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BRISTOL, EDMUND JAMES, lawyer, businessman, and politician; b. 4 Sept. 1861 in Napanee, Upper Canada, son of Amos Samuel Bristol, a physician, and Sarah Minerva Everitt (Everett); m. 21 Sept. 1899 Mary Dorothy Armour; they had no children; d. 14 July 1927 in Toronto.
Edmund Bristol inherited a family tradition of patriotic service to the crown. The Bristols were of English descent, but their claim to prominence rested in their status as loyalists. Edmund’s great-grandfather had fought in the American revolution, his grandfathers in the War of 1812, and his father against the Fenians.
After studying at Napanee’s public schools and Upper Canada College in Toronto, Bristol attended the University of Toronto to prepare for a career in law. As an undergraduate, he was elected president of University College’s Literary and Scientific Society. He received his ba in 1883 and proceeded to study at Osgoode Hall. Called to the bar on 17 May 1886, he remained in Toronto, becoming a partner in Howland, Arnoldi, and Bristol, and he began to dabble in Conservative politics. He was named a federal qc in 1896 and an Ontario kc in 1908. His marriage to Dorothy Armour in 1899 produced a connection that would significantly aid his career. His father-in-law, John Douglas Armour, was chief justice of Ontario, and his brother-in-law Eric Norman Armour became a law partner in 1902.
A recognized authority on corporate and international law, Bristol devoted most of his time to his practice and other business pursuits, in which he was quite successful. With offices on Victoria Street, in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, he facilitated many corporate mergers, acquisitions, and capitalizations. For example, he negotiated the merger of two dry-goods retailers to form Murray-Kay Limited in 1910. As well, he used his political connections to secure investments, licences, and incorporations for the newly formed Canada Securities Corporation, an upstart rival to such trading firms as the Dominion Securities Corporation, established by George Albertus Cox*. However, most of his efforts were directed towards transportation: he was a director of Northern Navigation, Canada Steamship Lines, and Richelieu and Ontario Navigation, which was undergoing major growth through amalgamation. His personal portfolio was such that he could routinely make $1,000 stock trades. Bristol’s interests took him regularly to London, Paris, and New York, and on occasion he would combine business and politics. During one trip to London, in 1917, he represented the Department of Marine and Fisheries during negotiations on shipping matters with the imperial government.
Bristol’s political influence had been shaped during terms as vice-president and president of both the Toronto Conservative Association and the Ontario Conservative Association. In a by-election in Toronto Centre in 1905, he was returned by acclamation to the House of Commons. He would hold this riding, which became Toronto East Centre in 1925, until 1926. E. N. Armour, himself a one-time parliamentary candidate, handled his campaigns as well as his business and political correspondence during his trips.
Bristol was a rare parliamentarian. His administrative skills made him far more useful than did his lacklustre oratorical ability. During World War I he ably served Albert Edward Kemp, the mp for Toronto East, chair of the War Purchasing Commission, and then minister of militia and defence and later of overseas military forces. Bristol’s job really seems to have been to deal with Kemp’s mail, especially during his two years in purchasing. Kemp once protested Bristol’s frequent absences, claiming he needed his aid “day and night.” Following the war, Bristol served as a minister without portfolio for three months in 1921 in the cabinet of Arthur Meighen*. During his two decades as an mp, he spent little time in the house. When he appeared during debate in 1915, George Perry Graham* had paused to “welcome this stranger.” To win support, Bristol relied on back-room organizing rather than rhetoric. In 1911 he had attended campaign strategy meetings with federal leader Robert Laird Borden* and Ontario premier Sir James Pliny Whitney*. As president of the Ontario Conservative Association, he managed provincial campaigns through the 1920s.
Much of Bristol’s surviving political correspondence deals with patronage, and it is here that he becomes particularly interesting. Since Jewish and Italian constituents were proportionately over-represented in his riding, this material provides an excellent snapshot of the accommodations negotiated between them and the Anglo-Protestant bourgeoisie who controlled the political apparatus. Bristol seems remarkable for his lack of ethnic prejudice, though his tolerance may simply have been the sign of an astute politician. His tireless efforts on behalf of his Jewish, and to a lesser extent Italian, supporters played a crucial role in creating space for these groups within the Canadian polity.
This patronage system shone brightest in the years of fat government spending at the beginning of the Great War. Demands for military uniforms soared and much of the supply came from the Jewish garment manufacturers in Toronto Centre. Although Bristol repeatedly complained to cabinet that the Toronto faithful were not receiving their fair share of contracts, he personally negotiated the allotment of numerous orders. In January 1915 he defended his record on this score to Mayor Thomas Langton Church*. But as Bristol quickly discovered, even his patronage network was unable to meet the government’s demand for supplies. Moreover, the inefficiency of the process greatly elevated both contractors’ expectations and voters’ antagonism to the system. When Borden’s Union coalition fought the election of 1917, it placed the elimination of patronage just below winning the war in its platform. The resulting reforms to government purchasing deprived Bristol of his most useful tool in political management, and his interest in the welfare of individual constituents declined sharply. Nonetheless, his organizational abilities remained unimpaired. The federal caucus appointed him to run the 1921 campaign in central Ontario and he was a key organizer for the national, as well as the provincial, party throughout the 1920s.
Bristol’s status in his professional and political affairs was reflected in his social life. An Anglican, he belonged to prestigious clubs in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and London; in 1895 he won the Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s Prince of Wales Cup. As members of the Toronto Hunt Club, both he and his wife were keen golfers who also enjoyed riding and hunting. Struck down by a brain haemorrhage in February 1927, Bristol suffered a second one on 13 July and died a day later. For a man who had handled so much wealth, he left an estate worth only $23,000.
AO, F 68; RG 22-305, no.57455; RG 80-8-0-1052, no.4650. LAC, MG 27, II, D9, 28, 54, 83; MG 30, A16, 25. Alan Gordon, “Patronage, etiquette, and the science of connection: Edmund Bristol and political management, 1911-21,” CHR, 80 (1999): 1-31; “Taking root in the patronage garden: Jewish businessmen in Toronto’s Conservative party, 1891-1921,” OH, 88 (1996): 31-46. Norman Ward, “The Bristol papers: a note on patronage,” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science (Toronto), 12 (1946): 78-87.
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Cite This Article
Alan Gordon, “BRISTOL, EDMUND JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bristol_edmund_james_15E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Alan Gordon|
|Title of Article:||BRISTOL, EDMUND JAMES|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2005|
|Year of revision:||2005|
|Access Date:||June 1, 2023|