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BLACKADAR, HENRY DUGWELL, newspaper editor and proprietor; b. 6 Feb. 1845 in Halifax, third son of Hugh William Blackadar* and his second wife, Sophia Coleman; m. there 16 Sept. 1875 Jessie Smith, niece of Amor De Cosmos*, and they had two sons; d. there 21 July 1901.

Of Massachusetts ancestry, Henry Blackadar owed his second name to John Dugwell, who had married his great-aunt and apparently found employment for some of the Blackadars at the Halifax dockyard. Like others of his family, he is inextricably connected with the Acadian Recorder, founded in 1813 by Anthony Henry Holland*, of which his father became joint proprietor in 1837 and sole proprietor in 1857. When only seven, Henry learned to set type in the Recorder office. Intending to become a lawyer, he attended Horton Academy in Wolfville, where he once participated in the prank of releasing a goat in the women’s department, the Grand Pre Seminary. The outcome was an exchange of poetical squibs between him and a female student which provided comic relief for the campus.

Although Henry was articled briefly to Robert Linton Weatherbe*, the newspaper business was in his blood and on his father’s death in 1863 he became a reporter for the Recorder. His elder brother, Hugh William, took over as proprietor and converted the paper from a weekly to a tri-weekly and later a daily. Henry succeeded Weatherbe as editor in 1867 and held the position until his death. When Hugh William became postmaster of Halifax in 1874, Henry assumed the proprietorship and with his younger brother Charles Coleman ran the paper.

Henry was eminently qualified for his duties. Fully acquainted with the practical side of the newspaper business from childhood, he knew intimately the people of Halifax and had a wide knowledge of early provincial history. To the envy of other newspapermen, “he could produce an editorial by setting it direct from the case.” A friend and former classmate, James Wilberforce Longley*, suggested that his intellectual qualities would have let him devote himself to literary pursuits, including poetry. His voracious reading, particularly of Dickens, manifested itself in his articles, often in a “satirical dig” at an opponent. Customarily working from early in the morning until late at night, he gave full attention to the minutest details; almost to the end he supervised the making up of his newspaper’s forms just before it went to press. Although reluctant to be diverted from newspaper work, he served for one term on the Halifax board of school commissioners and for a year as its chairman. He also became vice-president of the Nova Scotia Tourist Association, advanced its work through correspondence, and according to one observer was primarily responsible for the discovery of Halifax by many Americans. But he refused to enter even municipal politics and preferred, his brother Charles noted, to “criticise, praise or advise in matters of civic administration or reform from the editorial chair.”

Although J. W. Longley contributed some editorials to the Recorder between 1867 and 1877, Blackadar wrote most of them before and after 1877 and determined the paper’s editorial policy. As bitter as any anti-confederate, he was willing, loyal Briton though he was, to transfer his allegiance anywhere, even to the United States, if confederation could not be repealed. After Joseph Howe* accepted the new order in 1868, he heaped upon him the same abusive epithets that he applied to Charles Tupper*, his principal bête noire. Even though federal Liberal leaders Alexander Mackenzie* and Edward Blake* supported confederation, Blackadar, who was at bottom an English liberal in many respects, readily gave his support to a federal party which stood for economy and adamantly opposed tariffs and protection. In 1878 he was altogether outspoken in his opposition to Sir John A. Macdonald*’s proposed National Policy, which he considered would be “the foulest blot in history on the fair face of British institutions.” When Mackenzie and the Liberals were defeated, he attributed the outcome to impulses of lunacy. In 1882 he concentrated on political corruption and additional taxation, asking if Nova Scotia should forever endure the burdens of the National Policy and permit excessive prices to be charged for the poor man’s bread. Once again he thought the voters’ decision incomprehensible. After 1884 Blackadar lavished praise upon Nova Scotia’s Liberal premier, William Stevens Fielding*. He strongly supported the latter’s call for the repeal of confederation in the provincial election of 1886, railing against the “piratical crowd” at Ottawa which was tightening the chains around Nova Scotia’s “prostrate form” by denying her the financial resources to meet absolute necessities. When Nova Scotians, after giving Fielding a convincing victory in 1886, reversed themselves in the federal election of 1887, Blackadar could say only that the judgement of the public would ultimately be sound.

