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DRURY, CHARLES ALFRED, farmer, politician, and office holder; b. 1844 near Barrie, Upper Canada, son of Richard Drury and Elizabeth Bishop; m. first 12 April 1877 Mary Ann Elizabeth Varley (d. 1878) in Barrie, and they had a son, Ernest Charles*; m. secondly 15 May 1889 Isabella Brownlee in Vespra Township, Ont., and they had three daughters; d. 12 Jan. 1905 in Barrie and was buried in Crown Hill, Ont.

Charles Alfred Drury’s grandfather Joseph Drury arrived in Upper Canada from Warwickshire, England, in 1819 with his sons Richard and Thomas and carved out a holding in what became Oro Township in Simcoe County. Within a few years the sons were cultivating adjacent property, in the small farming community near Barrie that would take the name Crown Hill. While engaged in turning their bush farms into respectable slices of Arcadia, they became involved in local politics and initiated a family tradition of public service.

Education was another strong string to the family bow: the well-read Richard held that there should be an “educated man behind the plough handles” on every farm in the province. He founded Crown Hill’s first school and saw to it that his son Charles – one of at least ten children – attended it; before joining his father in farming the family homestead, Charles was next sent to Dr Frederick Gore’s district grammar school in Barrie. This parental stimulus obviously had considerable effect. From 1877 to 1889, as reeve of Oro, Charles consistently sought and obtained a place on Simcoe County Council’s education committee. Known for his forcible way of speaking (when he was aroused his points were accompanied by sledgehammer blows of his fist), Drury put the need of general education for all classes plainly enough: “Education is useful to a man even in digging a ditch.”

Not surprisingly, Drury was a supporter of the Agricultural and Arts Association of Ontario, a forum organized in 1868 to replace the Board of Agriculture of Upper Canada; he was named to its council in 1878 and appointed president in 1882. He was also active on the executive committee of the Dominion Grange and closely monitored the Ontario School of Agriculture and Experimental Farm, founded in Guelph in 1874 [see William Johnston*]. At the same time, he promoted the work of the Farmers’ Institute system and served as a director of the Fruit Growers’ Association of Ontario, an organization that reflected the sophisticated diversification taking place in the province’s agricultural sector in the closing decades of the century.

Though Drury appeared to be the quintessential Ontario farmer, his listeners often detected the family’s Warwickshire ancestry in his slightly accented speech. He never forgot the contributions that Old Country emigrants such as his grandfather and father had made to pioneer farming and how these settlers had fashioned an English kind of permanence and stability in the countryside of Ontario. This was a theme that would often illuminate the speeches of Drury’s own son, who became premier following the electoral triumph of the United Farmers of Ontario in 1919. Among the causes that Charles Drury avidly pushed to entrench community stability and good order was temperance, about which he felt so strongly that he broke with the Anglicanism of his family and embraced Methodism, a creed that emphasized social rejuvenation. In his values and interests, and in his heritage, education, and comparative affluence, he represented a class of progressive yeomen who were considered to be superior to the rank-and-file farmer, a view that suggests that the farming community was not nearly as monolithic as it is often made out to have been.

In politics Drury was a Reformer, critical of the Conservatives’ protectionist National Policy and the reportedly scandalous behaviour of their leader, Sir John A. Macdonald*. In the federal general election of June 1882 he ran in Simcoe North, but was defeated by former Barrie lawyer D’Alton McCarthy*. He promptly bounced back, letting his name stand in the provincial by-election in Simcoe East in October. After he won, his opponents paid the new mpp the compliment of saying he was a worthy victor because he was never content with being a mere mouthpiece for his party’s establishment. In this instance, and again in 1883 when he was re-elected, Drury’s standing in the community and the respect accorded him by all parties for his advocacy of Simcoe County’s interests appeared to put him above the customary rough-and-tumble of provincial politics. All the same, he was unseated in 1885. He handily won the by-election later that year, however, and in the general election of 1886 he was returned again.

Within two years Drury’s growing visibility was rewarded. On 1 May 1888 he was named minister of agriculture in Oliver Mowat’s government, a new portfolio that replaced the non-ministerial post of commissioner of agriculture. The formation of the ministry had long been sought by agrarian activists, who thought that agriculture should enjoy a more commanding voice at the cabinet table, especially since the province’s rural population exceeded its urban dwellers by some three to one. But the appointment was vociferously denounced by the Conservatives as a costly move engineered for Mowat’s political advantage. Whatever such opponents may have said, a leading journal, the Farmers Advocate and Home Magazine, thought that Drury deserved the office, given his dedication to agriculture and his parliamentary skills as a debater and judge of issues.

