ALMON, WILLIAM BRUCE, doctor, office holder, and politician; b. 25 Oct. 1787 in Halifax, son of William James Almon* and Rebecca Byles, a daughter of Mather Byles*; m. 29 Jan. 1814 Laleah Peyton Johnston, daughter of William Martin Johnston and Elizabeth Lichtenstein, in Annapolis Royal, N.S.; they had 11 children, including William Johnston*; d. 12 July 1840 in Halifax.
William Bruce Almon belonged to a distinguished family which for more than a century contributed physicians and surgeons to Halifax society. Both his mother and his father were loyalists, coming to Nova Scotia in 1776 and about 1780 respectively. His father was surgeon to the Board of Ordnance and the Royal Artillery at Halifax. The entire family was staunchly tory in politics. William Bruce’s sister, Amelia Elizabeth, married James William Johnston*, leader of the conservative forces in the colony and opponent of responsible government. His brother, Mather Byles Almon*, was one of the original directors of the Bank of Nova Scotia, its president from 1837 to 1870, and, like William Bruce, a member of the Legislative Council and supporter of the Johnston government.
After his education at King’s College, Windsor, Almon followed in his father’s footsteps and took up medicine. On 29 Oct. 1806 he began his studies at the University of Edinburgh, one of the first native Nova Scotians to travel abroad for medical training. Graduating from Edinburgh in 1809, he returned to Halifax and set up a medical practice and drug dispensary in partnership with his father. Over the next several years he assisted his father in caring for the inmates of the poor-house. In 1816 he petitioned the House of Assembly for the cost of medicine and professional services rendered to 158 refugee blacks who had been admitted to the poor-house from the ship Chesapeake and were suffering from dysentery and smallpox. Upon his father’s death in 1817, Almon assumed the position of medical and surgical officer of the poorhouse and jail, where he continued to minister to the sick and indigent.
Like many of his colleagues, Almon was concerned about improving the standards of medical treatment in Nova Scotia. He supported the passing of the Medical Act of 1828, designed to exclude “ignorant and unskilful persons from the practice of Physic and Surgery,” and was a member of the province’s first licensing board. Almon also apprenticed a number of young medical students, one of whom was Daniel McNeill Parker*, a founder of the Medical Society of Nova Scotia and later president of the Canadian Medical Association. Parker remembered Almon as “the warmest and kindest hearted man I ever met.”
Almon invested in several companies, but he was not especially interested in business. Nor was he greatly concerned with church affairs or politics. Basically a supporter of the status quo, he sided with the Reverend Robert Willis* in the dispute over the rectorate of St Paul’s Anglican Church that rent the congregation in 1824–25. His appointment to the Legislative Council in 1838 was probably the result of his work in the field of public health.
In August 1831 Almon had been appointed health officer of the port of Halifax. In 1832 he petitioned the assembly for payment for his services. A committee of the assembly reported that, as Almon’s predecessor, Charles Wentworth Wallace, and Wallace’s assistant, William Grigor*, had never received any remuneration, they should receive a fixed grant, and that thereafter health officers should be paid by the vessels they visited. It was in carrying out his duties as health officer that Almon contracted the illness that led to his death. In June 1840 a ship arrived in Halifax with a large number of passengers suffering from typhus. Almon went aboard, treated the sick as best he could, and arranged to transfer them ashore. While doing so he contracted the disease himself. He died on 12 July 1840 at the age of 52. The Novascotian reported that his death “spread a deep gloom over a large portion of the community.”
PANS, Biog., Almon family, no.2, W. J. Almon and Son, letter-book, 1813–33 (mfm.); MG 1, 11; MG 20, 670, no.4 (typescript); RG 5, P, 80, no.2. St Luke’s (Anglican) Church (Annapolis Royal, N.S.), Reg. of marriages (mfm. at PANS). N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc., 1832. Acadian Recorder, 18 July 1840. Novascotian, 16 July 1840. A. W. H. Eaton, “Old Boston families, number four: the Byles family,” New England Hist. and Geneal. Reg. (Boston), 69 (1915): 113. N.S. vital statistics, 1813–22 (Punch), no.2515. R. V. Harris, The Church of Saint Paul in Halifax, Nova Scotia: 1749–1949 (Toronto, 1949). D. A. Sutherland, “The merchants of Halifax, 1815–1850: a commercial class in pursuit of metropolitan status”