McDONALD, EDMUND MORTIMER, journalist, politician, and civil servant; b. 29 Sept. 1825 at Pictou, N.S., son of George McDonald; d. 25 May 1874 at Halifax, N.S.
Edmund Mortimer McDonald was one of a number of young Maritimers who apprenticed with Joseph Howe on the Novascotian during the early 1840s. In 1847 he purchased the New Glasgow Eastern Chronicle, which he used to further the interests of the Reform party in Pictou County. In 1860 his services to the party were recognized by his appointment as queen’s printer for the province, a position he held until the Tories swept back into power in a provincial election in June 1863.
In November of 1863 McDonald joined with William Garvie to found the Halifax Citizen, a tri-weekly, which, like the Eastern Chronicle, was in the Reform interest. The combination of McDonald’s publishing expertise and Garvie’s satirical pen thrust the Citizen to the fore in the busy newspaper world of Halifax in the 1860s. Generally speaking, the Citizen favoured the idea of a Maritime union; in 1864, however, it opposed the immediate union of all of British North America under the federal system proposed by the Canadians at the Quebec conference. Suspicious of Canadian politicians, McDonald led the Citizen into almost violent opposition to the Quebec resolutions, and it became the first important paper in Nova Scotia to take a stand in opposition to union.
After the initial opposition to confederation was side-stepped by the provincial government, McDonald and Garvie became founding members of the League for the Maritime Provinces (or the Anti-confederation League). In September 1867 McDonald contested the riding of Lunenburg in Canada’s first federal election. He campaigned and was elected as a member of the Nova Scotia party, the political wing of the Anti-confederation League. In the commons he was a leading spokesman for the release of Nova Scotia from the terms of confederation. In the spring of 1868, while Howe was fighting the league’s cause in London, McDonald introduced in the commons a series of resolutions formally demanding the repeal of the British North America Act for Nova Scotia, arguing: “The people of Nova Scotia disliked the Union, not merely because of itself or its financial consequences, but because of the mode in which it was thrust upon them.”
Like Joseph Howe and many others McDonald soon realized the futility of continued opposition to confederation. When Howe negotiated better terms for Nova Scotia in 1869, McDonald was quick to lay down his arms. The Citizen thereafter supported confederation. McDonald also became a supporter of John A. Macdonald*’s government in the House of Commons. In 1872 he achieved his political reward by being named collector of customs for the port of Halifax, a post he filled without incident until his untimely death just two years later. McDonald was married and had one son who predeceased him by about a year.
McDonald possessed a facile pen and a shrewd political sense. His opposition to confederation struck a chord which many Nova Scotian politicians have played successfully since 1867. His turnabout in 1869 reflected his capacity to judge the political consequences of continued opposition to confederation from a small province.
[PANS, Report, 1948, app.C, 35–56 contains two letters from McDonald to William Garvie justifying his political switch in 1868–69. See also: Eastern Chronicle (New Glasgow, N.S.), 1847–60. Halifax Citizen, 1863–69. Obituaries are found in the British Colonist (Halifax), 28 May 1874, and the Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 26 May 1874. The best secondary account of the confederation struggle in Nova Scotia is: K. G. Pryke, “Nova Scotia and confederation, 1864–70,” unpublished phd thesis, Duke University, 1962. d.a.m.]