Drury’s modest aim as minister was to extend his usual methods of functioning: he would mingle as much as possible with practical farmers at exhibitions and Farmers’ Institute meetings and invite the farm press and the best men in the countryside to help when it came time to formulate policy. Among other initiatives, he urged reforms to improve and popularize the agricultural college and farm at Guelph after a ministerial visit in 1888 disclosed their sorry state. One of the recommended changes that were instituted was the introduction of a program leading to the bsc in agriculture.

But for all his apparent dedication to a growing agrarian professionalism, Drury was not always prepared to accept the new order. On one occasion a request from qualified veterinarians that his department penalize the work of so-called natural practitioners was turned down by Drury on the grounds that those amateurs were sometimes more successful in treating livestock than the aggrieved professionals [see Andrew Smith]. On the other hand, he was alive to changes on the rural scene and strongly urged the introduction of potentially profitable crops such as alfalfa. He also called for greater experimentation in the burgeoning dairy industry and for more agricultural representation at such overseas events as the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, held in England in 1886, so that Ontario’s producers could better advertise their prowess and in the process cope with growing international competition.

Drury’s tenure as minister was rudely cut short when he was defeated in the general election of June 1890. Though he was still accepted in some opposition circles as one who did not slavishly toe the party line, in May the Barrie Northern Advance had criticized his parliamentary record and maintained that his association with the reputedly corrupt Mowat had “dimmed the lustre” of his reputation and alienated many of his supporters. The claim was proved right. No Liberal mpp was prepared to step down to make room for the allegedly unpopular Drury. It appears in any case that he had already been eyeing the shrievalty of Simcoe County, and some observers believed that Mowat would confer it upon him, if only as a consolation prize. Instead the position went in 1890 to a party loyalist already promised it, and Drury had to wait until 22 June 1894 for his appointment as county sheriff, his last public office. He worked at his new duties in Barrie until a few days before he lapsed into a diabetic coma and died, early in 1905.

Charles M. Johnston

[Some family information was culled from papers in the possession of members of the Drury family in Barrie, Ont.  c.m.j.]

AO, F 7, MU 955; RG 22, ser.315, no.5123; RG 80-5, nos.1877-009953, 1889-011310. Simcoe County Arch. (Minesing, Ont.), Grace Chappell, interviews with E. C. Drury, 1965; Commission appointing Charles Drury minister of agriculture of the province of Ontario, 1 May 1888. Farmers Advocate and Home Magazine, April 1887; July, December 1888; April 1889. Globe, 13 Jan. 1905: 8. Northern Advance (Barrie), 19 April 1877; 25 May, 26 Oct. 1882; 14 May 1890; 19 Jan. 1905. Canadian album (Cochrane and Hopkins), vol.4. CPG, 1889. E. C. Drury, Farmer premier: memoirs of the Honourable EC. Drury (Toronto and Montreal, 1966). A. F. Hunter, A history of Simcoe County (2v., Barrie, 1909; repr_ 2v. in 1, 1948), 2. C. M. Johnston, EC. Drury: agrarian idealist (Toronto, 1986); “‘A motley crowd’: diversity in the Ontario countryside in the early twentieth century,” Canadian papers in rural history, ed. D. H. Akenson (8v. to date, Gananoque, Ont., 1978–  ), 7: 237–56. M. J. MacLeod, “Agriculture and politics in Ontario since 1867” (phd thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science, Univ. of London, 1962). Ont., Chief Election Officer, Hist. of electoral districts (1960); Dept. of Agriculture, Annual report (Toronto), 1888–89; Statutes, 1888, c.8. A. M. Ross, The college on the hill: a history of the Ontario Agricultural College, 1874–1974 (Vancouver, 1974).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Charles M. Johnston, “DRURY, CHARLES ALFRED,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/drury_charles_alfred_13E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/drury_charles_alfred_13E.html
Author of Article:   Charles M. Johnston
Title of Article:   DRURY, CHARLES ALFRED
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   May 24, 2024