DeBLOIS, GEORGE WASTIE, businessman, land agent, and politician; b. 12 July 1824 at Halifax, N.S., eldest son of Stephen Wastie DeBlois*; d. 14 Aug. 1886 in Charlottetown Royalty, P.E.I.
Little is known of the early life of George Wastie DeBlois. He is thought to have worked for his father, a prosperous Halifax merchant, from whom he received an inheritance of approximately £3,000 upon the latter’s death in 1844. DeBlois moved to Charlottetown in May 1847 and in August of that year married Sarah Frances, daughter of Thomas Heath Haviland* Sr; they were to have 13 children. Since the DeBlois family and that of Samuel Cunard* were friends and business associates in Halifax, it is not surprising that George DeBlois became land agent for the extensive Cunard holdings in Prince Edward Island in 1853, continuing in that capacity until the estate was purchased by the Island government of James Colledge Pope in July 1866. He was also agent for Lawrence Sullivan and Lady Cecilia Georgiana Fane, and was thus responsible for estates totalling more than one-quarter of a million acres. At a time when land agents generally were unpopular, DeBlois enjoyed a reputation for fairness and humanity; it was said that he gave the “utmost possible satisfaction to his clients without unduly harassing the tenantry.” His career as land agent ended in 1875 when the large estates were purchased with funds supplied by the federal government under the 1873 terms of the Island’s entry into confederation. He continued his business agencies for insurance and coal and was a director of the Charlottetown Gas Light Company; for many years he served as a justice of the peace for Charlottetown and as lieutenant-colonel of the 6th Regiment of Queens County militia, and he was a trustee of Prince of Wales College in 1877 and 1878.
A firm adherent of the Church of England, DeBlois was intensely interested in the debate on education which frequently disturbed the provincial political scene. In 1876 a legislative committee chaired by Louis Henry Davies* submitted a report making it clear that the Island’s educational system was in a deplorable state. The election held in August of that year was fought on the education issue, but not on the usual party or religious lines. There were alignments of those who favoured government assistance to denominational schools, known as the “Denominationalists” or “Sectarian School Party,” and those opposed to public funding of denominational schools, referred to as the “Free Schoolers” or the “Non-Sectarian School Party.” Although all Catholics generally supported the Denominationalists, not all Protestants supported the Free Schoolers. The town ridings were considered crucial to the outcome of the election, and DeBlois and Davies were chosen to contest the Charlottetown seats for the Free Schoolers. The incongruity of this duo running together demonstrated the intensity of the feeling over the school question. Davies, a Liberal, was the lawyer who had represented the interests of the tenants at the land commission proceedings in 1875. DeBlois, a life-long Conservative, was the land agent who contested the compensation awarded to proprietor Charlotte Sulivan under the Land Purchase Act of 1875. Thus DeBlois was running with a former adversary and against a friend and fellow Conservative, James Colledge Pope. The campaign was long and bitter. Davies and DeBlois were victorious in Charlottetown and the Free Schoolers won 19 of 30 seats. Davies headed the coalition government and appointed DeBlois provincial secretary and treasurer.
Davies soon after antagonized the Conservative members of his coalition government by campaigning on behalf of the Liberal candidate in the November 1876 federal by-election in Queens County. DeBlois was needled by the Examiner into declaring his support for J. C. Pope, the Conservative candidate. As soon as the assembly met in 1877, the leader of the opposition, William Wilfred Sullivan*, attempted to widen the rift between Davies and DeBlois by emphasizing the past differences of opinion among the members of the current coalition. Once the Public Schools Act was passed in 1877, there was no longer any unifying purpose to hold the coalition together and on 20 Aug. 1878 DeBlois and three other Conservatives resigned their seats in the Executive Council, citing Davies’ campaigning in the federal by-election as the reason. Shortly after the house was called into session in 1879, Davies was defeated on a want of confidence motion, DeBlois voting with the other Conservatives to bring Davies down. W. W. Sullivan formed the new government in March 1879 and called for dissolution and an election in April. DeBlois was once again a candidate in Charlottetown and won on a straight party ticket, with the Conservatives taking 26 of 30 seats. Having been single-minded on the education question, DeBlois had little reason to expect that the Catholic Sullivan would reward him with a seat on the Executive Council. He remained a back-bencher throughout the remainder of his brief political career and did not run in the election of 1882.
DeBlois was not a politician at heart, having been persuaded to enter the political arena only because of his interest in the school question, and he was better known as a Tory businessman. He was generally conceded to be a man of integrity.
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), no.113, will of S. W. DeBlois (mfm. at PANS). PAPEI, RG 16, Land registry records, Conveyance registers, liber 66: ff.86, 112. St George’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Parish records (mfm. at PANS). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Charlottetown), Marriage registers, 26 Aug. 1847 (mfm. at PAPEI). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Parish records (mfm. at PANS). Abstract of the proceedings before the Land Commissioners’ Court, held during the summer of 1860, to inquire into the differences relative to the rights of landowners and tenants in Prince Edward Island, reporters J. D. Gordon and David Laird (Charlottetown, 1862). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1877–82. Report of proceedings before the commissioners appointed under the provisions of “The Land Purchase Act, 1875,” reporter P. S. MacGowan (Charlottetown, 1875). Examiner, May–August 1876; March–April 1879. Islander, May–August 1876; March–April 1879. Patriot (Charlottetown), May–August 1876; March–April 1879. Canadian biog. dict., II. Directory of N.S. MLAs. The Prince Edward Island almanack . . . (Charlottetown), 1853–54, 1868–69, 1871, 1875, 1877, 1881, 1884–86. The Prince Edward Island calendar . . . (Charlottetown), 1862–63, 1865–66, 1870. Prince Edward Island directory . . . (Charlottetown), 1864. A. H. Clark, Three centuries and the Island, a historical geography of settlement and agriculture in Prince Edward Island, Canada (Toronto, 1959). Robertson, “Religion, politics and education in P.E.I.” A. W. H. Eaton, “Old Boston families; the Deblois family,” New England Hist. and Geneal. Register (Boston), 57 (1913): 16–20.