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HANNAY, JAMES, lawyer, newspaper editor, and writer; b. 22 April 1842 in Richibucto, N.B., son of the Reverend James Hannay and Jane Salter; m. 1864 Margaret Ross, and they were without issue; d. during the night of 11–12 Jan. 1910 in Saint John, N.B., and was buried in Fredericton.

The senior James Hannay emigrated as a Presbyterian minister to eastern New Brunswick in 1833, but returned in 1845 to Scotland, where his son James spent much of his youth. The junior Hannay was back in New Brunswick by the late 1850s, however, finishing his education at the Saint John Grammar School. After a brief connection with the dry-goods establishment of John Boyd* and Thomas Wilder Daniel*, Hannay was articled to an uncle, the distinguished Saint John lawyer David Shank Kerr. He was made an attorney on 15 Oct. 1866 and called to the bar on 12 Oct. 1867. In the latter year he succeeded John Campbell Allen* as official reporter of the Supreme Court; he held the position until 1873, producing what are now numbered as volumes 12 and 13 of the New Brunswick Reports.

Like many New Brunswick law students in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Hannay supported himself during clerkship by writing for the Saint John press. He began steady employment as a journalist in 1872, in association with William Elder* and the StJohn Daily Telegraph and Morning Journal. From 1883 to 1885 he worked in the editorial department of the Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette and, from 1885 to 1888, he was with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in Brooklyn (New York City). He then returned to Saint John to take up the editorship of the Gazette, simultaneously abandoning the Liberals for the Liberal Conservatives. In 1893 he rejoined the Daily Telegraph, where he remained until retirement at the turn of the century. On more than one occasion he was said to write for two newspapers simultaneously.

Though he spent more than 25 years in active journalism, Hannay lived long enough to see his reputation as an historian overshadow his newspaper connection. His early writing – an edition of John Gyles*’s captivity narrative (1875) and a history of Acadia (1879) – reflects a typical late-romantic enthusiasm for native peoples and for the French regime. Here his assiduity in “trac[ing] every statement to its original source, and . . . accept[ing] no fact from a printed book at second hand where it was possible to avoid doing so” brought to his work a firmness of expression that often gave way to mere historical journalism in later writings. By the 1890s his interest had shifted forward in time, to the loyalists. William Odber Raymond*, who was staking out loyalist New Brunswick as his own territory, found Hannay’s work disconcertingly anti-American, though a “wholesome antidote” to the hagiographic treatment usually accorded the patriots.

Hannay’s historical researches acquainted him with the “very unsafe and improper” manner in which New Brunswick’s ancient public records were stored. As a result of his expressions of concern, he was commissioned by the dominion archives, in 1906, to undertake a two-year survey of public records in the Maritime provinces. The major project of his retirement, however, was a two-volume history of New Brunswick (1909). Thoroughly whiggish in tone, it vilified “Downing Street” influence and what he styled New Brunswick’s “Family Compact” and celebrated the pedigree of the provincial Reform/Liberal party. With his usual discernment Raymond judged that Hannay was a “pretty good radical, and anything . . . that ran counter to his notions he assailed with a spirit that seemed at times well nigh vindictive.” James Glenie* had been completely forgotten in New Brunswick until Hannay fixed on him as an early martyr to tory fanaticism, and Hannay’s memorably scathing caricatures of Albert James Smith* and his fellow anticonfederates would prove irresistibly quotable to later historians. Hannay’s biographies of Lemuel Allan Wilmot* (1907) and Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley* (1897; 1907) are superficial and without value. His History of the War of 1812 . . . (1901) had significance only because it was one of the few treatments of the subject from an Anglo-Canadian perspective.

As a journalist Hannay was the most prolific popularizer of New Brunswick history in his time. As an historian, however, he was, as Raymond complained to William Francis Ganong*, a “hack writer” – a “pig-headed scotchman [who] . . . will pursue the subject rather with the design of bolstering his previously expressed opinions than in the spirit of a candid enquirer.” It fell to Raymond and Ganong to lead New Brunswick historical writing out of journalism and into sober professionalism, a process which would render James Hannay’s energetic scribblings all but forgotten.

D. G. Bell

[There is no major collection of Hannay papers. The draft materials collected for his survey of public records in the Maritimes, together with some miscellaneous personal manuscripts, are at PANB, MC 64. Seven boxes containing typescript versions of his histories of New Brunswick, the loyalists, and Acadia, as well as a few original documents and a small file of personal correspondence, are at the N.B. Museum. The reports Hannay submitted to the federal archives branch are preserved in NA, MG 9, A10 (records of New Brunswick), B7 (Nova Scotia), and C5 (Prince Edward Island). He followed these around 1909 with reports on resources in Manitoba and Saskatchewan (E2) and in British Columbia (F4).

A partial listing of Hannay’s publications appears in New Brunswick history: a checklist of secondary sources, comp. H. A. Taylor (Fredericton, 1971), and 2 supp. to date, comp. E. L. Swanick (1974 and 1984). His best-known poetry, all written between 1868 and 1873, was collected under the title Ballads of Acadia (Saint John, N.B., 1909). His two-volume History of New Brunswick was published there the same year. Hannay’s biographical studies of Reform/Liberal leaders appeared as The life and times of Sir Leonard Tilley, being a political history of New Brunswick for the past seventy years (Saint John, 1897) and Wilmot and Tilley (Toronto, 1907), the latter being a contribution to the “Makers of Canada” series. Most of Hannay’s magazine articles appeared in the three distinguished Saint John journals of his day: the Maritime Monthly, the New Brunswick Magazine, and Acadiensis. Of all of Hannay’s historical writings, the contribution with the most continuing utility is “The Maugerville settlement, 1763–1824,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll. (Saint John): 63–88, and the appended collection of documents, pp.89–152, which he edited.  d.g.b.]

N.B. Museum, W. F. Ganong papers, 15: 67; box 10, folder 1; Hannay, James, cb doc. PANB, RS32, C. Progress (Saint John), 28 Oct. 1893. Saint John Globe, 2 Dec. 1881, 12 Jan. 1910. F. E. Archibald, “Contribution of the Scottish church to New Brunswick Presbyterianism from its earliest beginnings until the time of the disruption, and afterwards, 1784 to 1852” (phd thesis, Univ. of Edinburgh, 1932). D. G. Bell, intro. to reprint of J. W. Lawrence, The judges of New Brunswick and their times, ed. A. A. Stockton [and W. O. Raymond] (Fredericton, 1983 [i.e. 1985]), v; Legal education in New Brunswick: a history (Fredericton, 1992). Biog. rev. of N.B. (Jack). Donald Macleod, “Our man in the Maritimes: ‘down east’ with the Public Archives of Canada, 1872–1932,” Archivaria (Ottawa), no.17 (1983–84): 86–105. G. H. Theobald, “George Foster and James Hannay: studies of the imperial idea in New Brunswick, 1883–1900” (ma thesis, Univ. of N.B., Fredericton, 1971).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

D. G. Bell, “HANNAY, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hannay_james_13E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hannay_james_13E.html
Author of Article: D. G. Bell
Title of Article: HANNAY, JAMES
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 20, 2014