HEMMING, EDWARD JOHN, lawyer, gentleman farmer, politician, magistrate, and office holder; b. 30 Aug. 1823 in London, England, third son of Henry Keene Hemming, a real-estate agent, and Sophia Wirgman, who was Swedish; m. 19 July 1855 Sophia Louisa Robinson; d. 17 Sept. 1905 in Knowlton, Que.
Edward John Hemming spent his childhood in a lower-middle-class environment in London. Upon leaving Clapham Grammar School, he sailed off to see the world in 1839 as a midshipman in the East India Company’s merchant navy. After his return in 1845 he did practical and scientific studies in agriculture in Ireland. On the occasion of the Great Exhibition, held in London in 1851, he won a prize for his work entitled On the neglect of chemistry by practical farmers . . . , which was subsequently published in London in 1853.
The exhibition allowed Hemming to meet his first cousin Christopher Dunkin*, a lawyer living in Montreal, who invited him to join his office as a law student. By the autumn of 1851 Hemming was in the legal firm of Bethune and Dunkin and was registered in law at McGill College. He received a bcl in 1855, finishing first in his class, and on 7 May he was called to the Lower Canadian bar. He would obtain a dcl from his alma mater in 1871.
In the summer of 1855 Hemming returned to England to marry his cousin Sophia Louisa Robinson, the daughter of a London merchant. He brought her back to Montreal immediately, and soon afterwards he opened a law office in partnership with Alexander Hutchison Lunn. In the autumn he was commissioned by the government of the Province of Canada to compile all the statutes in force from the conquest to 1855. He was to work under the authority of Gustavus William Wicksteed, the law clerk of the Legislative Assembly, with a view to preparing an index that would facilitate revision of the statutes. An inventory and classification of the documents in the Advocates’ Library of Montreal and the library of the Lower Canadian bar, which was published in 1857 as a catalogue and is still in use, was also his work.
In 1858 Hemming took part in a political campaign in Drummond and Arthabaska riding which led to his cousin’s election to the assembly and the defeat of Jean-Baptiste-Éric Dorion*. Hemming then agreed to act as Dunkin’s secretary and moved with his wife and young child to Drummondville, the county town of Drummond since 1830. From the estate of the Reverend George McLeod Ross* he bought Oatland, a dwelling and a farm that resembled an experimental farm. While practising as a lawyer, Hemming also ran the operation, and he had his farmers apply his scientific knowledge of agriculture. The attempts to improve yields of oats and wheat on his 152 acres seem to have met with success. He also kept animals for slaughter and had a magnificent orchard. He soon became a major landowner through the purchase of numerous undeveloped properties in Wickham and Simpson townships, some of which contained iron ore at the surface. Thus he was able to carry on a profitable trade in wood and ore with John McDougall*’s ironworks in Drummondville.
Hemming was a brilliant jurist whose pleadings, always carefully prepared, in French as well as in English, were listened to with great pleasure, and he reportedly had the largest practice in the region. He decided to take the leap into politics in 1867. Running as a Conservative in Drummond and Arthabaska in the first provincial election held after confederation, he was backed by a substantial majority of the French Canadian population. He promised roads to improve trade and encourage the establishment of industries, and pledged to revive construction plans for a railway that Dunkin had had to drop for lack of money. The result was a resounding victory.
In the assembly Hemming was an assiduous worker. Absent for only one vote during his four sessions as a member, he spoke on numerous bills and personally put forward a great many of them, on matters of both public and private interest. He devoted much of his time to the responsibility he was given for drafting legal texts that were to serve, among other things, in the revision of the municipal code and improvement of legislation concerning commerce and industry. Appointed chairman of a committee to study railway matters in Quebec, he made recommendations and spoke in the house in favour of lines using wooden rails. His initiatives prompted the government to pass a bill in 1869 authorizing the construction of such lines. Through this measure the colonization regions, which could not afford real railways, would be able to establish communications more easily with the main existing railway lines. One of the earliest companies to be founded with such an aim was the Richelieu, Drummond and Arthabaska Counties Railway, whose section linking Sorel to Drummondville and Acton (Acton Vale) would bring Drummond county out of the isolation that was paralysing its commerce and industry [see Louis-Adélard Senécal*].
In the 1871 elections, however, Hemming lost his seat to Wilfrid Laurier*, who had used every trick in the book to beat him. Two years later he accepted the salaried post of magistrate for the District of Arthabaska. Dismissed in 1878, he returned to the practice of law in Drummondville. In 1887 he was appointed protonotary for Arthabaska; he subsequently became syndic of the bar of that district, and in 1890 was elected its bâtonnier. Three years later he was made a qc, and in 1894 he became the district’s deputy sheriff. In the meanwhile, at the urgent request of the Conservative party, he had run in Mégantic in the 1881 provincial election, but he had been defeated by George Irvine*. Speaking before the local bar in 1897 he laughingly said that no man in the country had obtained as many public offices as he, refused as many, and been dismissed as often.
