FAIRWEATHER, CHARLES HENRY, businessman; b. 4 May 1826 in Norton, N.B., son of James Fairweather and Martha Humbert; m. first 15 Aug. 1849 Margaret R. Robertson in Saint John, N.B.; m. secondly Lucille H. Hall; he had 11 children; d. 12 June 1894 in Saint John.
As a young man of 13, Charles Henry Fairweather moved to Saint John and became a clerk in the wholesale firm of Stephen Wiggins and Son. In 1854, with Stephen Sneden Hall, he founded the wholesale grocery firm of Hall and Fairweather, with which he was to be associated until his death. Possessing a substantial waterfront warehouse, Hall and Fairweather was one of a nucleus of similar enterprises which helped establish Saint John in the mid and late 19th century as the wholesale centre for the Maritimes. By the late 1880s the company was importing tea from China and large amounts of flour from Ontario. It was the first firm in the city to establish a connection with the New York produce exchange, a move which took place in 1863. According to a later report, this development “inaugurated the system of dealing in first markets and avoiding the profits of middlemen.”
During the late 1860s the Saint John Board of Trade, under the leadership of the ageing Lauchlan Donaldson, was criticized for lassitude. Fairweather became a member of its council in 1867, and by December 1870 he had helped to reorganize the board and to attract new members, thus allowing it to take a more active role in the business affairs of the city. He served as president from 1871 to 1874 and as member of the council from 1875 to 1877 and in 1885. He exercised a vigorous influence, possibly because of the high esteem in which he was held.
While Fairweather was president of the board, however, Saint John’s “wind, wood and ship” economy began to falter badly. The decline could be measured in the turbulence along the waterfront between 1873 and 1875 as port labourers vented their frustrations through the growing strength of unions. By the early spring of 1873 shipbuilders were claiming that they were afraid to hire workers because wages might rise to ruinous levels. Fairweather blamed the unions, or combinations as they were then termed, for “driving away tonnage to the great loss of the community.” He also observed that the city had a great “surplus of labour in many . . . places of business . . . but these [unions] forced wages to an unnatural figure.”
Another significant issue of the mid 1870s for the business community was the drafting in 1874 of a reciprocity treaty with the United States [see George Brown*]. By August of that year the board had established two committees to study the proposal. The manufacturers and merchants agreed that under reciprocity the United States would “swamp [their] infant industries,” and in late December the board approved Fairweather’s motion that parliament be petitioned not to assent to the treaty. The next month the Dominion Board of Trade also voted against the treaty, and at the same meeting Fairweather was elected its president. His term apparently lasted less than two years.
The questions of reciprocity, protection, and labour-business confrontations reflected the new circumstances that faced Saint John after confederation. However, these issues, while important, were overshadowed by the greater and more immediate need to secure a role for the port of Saint John within the newly formed nation and its emerging transportation network. Throughout the 1880s Fairweather and others in Saint John strove to have their city become the eastern terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Recognizing that a post-confederation function for the port rested on its ability to export grain from elsewhere in Canada, Fairweather was one of the earliest advocates for the erection of grain elevators at the port. This initiative eventually helped to establish Saint John as the winter port of Canada during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For Fairweather, union with the other provinces meant an opportunity to foster a cross-Canada trade. In a paper presented to the Board of Trade in 1885 he asked, “What were we doing all our lives before we took flour from Ontario? Just sending gold to New York for it. My own firm sent a third of a million dollars in gold annually for breadstuffs imported thence.”
Fairweather was an active participant in the politics of his day. Prior to confederation he had been associated with the Liberal party, an adherence perhaps caused in part by George Edward Fenety’s Morning News, which led the Liberals’ journalistic attacks, and by his position as a young man attempting to establish himself without the benefit of inherited wealth. He supported the movement towards confederation and eventually became a devoted member of the Conservative party of Canada.
In preparation for the federal election of 1878, supporters of the Conservative party proposed that a Conservative daily newspaper be established in Saint John. Fairweather is credited with suggesting that it be named the Daily Sun. He subsequently served on the paper’s first management committee and no doubt helped to shape its editorial policy. But, although Fairweather took a continuous interest in politics, he never stood for office. This notable omission from the public life of a person universally judged as “a man of kindly manners and genial disposition” may possibly be attributed to the fact that, as his obituary in the Daily Sun noted, he “was not much given to public speaking.”
Fairweather’s community interests were demonstrated in a wide range of civic-minded activities. During various periods he served as a member of the corporation of St John’s (Stone) Church, of the Church of England’s Young Men’s Society, and of the board of city school trustees. He was also treasurer of the Relief and Aid Society set up after the great fire of 1877 [see Sylvester Zobieski Earle*]; he was one of many who suffered losses in that calamity. For many years Fairweather was a director of the Bank of New Brunswick, and like a number of Saint John merchants he was involved in the construction of railways in the province. His home, one of the elegant residences built after the fire, was a material testimony to the efforts of Fairweather and others to retain Saint John’s stature.
City of Saint John, N.B., City Clerk’s Office, Common Council, minutes, 23 June 1892 (mfm. at PANB). N.B. Museum, Fairweather family,