CARY, THOMAS, printer and newspaper editor; b. 7 March 1787 at Quebec, son of Thomas Cary*; m. first, in 1817, Mary Ann Dorion, daughter of Peter Dorion, a merchant, and secondly, in 1835, Eliza Heath Ellen Noyes, widow of Josias Wurtele, a merchant; d. 16 Jan. 1869 at Quebec.
Thomas Cary Sr came to Canada in the 1780s. In 1797 he opened a lending library in Quebec where readers could obtain books on subscription and enjoy “the use of a periodical room from 10 o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the afternoon.” This library remained in the Cary family until 1835, and in 1830 its catalogue contained 5,314 titles, including 799 in French. In 1805 Cary Sr established the Quebec Mercury, to look after the interests of the English, Conservative, and Protestant minority of Lower Canada. During this first decade of the 19th century, so important for relations between the two ethnic groups, Cary made himself the spokesman for the quartet of Sir James Craig*, H. W. Ryland*, Jonathan Sewell*, and Jacob Mountain*, which according to historian Arthur Lower represented “the quintessence of eighteenth-century English toryism in all the depth of its intolerance, its lack of imagination, its devotion to a narrow fixed range of ideas and institutions, its total inability to see how the world looked to other people.” Cary’s vitriolic style and his violent attacks on French Canadians and Le Canadien, contributed greatly to the creation and maintenance of animosity.
In 1805 Thomas Cary Jr, who had more liking for an active life than for study, entered the Mercury as a typographer. Subsequently he held many positions at the printing-house – which was almost a government house – and at the newspaper. He became editor of the paper in 1823 on his father’s retirement.
The Mercury began as a bi-weekly; in 1832 it became a tri-weekly, and in 1863 a daily. Its page make-up was seldom uniform. Thus, the front page might have commercial advertisements, parliamentary news, or an agricultural column. Foreign news drawn from American papers had fairly good coverage, but it was to local news, particularly advertisements, that the Mercury gave most space. As long as the Carys owned a library, the paper announced sales of their volumes, and the public auctions held by Joseph Cary, Thomas’s brother, were similarly featured. Occasionally poems were published. But the real interest of the Mercury lies in its stand on the political issues of the day. Cary Jr, following his father’s example, identified himself closely with the English establishment and Conservative policies. He never missed an opportunity to justify the attitude of the British government and of English authorities in Lower Canada. He claimed that in this way he was respecting public opinion, the portion which, as he made clear, deserved consideration. The ill-tempered Francophobia of the early Mercury was, however, moderated with the years. From 1828 to 1848 the Mercury was owned jointly by Thomas Cary and George-Paschal Desbarats. In 1855 Cary, in his turn, handed over the editorship of the newspaper to his son George Thomas.
In his youth Thomas Cary had taken part in the War of 1812, and he continued, at least in the 1820s, to serve as adjutant in the 3rd battalion of Quebec militia. Later he advocated introducing the municipal system in his town and participated in the movement that led the House of Assembly of Lower Canada to incorporate the city of Quebec. In the first municipal elections in 1833, Cary was elected alderman of the Saint-Louis district. He was an active member of the Church of England, and in the 1850s was a member of the central committee of the Church Society of the diocese of Quebec; for a long time he was a churchwarden of the Quebec Cathedral.
When he died at the age of 81, the dean of the Quebec press, he received many tributes of respect. The Quebec Morning Chronicle summed them up the most aptly: “The deceased was a generous and obliging member of the Press, and an upright, kind-hearted citizen. His agreeable manners made him popular with all classes, and he was a worthy representative of the good old school.”
ANQ-Q, État civil, Anglicans, Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Quebec), 27 Dec. 1817, 25 Nov. 1832, 19 Oct. 1842, 16 Jan. 1869. Quebec Daily Mercury, 1805–19, Jan. 1869. Almanach de Québec . . . , 1820, 1852–53. Quebec directory, 1843–69. Antonio Drolet, Les bibliothèques canadiennes, 1604–1960 (Ottawa, 1965). Henri Têtu, Historique des journaux de Québec (2e éd., Québec, 1889).