In the federal election campaigns of 1891 and 1896 Blackadar’s arguments were his usual ones. In the first he stood for unrestricted reciprocity and denounced the Tories’ cries of loyalty; to them loyalty simply expressed the principle that “‘public office should be Tory emolument.’” In the second he made tariff reform the chief issue and poured scorn upon Tupper, “The Great Stretcher.” To him Wilfrid Laurier*’s victory meant that although “‘men may come and men may go’ . . . principles ‘go on forever.’” Perhaps because he was a Liberal at heart, in the 1900 campaign he expressed satisfaction with Laurier’s performance on the tariff even though it amounted largely to the introduction of British preference. He would say, none the less, that “tariff reform has come to stay” and “we want more” because “we have found it to be a good thing.”

From 4 Feb. 1888 until the day before Blackadar died the Recorder published on Saturday his letters signed Doesticks, which were entitled “Truths and Trifles” for many years. Consisting of a dozen or more unconnected paragraphs, they were written, according to his brother Charles, in his characteristic manner, “always hurriedly, and often on the impulse of the moment,” and demonstrated “his peculiar knowledge of men, . . . breadth of reading and grasp of local historical facts, combined with a philosophical reflection.” Sometimes he commented on “The few that are left after 40 years” and “The proportion of unpunished dishonesty in the world.” Once he recalled “The preserves our mothers used to make” and pondered “What may help to mar or make many a dinner-party.” From time to time he answered the question “What will Mrs. Grundy say?” as posed in Thomas Morton’s comedy Speed the plough. On one occasion Mrs Grundy said that “the woman who paints and powders her face is always liable to annoyance” and that “a fashionable education seems to leave out all that is best worth knowing.” To a wide circle of Haligonians, especially older ones, the letters were interesting and undoubtedly instructive.

After months of illness Blackadar succumbed to Bright’s disease at the age of 56. In consistently supporting the Liberal party federally and provincially, he had, above all, stood for purity in government and against protective tariffs. His frequent engagement in political recrimination never marred his personal friendship with his opponents. Like others, J. W. Longley found him “a kind hearted man of generous instincts.” He was also a shrewd man, under whom the Recorder prospered. Together with careful investment, the paper enabled him to build up an estate in excess of $100,000, a comfortable fortune at the time. Of all the Blackadars, he was probably the best editor and certainly the best all-round newspaperman. But the Recorder was in decline. It had suffered after the Halifax Morning Chronicle came increasingly to be regarded as the province’s leading Liberal newspaper. During the first three decades of the 20th century it “did not move with the times,” being the last Nova Scotian daily to be set by hand. Towards the end Charles Blackadar had to absorb its growing losses. It survived him by only a few weeks in 1930.

J. Murray Beck

[To my knowledge, not even a short study of Henry Dugwell Blackadar’s career exists. For his family background I consulted an article by Nova Scotia’s best-known genealogist, Charles St Clair Stayner, “The Blackadar family of Halifax,” N.SHist. Rev., 1 (1981), no.1: 67–72. Highly useful in providing information on his life and comments on his work and attitudes were the obituaries and editorials of 22 July 1901 in the Acadian Recorder, the Halifax Herald, and the Halifax Morning Chronicle; the obituary in the Acadian Recorder, written by Henry’s brother Charles, was especially revealing. The tribute by Henry’s former classmate and long-time friend James Wilberforce Longley, which appeared in the same paper on 24 July, was no less valuable. I have examined a good many of the Doesticks letters in the Acadian Recorder; the issues from which I have quoted are those of 25 June 1892; 10, 24 Feb. 1900; and 6, 16 July 1901. I also examined the Acadian Recorder editorials during the federal and provincial by-elections between 1867 and 1900. Background information concerning the Nova Scotia press was provided by D. C. Harvey, “Newspapers of Nova Scotia, 1840–1867,” CHR, 26 (1945): 279–301.  j.m.b.]

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Cite This Article

J. Murray Beck, “BLACKADAR, HENRY DUGWELL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 26, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/blackadar_henry_dugwell_13E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/blackadar_henry_dugwell_13E.html
Author of Article:   J. Murray Beck
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   September 26, 2023