 and settled at Richibucto, N.B., in 1855. On 27 Oct. 1859 he bought a property there with a store and a wharf. His business career was launched. On 19 Nov. 1864 he acquired a parcel of land on the dune to the north of Richibucto, where he built a lobster- and salmon-canning plant. In operation from 1865, it was the first such facility for lobster on the east coast of New Brunswick; until then there had only been canneries for salmon.
O’Leary’s business soon prospered. In the first six months of 1877 he canned more than 500,000 pounds of salmon, which he shipped to France and England. In 1884 his exports of lobster totalled nearly 750,000 pounds. Two years later he controlled about 15 canneries in Kent County and four in Prince Edward Island. In 1895 he owned 30 or more in New Brunswick alone. He marketed his lobster mainly in England and the United States. O’Leary’s commercial interests also included lumbering and shipbuilding. He owned a large sawmill at Campbellton and another at Richibucto. To transport the produce of his mills and canneries, he built four big ships and acquired several others.
O’Leary was active in politics. In the by-election of December 1873 he was returned to the New Brunswick House of Assembly as a member for Kent County. Again successful in the general elections of 20 June 1874, he held his seat until the legislature was dissolved in 1878. He did not run provincially that year; instead he stood for the House of Commons but was defeated on 17 Sept. 1878 by Conservative Gilbert-Anselme Girouard*.
While a member of the assembly, O’Leary had opposed the Common Schools Act of 1871, which in effect deprived Roman Catholics of the educational rights they had enjoyed until then [see George Edwin King*]. He presented petitions from his riding to have the law repealed and supported a motion to that effect. He also voted to have documents from the Board of Public Works and the Provincial Board of Agriculture translated into French.
O’Leary made his mark on the political, economic, and social life of Kent County for almost half a century. He made his fortune in the lobster-fishing and lumbering industries. At the time of his death he was in partnership with his son Richard, to whom jointly with his son Frederick he bequeathed his share in the business. O’Leary’s estate was valued at $48,110; his wife, who had predeceased him by seven months, had left property worth $41,500. The company founded by Henry O’Leary is no longer in existence, and even the name O’Leary has disappeared from the area.
Kent Land Registry Office (Richibucto, N.B.), Registry books, N: 643–44; Q: 360. PANB, MC 1156, IX, pt.iii: 33. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1910, no.22a: 151. N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1873–78, esp. 1874: 65, 71, 151, 201–3; 1878: 115, 157. Miramichi Advance (Chatham, N.B.), 11 Sept. 1884. Le Moniteur acadien (Shédiac, N.-B.), 19 juill. 1877, 12 oct. 1886. St. John Daily Sun, 8 Nov. 1897. CPC, 1875. L.-C. Daigle, Histoire de Saint-Louis-de-Kent: cent cinquante ans de vie paroissiale française en Acadie nouvelle (Moncton, N.-B., 1948). J. I. Lawson and J. MacC. Sweet, This is New Brunswick (Toronto, 1951; repr. 1953). A. E. O’Leary, Rambles thro’ memory lane with characters I knew ([Richibucto], 1937).