POWER, MICHAEL JOSEPH, businessman, militia officer, and politician; b. 23 Feb. 1834 in Halifax, son of Michael Power and Anne Lonergan; m. there 20 Nov. 1860 Ann Sophia Kent, and they had three sons and three daughters; d. there 11 Jan. 1895.
Michael Joseph Power, the child of Irish Catholic immigrants, received his early education at the Union Academy in Halifax. He was apprenticed as a printer to John English and Hugh William Blackadar* in the office of the Acadian Recorder. Subsequently he resided in Boston, where he may have worked as a printer or in the grocery trade. By 1858 he had returned to Halifax and opened a retail liquor business; later he is listed as a grocer, a trade he continued for a number of years. In the 1860s and 1870s he was active in several Irish and Catholic associations, including the Charitable Irish Society, of which he was president in 1875, and the St Vincent de Paul Society. He enlisted in the militia on 4 July 1865 and became captain of E company of the 63rd (Halifax Volunteer) Battalion of Rifles on 20 July 1877. By 1891 he held a contract to supply land transportation for the British garrison, operating a livery stable on his Buckingham Street property.
Power is best remembered for his involvement in municipal and provincial politics. On 1 Oct. 1872 he was elected alderman for the largely Irish working-class Ward 4, and three years later he was re-elected by acclamation for a second term. During his six years on city council, he participated in a number of civic reforms. From 1874 to 1875 Power was chairman of the board of works. Under his guidance the board engineered improvements in streets, sewers, and other public works. At various times he also chaired the board of firewards, the board of school commissioners, the commission of the common, the police committee, the fire alarm telegraph committee, and the committee of hacks and trucks. In 1879, in his report as chairman of the board of firewards, he proudly pointed to newer and more efficient apparatus, fewer fires, and an alarm telegraph system in first-class condition.
Power entered provincial politics in 1878 as one of three Liberal candidates for Halifax County, but he was defeated. However, he won a seat in the decisive Liberal victory of 1882. Re-elected in 1886 and 1890, he lost his seat in the 1894 election, his last political campaign. Although he was not a prominent member of the assembly, he was personally popular and was elected speaker of the house in 1887 and 1891. During his years in the assembly, Power was generally supportive of government bills, particularly when they benefited the city or county of Halifax. His years as a city alderman led him to champion greater efficiency in financial management at the municipal level and improved municipal services. In 1884 he moved a resolution to establish a system of fire-escapes in the city of Halifax. On the most contentious issue of the day, Power joined the faction, which included William Stevens Fielding* and Otto Schwartz Weeks, that desired to take Nova Scotia out of confederation. After he was elected speaker, he took a more neutral position, rarely commenting on controversial questions.
Power died on 11 Jan. 1895 after a lengthy battle with Bright’s disease. Among the many tributes paid to him was one from the Catholic Mutual Benefit Association declaring that he had been “an upright and indefatigable upholder of Catholic interests.” His career serves as an example of the hard-working, second-generation Irishman who had moved easily into the mainstream of Halifax society. Like fellow Catholics Sir John Sparrow David Thompson and Lawrence Geoffrey Power*, he exerted a political influence that both benefited Catholicism in Nova Scotia and led to reforms in the civic and provincial governments.
PANS, Cemeteries, Holy Cross Cemetery (Halifax), burials, 1895 (mfm.); Churches, St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church (Halifax), baptisms, 1830–70 (mfm.); Halifax City Council, minutes, 1870–78 (mfm.). Halifax, Annual reports of the several departments of the city government . . . (Halifax), 1872–79. A. G. Jones et al., Reasons why electors should vote against the candidates of the dominion government (broadside, Halifax, 1882; copy at PANS). N.S., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1883–95. Acadian Recorder, 24 Nov. 1860, 6 Sept. 1871, 2 Oct. 1875, 1–25 Sept. 1878, 22 Oct. 1879, 1–30 June 1886, 11–17 Jan. 1895. Halifax Evening Reporter and Daily and Tri-weekly Times, 1 Oct. 1872. Halifax Herald, 1–25 Sept. 1878, 1–30 June 1882, 1–30 May 1890, 1–30 March 1894, 12 Jan. 1895. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 1–30 June 1882, 12 Jan. 1895. CPC, 1891. Halifax directory, 1871–95. J. M. Beck, Politics of Nova Scotia (2v., Tantallon, N.S., 1985–89). C. D. Howell, “Repeal, reciprocity and commercial union in Nova Scotia politics, 1886–1887” (ma thesis, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, 1968). T. M. Punch, “The Irish in Halifax, 1836–1871: a study in ethnic assimilation” (ma thesis, Dalhousie Univ., 1977). P. R. Blakeley, “The repeal election of 1886,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 26 (1945): 131–52. “Hon. M. J. Power,” Nova Scotia Pictorial ([Halifax]), March 1936: 29 (copy in PANS, Vertical file, 183, no.16). C. D. Howell, “W. S. Fielding and the repeal elections of 1886 and 1887 in Nova Scotia,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 8 (1978–79), no.2: 28–46.