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GILLMOR, ARTHUR HILL, businessman and politician; b. 12 March 1824 in St George, N.B., eldest son of Daniel Gillmor and Pamelia (Purmelia) Dowell; m. there 22 Jan. 1846 Hannah Dawes Howe, and they had three sons and one daughter; d. 13 April 1903 near Mattawamkeag, Maine.

Educated in local schools, Arthur Hill Gillmor engaged in business with his father and brothers; their interests included lumbering, milling, farming, and trading. At age 30 in 1854, he entered provincial political life as a Liberal, winning election to the House of Assembly in one of the four seats for Charlotte. He would be re-elected in 1856, 1857, and 1861. He quickly established himself as a highly principled man of great self-respect. When in 1861, with an election looming, the Liberal party enquired of potential candidates whether they would support it “in all quests of purely party character,” Gillmor was the only one who refused to give this assurance. The defeat of the surveyor general, James Brown*, at the polls in June left Charlotte without a representative on the Executive Council. Premier Samuel Leonard Tilley* and Attorney General Albert James Smith* both urged Gillmor to accept the portfolio, but he astonished them by declining on a matter of principle, a rumour having surfaced that he had engineered Brown’s defeat.

In 1865 a general election on the issue of confederation was called, and Gillmor became part of the strong anti-confederate slate under Smith’s leadership. Having won easily, he joined Smith’s short-lived government and was called to the office of provincial secretary. He found it in chaos and the province near bankruptcy. Upon returning from his ministerial by-election in Charlotte, he had only two days to prepare his first budget. Despite personal depression over this most onerous portfolio, he soldiered on with diligence and capacity. Lieutenant Governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon* had privately described him as “a man of no education or ability,” but later corrected his mistake by expressing the greatest satisfaction with Gillmor’s handling of the portfolio. Gillmor followed a restrained policy with regard to patronage, although well aware that “justices of the peace cling to the parties who make them.” He never urged or approved of a single dismissal for the purpose of filling the vacancy with an importuning friend, and admitted that he had “often suffered in consequence.”

The demoralized Smith government fell in the election of 1866. Gillmor, exhausted by his efforts in office and with mounting family and business concerns – his father died on 30 May – did not reoffer until days before the polling on 12 June, and then only at the urging of friends. His defeat came as no surprise. The new government led by Tilley carried a vote in favour of confederation but Gillmor’s opposition to it would never entirely dissipate.

Abandoning provincial politics, Gillmor concentrated instead on his late father’s business interests and on his personal life. The latter was centred in his family and his home on the main street of St George, the site of his beloved garden. The spacious Georgian house, built in the year of his marriage, was the scene of many gatherings of political and community friends. A very happy marriage led to nearly daily letters between the spouses when separated. “Oh dear!” Hannah wrote in 1865, “I do not know why in the world I wish you to be elected if it is to keep you away from home in this way. I would rather have you as plain Mr. Gillmor and quietly at home with me.” In addition to providing “dearest Hill” with a supportive ear, she kept him informed about life in their community and, above all, about the minutiae of their children’s lives. A devoted Baptist, as he was, she told of the revival meetings she attended and of her wish that the children would experience conversion. The education of their family was a constant concern to them both. As the children got older, they too wrote frequently to their father, with details of school life. The eldest son, Daniel, grew in his late teens and early adulthood to assume responsibility for the family business.

In 1872 Gillmor stood for election to the House of Commons but was defeated. Successful in 1874, he was re-elected continuously until 1896 when, despite the Liberal sweep, “the war horse of the party,” as the Saint John Freeman dubbed him, went down to defeat. His parliamentary career was marked by lengthy, sarcastic speeches, peppered with anecdotes and with biblical and gardening references. He questioned government spending at every opportunity, deprecated the protectionist National Policy, and fought for the rights of the common man. “Thirty years ago . . . ,” he said in 1890, “my principles were free education, manhood suffrage and free trade, and in all these years I have never given a vote, or expressed a sentiment contrary to these principles.” As a boy he had spent some time in England, “where I saw the workingmen . . . and I saw anti-corn law bazaars going on, and I became a convert then to free trade.” Gillmor read extensively to inform his contributions and spoke on subjects ranging from Chinese immigration to Australian railways.

A constituency man, Gillmor was ever vigilant about local concerns. In 1887 he thanked the government for its expenditures in Charlotte County, in spite of the fact that it had returned an opposition mp. Perhaps it was this recognition from the Conservatives or Gillmor’s unbending directness that caused him to be overlooked by his own party. Aged 72 when he was defeated in 1896 by the more youthful Gilbert White Ganong* of St Stephen (St Stephen-Milltown), he would wait four years before receiving a call to the Senate, on 2 April 1900. In the same month he represented Canada to great effect at the universal exposition in Paris.

Gillmor spent his last day working among his former constituents in St Stephen, where he awaited the Montreal train. Although a fierce debater in the house, he never personalized his quarrels and therefore never made enemies of his opponents. Thus he spent part of the day with Ganong. After boarding the train and retiring to his berth, he became suddenly ill. Lady Tilley was the first to notice his distress and gave the alarm, but it was too late. Senator Gillmor was dead at age 79. It is a measure of the man that a number of his pallbearers were his political opponents. In 1907 his son Daniel would also be called to the Senate.

Kathryn Wilson

[Arthur Hill Gillmor’s papers are available in PANB, MC 243; the items in Group III were consulted by permission of the family. Additional details concerning Gillmor were supplied to the author in an interview with Daniel Gillmor of St George, N.B., a great-grandson of the subject.  k.w.]

      Daily Telegraph (Saint John, N.B.), 14–15, 17–18 April 1903. Freeman (Saint John), 24 March 1900. Saint Croix Courier (St Stephen [St Stephen-Milltown], N.B.), 16 April 1903. D. G. Bell, “The confederation issue in Charlotte County, New Brunswick” (ma thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, Ont., 1976). Can., House of Commons, Debates, 1875–96. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). CPG, 1901. G. W. Drisko, Narrative of the town of Machias, the old and the new, the early and the late (Machias, Maine, 1904). N.B., House of Assembly, Reports of the debates, 1855–66.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Kathryn Wilson, “GILLMOR, ARTHUR HILL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gillmor_arthur_hill_13E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gillmor_arthur_hill_13E.html
Author of Article: Kathryn Wilson
Title of Article: GILLMOR, ARTHUR HILL
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1994
Year of revision: 1994
Access Date: April 24, 2014