HOLMES, JOHN, politician; b. March 1789 in Ross-shire, Scotland, son of John Holmes and Christy Monroe; d. 3 June 1876 at Springville, N.S. John Holmes married Christina Fraser in 1814; they had several children including Simon Hugh Holmes*, premier of Nova Scotia from 1878 to 1882.
In 1803 John Holmes and his parents migrated from Scotland to a farm in the East River area of Pictou County. The family became prominent as leaders in the religious life of the developing community; John Holmes Sr organized a congregation of Church of Scotland adherents, and his son later served for 50 years as a Kirk elder. By 1836 the younger Holmes was an officer in the Pictou militia and a justice of the peace. Maturing in a society torn by sectarian rivalries, Holmes took the side of the Church of Scotland, which was continually being challenged from within by a group of stern Calvinists (commonly known as Antiburghers) led by Thomas McCulloch*. In the early 19th century, Pictou’s politics were, indeed, essentially an extension of the county’s religious quarrels. In 1836 the Kirk Council named John Holmes as a candidate for election to the assembly, and, after complicated manoeuvring, secured his return by acclamation.
Within the new assembly Holmes soon emerged as an opponent of Joseph Howe’s reform movement. Holmes’ Toryism predictably had its roots in sectarian antagonisms: the Church of Scotland was an integral part of the Nova Scotian oligarchy and Kirkmen identified reform with the activities of the Antiburghers. This attitude on Holmes’ part was reinforced during the brief coalition government of 1840–43 when Howe was able to influence the distribution of patronage in favour of his Antiburgher allies. Understandably, Holmes’ attacks on reform increased until at one point Howe was provoked to describe him as a “political Rip Van Winkle” who had slept so long in the Sleepy Hollow of reaction as to be ignorant of the new world taking shape around him.
After the collapse of the coalition Holmes aligned himself with the attorney general, James W. Johnston. Holmes lost his assembly seat in the 1847 provincial election, but was returned as member for Pictou in 1851 when disputes over railway policy had weakened his Liberal opponents. In the 1850s Holmes concentrated his efforts on the economic development of his constituency and urged the construction of an Atlantic seaboard railway which would pass through Pictou county. Holmes’ identification with the business community proved politically costly, however. His close relations with the General Mining Association, an English corporation with monopolistic control over local coal deposits, helped secure his defeat in the 1855 general election.
After a mass defection of Roman Catholics from the Liberals restored the Conservatives to power in 1858, J. W. Johnston rewarded Holmes with a seat in the Legislative Council (1858). Holmes’ loyalty to Charles Tupper* through the crisis over confederation resulted in his appointment to the first dominion Senate. Age had drained Holmes’ energies by then and he contributed little to the federal scene. His death concluded a long political career which reflected faithfully the ideals of Nova Scotia’s Conservative tradition.
Belcher’s farmer’s almanack, for . . . 1837 (Halifax, ). Acadian Recorder (Halifax), 1858–67. British Colonist (Halifax), 1866. Colonial Standard (Pictou, N.S.) 1876. Eastern Chronicle (New Glasgow, N.S.), 1843–55. Novascotian (Halifax), 1837–67. Pictou Bee, 1836–37. Pictou Observer, 1840. Directory of N.S. MLAs (Fergusson), 162. J. M. Cameron, Political Pictonians; the men of the Legislative Council, Senate, House of Commons, House of Assembly, 1767–1967 (Ottawa, ). George Patterson, Studies in Nova Scotian history (Halifax, 1940). G. G. Patterson, A history of the county of Pictou, Nova Scotia (Montreal, Pictou, Halifax, Saint John, N.B., and Toronto, 1877). H. L. Scammell, “The rise and fall of a college,” Dal. Rev., XXXII (1952–53), 35–44.