GARVIE, WILLIAM, journalist, scholar, and lawyer; b. in the West Indies in 1837, son of John Garvie, came to Halifax, N.S., with his Scottish parents; d. at Hyères, France, 15 Dec. 1872.
Garvie was probably educated at King’s College, Windsor, Nova Scotia, and at the University of Edinburgh. His initial training was in classics, and upon his return to Halifax from Scotland he became a private tutor at the newly revived Dalhousie College. Garvie’s interests soon took a different turn; he was one of those rare spirits endowed with intelligence, humour, and sensitivity, from whom the role of tutor never required, nor commanded, his full energies. In 1863, with Edmund M. McDonald, he founded the Halifax Citizen, a tri-weekly newspaper.
Halifax at that time had a constellation of able newspapers and editors, but even among these the Citizen was conspicuous. It came into its own in 1864 with confederation, an issue which first appeared upon Nova Scotia’s horizon in July 1864. The Citizen’s editorials (probably Garvie’s) against the federal principle were the paper’s main weapon in opposing the Quebec resolutions, and were used with considerable effect in November and December 1864. Even more effective was Garvie’s famous satire, Barney Rooney’s letters on confederation, botheration and political transmogrification. Like all satire, Barney Rooney’s letters have an evanescent quality, much depending on personal knowledge that only contemporaries could have. But the Letters make lively reading even now as can be seen in the following attack on Charles Tupper* and Jonathan McCully:
“‘Sir,’ sez Tupper, as he dried the bottom iv his tumbler, and held it handy to D’Arcy’s ladle, ‘the well understood wishes iv the people are so notoriously in favor iv this scheme that it would be a reckless and infamous policy to put them to the trouble of expressing themselves in a special vote upon it. . . . My dear McCully, I am sure you will agree with me . . .’
“‘My dear Tupper,’ sez McCully, ‘yes – no – that is, I mean yes, – or rather no; but I want to see you privately about it . . .’”
In 1866 Garvie gave up his interest in the Citizen, and, at the age of 29, went to Lincoln’s Inn to study law. He won a first prize and an exhibition in constitutional and legal history which he held 1868–70, and was called to the bar in Lincoln’s Inn in 1869. He was still a strong anti-confederate, and while in England supported with all his energy the Nova Scotian anti-confederate missions to London in 1866, 1867, and 1868.
He returned to Nova Scotia in 1870 to establish a legal practice in Halifax, and in 1871 was appointed to the Executive Council of the province as commissioner of public works and mines. He was returned for Halifax County in the provincial election of May 1871. When the new assembly opened, 22 Feb. 1872, Garvie was too ill to attend, but an attack on the government in the house brought him from his bed despite the expostulations of friends. There he made an impassioned and powerful speech in support of the government on 24 Feb. 1872. It was the first and last day he was ever in the house. Already ill with consumption, a disease that had struck down three others of his family, he went to the south of France later in 1872 in the vain hope of arresting the disease. He died at Hyères, 15 Dec. 1872. “Everyone who stood in the presence of William Garvie,” wrote the Acadian Recorder, “felt the power of the man.” The Morning Chronicle added, “Nil tetigit quod non ornavit.”
PANS Report, 1948, app.C, 35–56. Acadian Recorder (Halifax), 16 Dec. 1872. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 17 Dec. 1872. Benjamin Russell, “Reminiscences of a legislature,” Dal. Rev., III (1923–24), 5–16. M. J. Shannon, “Two forgotten patriots,” Dal. Rev., XIV (1934–35), 85–98.