BALFOUR, WILLIAM DOUGLAS, teacher, publisher, and politician; b. 2 Aug. 1851 in Forfar, Scotland, eldest child of David Balfour and Janet Douglas; m. 17 Oct. 1874 Josephine Brodhead on Grosse Île, Mich., and they had four sons and four daughters; d. 19 Aug. 1896 in Toronto and was buried in Amherstburg, Ont.
William Douglas Balfour arrived in St Catharines, Upper Canada, with his family at the age of six. He attended the local elementary school and Grantham Academy. At 15 he left school and then taught for five years in Grantham and Louth townships. In 1872 he became the proprietor of the daily and weekly editions of the St. Catharines News in partnership with Robert Matheson. Two years later, after the firm’s dissolution, Balfour moved to Amherstburg, where he started the weekly Amherstburg Echo with John Allan Auld. Liberal in politics, the newspaper was a strong booster of Amherstburg and an important source of news for Essex and Kent counties.
In 1875, shortly after arriving in Amherstburg, Balfour was elected a public-school trustee, a post he had also held in St Catharines. From 1878 to 1882 he served as reeve of Amherstburg. In 1879 he unsuccessfully contested the provincial riding of Essex South but three years later he won the seat in a by-election. After he became an mpp, Balfour continued to publish the Echo, using it effectively to promote his political career by keeping his readers aware of his legislative activities. In 1885 his partnership with Auld ended and a joint-stock operation, the Echo Printing Company, was formed.
While still a relative newcomer in the legislature, Balfour had been one of several Liberal mpps who in 1884 were targets of an unsuccessful conspiracy to buy votes away from the government of Oliver Mowat* [see Christopher William Bunting]. Balfour helped expose the plot by delivering to the speaker of the legislature the $800 bribe he had been offered by John A. “Big Push” Wilkinson, a former newspaper editor.
During his legislative career, Balfour consistently championed minorities and the underprivileged in society. In 1884 he introduced legislation that assisted Delos Rogest Davis* of Colchester Township, in Essex, to become Canada’s first black lawyer. Balfour launched a lengthy campaign against the granting of bonuses to manufacturers by municipalities, which led to the modification of the Municipal Act in 1888 and the abolition of such bonuses in 1892. He was also a vigorous opponent of provincial toll-roads. A supporter of female suffrage, he was instrumental in the passage of legislation in 1892 admitting women to the Law Society of Upper Canada and to the practice of law. A Presbyterian and member of the Oddfellows, he was a staunch advocate of temperance legislation.
As a Mowat Liberal, Balfour was a strong advocate of provincial rights and during the debate over the Manitoba school question in 1896 he supported the federal Liberal leader, Wilfrid Laurier*, who opposed legislation that would compel the province to restore minority educational privileges. In February 1895 the Amherstburg politician had been elected speaker of the Ontario legislature, a post he retained until July 1896, when he joined the cabinet of Arthur Sturgis Hardy* as provincial secretary. For a number of years Balfour had suffered from tuberculosis and in August he developed complications which led to his death that month.
Balfour had been the proprietor of a successful weekly newspaper while serving Essex South as a progressive politician who upheld the cause of the less fortunate and disadvantaged. Unfortunately, though he possessed the ingredients for an outstanding career in politics, he was thwarted in his prime by illness and an untimely death.
AO, MS 76, J. Wallace to Charles Clarke, 3 March 1884. NA, RG 31, C1, 1891, Amherstburg, Ont., district no.63, 3rd ward, p.34 (mfm. at AO). Ont., Legislature, Journals, 1882–96; Statutes, 1884, c.94; 1888, c.28; 1892, c.32. Amherstburg Echo (Amherstburg), 1874–96. CPC, 1891. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. D. G. Hill, The freedom-seekers: blacks in early Canada (Agincourt [Toronto], 1981).