Hector McInnes was raised on the family farm in Pictou County, N.S. A gold-medal graduate of Pictou Academy in 1878, he was hired by Principal Alexander Howard MacKay* to teach mathematics there. He also taught at Sydney Academy before choosing a different career path. In 1885 he began a legal apprenticeship with John Urquhart Ross of Pictou. He entered Dalhousie University in Halifax the same year and received an llb in 1888. Upon joining the Nova Scotia bar on 22 Oct. 1888, he remained with the firm of Meagher, Drysdale, and Newcombe, to which he had transferred his articles, under the supervision of Arthur Drysdale. He was well established in Halifax when, in 1892, he married the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, Charlotte McNeill, who had graduated from Dalhousie with a ba in English and history. A founder in 1895 of the Woman’s Suffrage Association, she would become a leader in community volunteerism.
Over the course of a 49-year career, Hector McInnes developed expertise in the law of such areas as shipping, fisheries, expropriations, insurance, banking, trusts, and corporations. In 1907 he was appointed a kc and became senior partner in his firm, then McInnes, Mellish, Fulton, and Kenny. A recognized courtroom lawyer, he appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain.
Many of his cases were complex, high-profile proceedings. Following the Halifax explosion of 6 Dec. 1917, when the collision of the Mont Blanc and the Imo set in motion events that devastated the city, McInnes and his firm represented the Mont Blanc’s owners in litigation. In 1918 he successfully led the defence of the Dominion Coal Company, which had been charged with manslaughter after a mine explosion in New Waterford had killed 65. This case, through no fault of McInnes’s, marked a low point in the history of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Despite having helped prepare the defence prior to joining the bench, the presiding judge, McInnes’s former partner Humphrey Pickard Wolfgang Mellish, did not recuse himself and directed a verdict of acquittal. In 1921, as part of the transfer of the Grand Trunk Railway to the Canadian National Railways, McInnes and others represented the federal crown in arbitration proceedings to decide the value of GT stock. In 1928 he appeared in the Supreme Court of Canada to argue on behalf of the United Church of Canada for the inclusion within it of St Luke’s Presbyterian congregation at Salt Springs in Pictou County. This case, an exercise in statutory interpretation to determine which of the congregation’s conflicting votes on joining the United Church was valid, was the only church-union dispute to reach the JCPC, in 1930. It supported the finding for the non-concurring Presbyterians.
Though no stranger to the courts, McInnes, like his contemporary Robert Edward Harris, was an example of the corporate lawyer. Such counsel, who formed a new type of legal elite in early-20th-century Canada, were engaged to draft contracts, negotiate, and promote their clients’ interests. McInnes represented prominent firms from the transportation, industrial, and financial sectors, among them Cumberland Railway and Coal, Eastern Trust, and Dominion Iron and Steel. Corporate wizard Lord Beaverbrook [Aitken*] and others retained him on an individual basis. Given this experience, McInnes was a popular choice for corporate boards. He served, for instance, as a vice-president of the Bank of Nova Scotia, president of Eastern Trust, and a director of British Empire Steel, Hollingsworth and Whitney (a timber and pulp firm), and North American Life Assurance.
McInnes combined practice with a leading role in the legal profession. From 1894 to at least 1914 he was a part-time instructor in civil procedure at Dalhousie, the first law graduate to return there to teach. In 1914 he helped establish the Canadian Bar Association, the creation of which he, John Thomas Bulmer*, and others had first attempted in 1896. He maintained an active interest in the CBA and participated in its standing committees. From 1915 to 1917 he served as president of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.
Despite the demands of practice and corporate governance, McInnes found time for political engagement, in support of the Conservative Party. Here too he preferred to make his mark in a counselling capacity. He was an adviser to two prime ministers, Sir Robert Laird Borden and Arthur Meighen*, on Nova Scotian politics, election strategy, and patronage appointments. During the reciprocity election of 1911, which Borden won, McInnes organized the campaign in his province. He relied on good relations with William Dennis, publisher of the Halifax Herald, to secure favourable coverage. From 1916 to 1920 he served as an mla for Halifax County. In the legislature he defended propertied and corporate interests. For instance, in 1919 he attacked as “legalized robbery” a government bill that allowed watercourses to be vested in the province and deemed another bill, meant to end corporate feuding over coal reserves in Cape Breton, a “despotic” threat to private property.
In 1921, allowing loyalty to overcome his reluctance, McInnes ran federally in Halifax. Having “been shot to pieces” by Borden’s Union government in 1917, the party was having difficulty finding candidates, causing McInnes to remark wryly, in a letter to Beaverbrook, that they had selected him “by the process of exhaustion.” His campaign, which cost some $20,000, was unsuccessful, a result he attributed to such factors as residual anger over conscription, unemployment, the high cost of living, and bloc voting by Roman Catholics.
Ensuring his financial well-being was important to McInnes, especially given his “heavy Election bills.” He had declined offers of the federal solicitor generalship, in 1911, and of the lieutenant governorship of Nova Scotia in favour of his more lucrative law practice. As well, he did not believe in using political connections to obtain a judgeship. “Making the bench a reward for political services” he deemed “absolutely foreign” to his feelings. In 1931, however, following the death of Nova Scotia senator Nathaniel Curry, he expressed interest in the seat as recompense for his years of commitment to the Conservative cause. Although he enlisted Borden’s support, Prime Minister Richard Bedford Bennett* awarded the post to Cape Breton physician John Alexander Macdonald.
McInnes devoted a significant portion of his seemingly endless energy to community involvement. During World War I he was a member of the national Military Hospitals Commission. A liberal supporter of Dalhousie and its students, he served its board of governors in several capacities for over four decades. In 1932 he would replace as chairman George Frederick Pearson, who resigned following an unsuccessful attempt to unseat President Carleton Wellesley Stanley. Elsewhere in the city, McInnes sat on the board of the Halifax School for the Blind [see Sir Charles Frederick Fraser*] and in 1901–2 he was president of another charity, the North British Society. Around 1912 McInnes, who enjoyed gardening, was a commissioner and secretary of Point Pleasant Park. In religion, this one-time Presbyterian was a regional leader in the creation of the United Church [see Clarence Dunlop Mackinnon] and he advised its Maritime Conference on legal matters. Although many benefited from his generosity, he avoided publicity over his charitable work.
Renowned for his diligence, McInnes worked well into his seventies. In characteristic fashion he was at his Bedford Row office until 6:00
Reported court cases involving Hector McInnes have been identified by the author and a list is in the McInnes file at the DCB office.
DUA, MS-2-446 (Hector McInnes fonds). LAC, R6113-0-X; R11336-0-7; R14423-0-6. NSA, MG 1, vol.1190 (Hector McInnes papers); RG 39, M, 15 (bar admission case files), no.7. Halifax Chronicle, 21 June 1937. Halifax Daily Star, 21 June 1937. Halifax Herald, 21 June 1937. Halifax Mail, 19 June 1937. Barry Cahill, The thousandth man: a biography of James McGregor Stewart (Toronto, 2000). Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). CPG, 1918. [Harry Flemming], A century plus: McInnes Cooper and Robertson ([Halifax], 1989). The Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia (Elliott; 1984). B. E. P[aterson], “Hector McInnes, k.c.,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll. (Halifax), 24 (1938): xiii–xv. L. G. (Bud) White, Pictou Academy gold medallists, including biographical sketches of one hundred eleven recipients and other brief notes (Pictou, N.S., 1985).