MacKAY, WILLIAM, physician and politician; b. 11 Sept. 1847 in Earltown, N.S., son of John MacKay and Dolina MacKay; m. there 10 Nov. 1875 Catherine Campbell Sutherland, and they had three children, one of whom became a physician; d. 8 Nov. 1915 in Reserve Mines, N.S.
William MacKay’s father was a pioneer settler at Earltown, having arrived in the 1820s from Sutherlandshire, Scotland. He erected the first grist mill in Earltown and was known for his kindness and hospitality. William obtained his early schooling in Truro and then studied medicine at Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York, where he obtained his md on 10 Nov. 1873. After his graduation he practised with his brother, Daniel G. MacKay, at Little Glace Bay (Glace Bay), Cape Breton Island, but in May 1874 he was appointed resident physician to three local collieries, Lorway, Emery, and Reserve. Five years later he received the same appointment to the Little Glace Bay, Caledonia [see David MacKeen], and Ontario collieries. During this period MacKay was instrumental in organizing and perfecting a system of quarantine of infectious and contagious diseases for the mining districts, and it worked so satisfactorily that the municipal council caused it to be applied to all Cape Breton County. He was also very active in medical societies, serving as president of the Cape Breton Medical Society on two occasions and president of the Medical Society of Nova Scotia during 1887 and 1888. He was as well a member of the Provincial Medical Board.
Besides contributing to the introduction of preventative measures to ensure the health of miners, MacKay was, with Edward Farrell*, responsible for writing what became the Public Health Act of 1888. The first of its kind in Nova Scotia, the act aimed to prevent the spread of infectious or contagious diseases by setting up local boards of health and establishing quarantine and sanitary regulations. MacKay had introduced the bill in the House of Assembly. He had been returned as a Conservative in 1886 for Cape Breton County, and at the first sitting of the legislature after the election he had been appointed leader of the eight-member opposition. Except for the part he played in introducing the act, however, his performance in the house was, according to author J. M. Beck, mediocre and somewhat disappointing. Although “sincere, conscientious,” he was inexperienced, incapable of mastering detail, and unable to ‘“go for the jugular,’” and as a result the session of 1887 was “largely devoid of party politics.” MacKay also did not fare very well with the Halifax Morning Chronicle. For example, in 1889 it described him as having “no aptitude for politics and no judgment whatever.” He was, however, supported by the Halifax Morning Herald; according to Beck, its editor, John James Stewart*, and other writers provided in their editorials “most of the substance of Conservative speeches in the legislature.” In the 1890 election MacKay was unsuccessful in campaigning against what he called the calamitous financial mismanagement of the government of William Stevens Fielding, and the Conservatives returned only 10 of 38 members. MacKay lost his seat and left the party without a leader.
MacKay was, however, re-elected in 1894 and was again appointed leader of the opposition in the assembly. He and his chief lieutenant, Charles Elliott Tanner, continued to argue that much of the provincial debt run up by the Liberals had been unnecessary and that the government was mismanaging the financial affairs of the province. But the Conservatives’ performance was so mediocre that in the 1897 election only three were returned, and MacKay was not one of them. He ran unsuccessfully in Cape Breton South in the federal election of 1904 and was called to the Senate on 20 Nov. 1912.
PANS, MG 1, 705. Halifax Herald, 9 Nov. 1915. Academy of Medicine, The map of the history of medicine of Canada; commemorating the diamond jubilee of the Academy of Medicine, Toronto, and the centennial of confederation of Canada; painted by Charles F. Comfort, r.c.a. ([Toronto], 1967). David Allison and C. E. Tuck, History of Nova Scotia (3v., Halifax, 1916), 3. J. M. Beck, Politics of Nova Scotia (2v., Tantallon, N.S., 1985–88), 1. Canadian album (Cochrane and Hopkins), 4: 515. Canadian annual rev. (Hopkins), 1915. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). Canadian Medical Assoc., Journal (Toronto), 5 (1915): 1111. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.2. Legislative Assembly of N.S. (Elliott). Nova Scotia Medical Bull. (Halifax), 3 (1924), no.4: 10.