LAIRD, ALEXANDER, farmer and politician; b. 1830 in New Glasgow, P.E.I., son of Alexander Laird* and Janet Orr; m. first January 1864 Rebecca P. Read (d. 1882) of Lot 25, P.E.I., and they had eight daughters and four sons; m. secondly 1884 Ann Carruthers of North Bedeque, P.E.I., and they had one daughter and three sons; d. 9 Aug. 1896 in Wilmot Valley, P.E.I.
As a young man growing up on his family’s prosperous farm in New Glasgow, Alexander Laird acquired many of the attributes that had made his father a successful farmer and respected politician. The elder Laird had been a liberal in politics, a sometime radical on the Prince Edward Island land question, and a staunch Presbyterian. Having broken ranks with the liberals on the Bible question, he had finished his political career in 1866 as a tory. Two of his sons were to follow him into prominence in public life, Alexander, born in 1830, and David*, born in 1833.
The first 30 years of Alexander Laird’s life were spent in New Glasgow, where he was educated, and in Wilmot Valley, where he acquired lands and established himself as a successful young farmer. The mid 1860s were a watershed for him. His first encounters with public affairs came in his loose association with the efforts of the Tenant League, and in 1864 his marriage to Rebecca Read began a happy relationship which bore 12 children before Rebecca’s premature death in 1882.
In 1867 Laird launched his career as an elected politician, representing the 4th District of Prince County and serving until 1870 in the successive liberal governments of George Coles*, Joseph Hensley, and Robert Poore Haythorne. In 1874 he was elected to the Legislative Council for Prince, 2nd District, and from 1876 to 1878 he was a member of the government of Louis Henry Davies*. He was unsuccessful in the 1882 general election, losing his bid for the assembly in 4th Prince. In 1886 he was re-elected to the Legislative Council, and he was returned again in the general election of 1890. Appointed to the cabinet of Premier Frederick Peters in 1891, he served until his death in 1896.
Laird’s political stance was as solid and consistent as the man himself. His reform liberalism, commitment to the settlement of the land question, opposition to support for denominational schools, scepticism about confederation, and stern Presbyterian expectations of morality in public life all remained constant. Common sense, loyalty, and determination were the characteristics most often ascribed to him by both friends and foes in politics. The 1876 general election, fought on the issue of public grants to denominational schools, was an important example of Laird’s political strength. On this issue he was the most steadfast and effective ally of L. H. Davies in campaigning for public funding of an improved non-denominational school system.
Laird’s political career was balanced by his important role as a farmer and as an advocate for the agricultural community. His own property was one of the finest in the province, “a model of what Island farms can be made,” according to the writer of his obituary in the Patriot. He was the founder and president of the Agricultural Mutual Fire Insurance Company, and a president of the Farmers and Dairymen’s Association. His work as a director of the Prince County exhibition and the Government Stock Farm was also important. He had an interest in journalism, as did his younger brother, David, who founded the Patriot. At the time of his death Alexander Laird was president of the Pioneer, a Summerside newspaper.
By no means least, Laird was a man dedicated to his family. In 1884, two years after the death of his wife Rebecca, he remarried. To the ten surviving children of his first marriage were added four more with his second wife, Ann Carruthers. The last child was born in September 1895, less than a year before Laird’s death.
The final two years of Laird’s life were painful and tragic. An attack by an enraged bull left him crippled both mentally and physically. His passing in August 1896, at age 66, was likely relief for him, though a loss to his community, party, church, and family.
P.E.I., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1867–96; Legislative Council, Debates and proc., 1867–96. Daily Examiner (Charlottetown), 1877–96. Examiner (Charlottetown), 1867–76? Patriot (Charlottetown), 1867–96. Pioneer (Summerside, P.E.I.), 1896. CPC, 1879, 1891. Bolger, P.E.I. and confederation. Canada’s smallest prov. (Bolger). G. A. Leard, Historic Bedeque; the loyalists at work and worship in Prince Edward Island: a history of Bedeque United Church (Bedeque, 1948). I. R. Robertson, “Religion, politics, and education in P.E.I.”