Hemming also participated in local public life. He was mayor of the municipality of Wickham Township (1867–68 and 1872–73) and of Drummondville (1886–87), and twice warden of Drummond county. For 18 years a churchwarden of St George’s, the Anglican parish in Drummondville, he became secretary-treasurer of the body of syndics set up to rebuild the church after it burned down in 1863. Known for his religious zeal, for more than 30 years beginning in 1862 he was a delegate to diocesan and provincial synods of the Church of England. He also sat on the Protestant committee of the provincial Council of Public Instruction, where he worked at promoting religious education in Protestant schools. In addition Hemming served on the executive of the county agricultural society and as its president for a number of years.
After a busy career Hemming left Drummondville, possibly because he was heavily in debt. In 1899, having parted with all his other holdings, he sold the magnificent property of Oatland to William Mitchell and went off to Knowlton, which was at the end of the railway line he had once laid out. He died there six years later, after a short illness.
A brown-haired man of average height, with a harried look, Hemming had a brusque manner and a loud, penetrating voice, which created an impression of harshness. The deafness from which he suffered increased from year to year until he lost all hearing. His disability affected the direction his career took and his later professional activities, but it did not prevent him from being a man of action, useful to his family and the society he sought to serve.
With leanings to the right, Hemming could not be anything but a Conservative in politics, but occasionally he could be progressive. His philosophical notions never evolved much. Some of his biographers have said he was behind the times because he believed firmly in the Bible and hence utterly rejected Darwinism, secular education, and prohibition. He was even unwilling to accept Adam Smith’s ideas of political economy. If “free trade” was mentioned, he proclaimed himself a protectionist. In his view free trade could function only so long as the social system, based on the family (each one having its own interest), had not united all families into one. There will always be rich and poor in our societies, he said. As for the principle of the sovereignty of the people, he considered it baseless, maintaining that authority came from above and not from below. All his life Hemming believed with quiet self-assurance that he had served the crown well in a colony to which he thought it necessary to bring the singular benefits of English culture.
AC, Bedford (Cowansville), État civil, Anglicans, St Paul (Knowlton), 8 Jan. 1902, 19 Sept. 1905. Arch. de la Municipalité de Saint-Nicéphore, Qué., Reg. des minutes d’assemblées, municipalité du canton de Wickham, 1867–72. Arch. de la Ville de Drummondville, Qué., Reg. des minutes d’assemblées, 1865–90. Arch. du Séminaire de Nicolet, Qué., F039 (Arthur Bergeron), 2, no.25. BE, Drummond (Drummondville), reg.B, 10, no.5258; 12, no.6673; 15, no.8573; 21, no.12342; 27, no.18277; 52, no.37420. Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée Nationale (Québec), Div. de la Recherche, dossiers des parlementaires. NA, MG 29, D61, 10; MG 30, D1, 1: 593; 15: 390; RG 31, C1, 1891, Drummond & Arthabaska. Private arch., Maurice Milot (Drummondville), Interview with Domtail Picotin, an employee of E. J. Hemming, conducted in the spring of 1945. St George’s Anglican Church (Drummondville), Misc. docs., 1815–1900; RBMB, 1815–1900. Dominion Illustrated (Montreal), 25 Jan. 1890: 50; 8 Feb. 1890: 103; 15 Feb. 1890: 115. Gazette (Montreal), 18 Sept. 1905. Gérald Prince, “Edward J. Hemming, un homme d’envergure,” La Tribune (Sherbrooke, Qué.), 25 févr. 1978: 15. A[uguste] Achintre, Manuel électoral; portraits et dossiers parlementaires du premier Parlement de Québec (Montréal, 1871). Can., Prov. of, Statutes, 1830, c.8; 1860, cc.111, 126; 1861, c.86; 1863, c.64; 1866, c.100. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), 2: 71–74. M. Hamelin, Premières années du parlementarisme québécois, 303. Maurice Milot, “Les forges de Drummondville, 1880–1911: fin d’une industrie artisanale au Québec” (mémoire de ma, univ. du Québec, Trois-Rivières, 1984); “Hemming, Edward John, 1823–1905,” Les Cahiers nicolétains (Nicolet), 9 (1987): 3–21. Qué., Statuts, 1869, cc.52, 56; 1870, c.25; 1871, c.30; 1872, cc.50, 51. RPQ. J.-C. Saint-Amant, Un coin des Cantons-de-l’Est; histoire de l’envahissement pacifique mais irrésistible d’une race (Drummondville, 1932).
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