McBRIDE, EDWARD WILLIAM, businessman, militia officer, printer, and politician; b. 1791 or 1792 in Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Upper Canada, son of Peter McBride and Mary Bradshaw; d. there 3 Sept. 1834.
Edward William McBride’s father, an Irish Protestant, served in a British regiment during the American revolution. Some time after the war he apparently settled with other members of the family in the Niagara region; by the end of the century there were three McBrides, Peter, Edward, and James, listed as freeholders in the town of Niagara. In muster-rolls dating from the War of 1812, Edward William McBride first appears as sergeant and quartermaster of the 3rd York Militia, and later he was promoted ensign in the 1st Regiment of Lincoln Militia. His services during the war were rewarded with land grants in York (Toronto) and Cramahe Township.
After the war McBride worked as an office assistant to king’s printer John Cameron on the York Gazette and in late April 1815, with his employer ill, he began conducting the business himself. Cameron died on 26 November and from 9 December until 3 Feb. 1816 McBride is described on the Gazette’s masthead as the printer of the paper. He next appears in 1818 as an innkeeper at Niagara, where he occupied a “Large House.” That year he was attracted to Robert Gourlay*’s movement for political reform. He was one of about a hundred residents of Niagara who in 1818 supported a petition to the Prince Regent which blamed the Legislative Council for the post-war depression in Upper Canada. McBride’s involvement in politics increased after Gourlay’s banishment in 1819. In 1824 he was elected to the House of Assembly for the new constituency of Niagara as a candidate against “small tyranny and oppression.” His election was part of a wider reform victory in Lincoln County, where four of the five seats were won by reformers.
McBride’s record in the House of Assembly shows him to have been a loyal reformer. He supported the reform position on the clergy reserves, the charter of King’s College, and the alien question. He also voted for resolutions defending those connected with Gourlay’s convention of 1818 and calling for the resignation of the chief justice from the Executive Council. Although not a leading figure in the house, he did sit on committees dealing with the case of Captain John Matthews, the Welland Canal, and the alien question (he was one of two members given the task of drafting an address to the king on this subject).
It was the issue of the Welland Canal that got McBride into difficulty with Andrew Heron, publisher of the Gleaner, and Niagara Newspaper. Heron was devoted to retrenchment and he attacked McBride in the Gleaner for advocating government grants to projects such as the Welland Canal and, in the next breath, for not pressing the cause of a secondary canal to link Niagara with the new waterway. In one case, Heron’s condemnation of McBride was justified. In 1828 McBride served as an arbitrator in a dispute between contractor James Gordon Strobridge and the commissioners of the Burlington Bay Canal and, when the latter refused to abide by the settlement, he attacked them in print. He was particularly incensed that Attorney General John Beverley Robinson*, who had initiated arbitration of the dispute, had agreed to become the lawyer for the commissioners. Though McBride argued that he was motivated by principle and concern for the unpaid labourers employed on the canal, his conduct, as Heron pointed out, was contrary to his role as an arbitrator.
The platform from which McBride attacked the commissioners of the Burlington Bay Canal and the attorney general was the Niagara Herald. McBride and another friend of Gourlay, Bartemas Ferguson, had undertaken publication of the paper for John Crooks. A reading of the few tattered issues of the Herald that survive provides an inkling of McBride’s political ideas. In their first issue of 24 Jan. 1828, the publishers asserted “that the Herald is not to be the tool of government nor the dupe of party. Its course shall be emphatically independent, neither courting nor wantonly insulting the powers that be, nor mingling with the scatter-brain’d politics of William Lyon Mackenzie[*].” Independent yes, but hardly non-partisan. The publishers expressed their dissatisfaction with the status quo and, with items such as a biography of the British free-trader William Huskisson, they sought to make reform respectable. With reference to the Burlington Canal episode, McBride wrote in the Herald in June 1828 that “a few more independent Judges, and a free and independent House of Assembly are the only remedies – and then the people of this beautiful Province will have the pleasure of seeing good and wholesome British Laws purely administered, and all this hitherto trifling pettifogging system entirely done away.”
One month later McBride furnished an example of the inequities of justice in Upper Canada. In the 17 July 1828 issue of the Herald he reported to “the Electors of Lincoln” that “measures have been resorted to . . . in order completely to destroy my chance of being elected to the next House of Assembly.” On the order of judge Levius Peters Sherwood*, the local sheriff had arrested McBride as guarantor for an indebted acquaintance who had jumped bail. McBride claimed that the debtor had been recaptured in the United States and that he himself had been summarily imprisoned so that he could not campaign for reelection. In the election that followed he was defeated.
McBride’s defeat in 1828 can be partly credited to the anti-masonic movement. He had been treated by Andrew Heron as the spokesman for Niagara’s freemasons. In 1826 hostility to the order reached fever pitch when Captain William Morgan of Utica, N.Y., was kidnapped and allegedly murdered for revealing the secrets of the order in a book entitled Illustrations of masonry . . . (Batavia, N.Y., 1826). An Albany newspaper reported that Morgan had been brought “blindfolded and tied” by the kidnappers to the house “of M – a member of Parliament” en route to his supposed place of execution. McBride denounced the story as “utterly false” and offered to produce affidavits by himself “as well as that of my family, consisting of three persons” testifying to his innocence. McBride’s denial was ignored and his name continued to appear in anti-masonic literature as a party to the kidnapping and presumed murder.
A damaged reputation and political defeat were augmented by other misfortunes. For two years McBride advertised for payment from his debtors but, in 1827, his land and “elegant two storey Dwelling House” with outbuildings were seized to pay his own creditors. In 1829 a shop from which he sold liquor, dry goods, and lumber was taken over by his brother, a saddler. By that year as well McBride and Ferguson had lost control of the Herald and Ferguson went off to found another newspaper. McBride himself apparently remained in Niagara; he seems to have been a contributor to the local Presbyterian Church, St Andrew’s, in 1830. He died in Niagara on 3 Sept. 1834, at the age of 42.
PAC, RG 1, L3, 339: M11/320; RG 19, E5(a), 3740, claim 16. “Names only but much more,” comp. Janet Carnochan, Niagara Hist. Soc., [Pub.], no.27 (n.d.): 13–17. U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1825–29. Gleaner (Niagara [Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.]), 1817–32. Niagara Herald, 1828–30. York Gazette, 29 April, 9 Sept., 9 Dec. 1815. The anti-masonic almanack, for . . . 1828, comp. Edward Giddins (Rochester, N.Y., 1827). Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology (1967). Chadwick, Ontarian families, 2: 92. DAB (biog. of William Morgan). Death notices of Ont. (Reid), 114. H. J. Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians, 649–50. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). Carnochan, Hist. of Niagara, 123, 231–32. H. V. Nelles, “Loyalism and local power: the district of Niagara, 1792–1837,” OH, 58 (1966): 99–114. W. S. Wallace, “The periodical literature of Upper Canada,” CHR, 12 (1931): 15.