DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


b. 4 Dec. 1867 in Sydney Mines, N.S.


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

POWER, PATRICK, merchant and politician; b. 17 March 1815 at Kilmacthomas, County Waterford (Republic of Ireland), son of Lawrence and Katherine Power; m. in 1840 Ellen Gaul, and they had five sons and three daughters; d. 23 Feb. 1881 at Halifax, N.S.

Patrick Power immigrated to Nova Scotia with his parents in 1823 and received his early education in Halifax and Antigonish. In 1832 he began a retail business in Halifax with a brother-in-law. The partnership was soon dissolved and Power established his own dry goods firm, Patrick Power and Company, which eventually prospered. The firm owned a wharf in Halifax and had vessels of its own engaged in the coastal trade. He became a director of the People’s Bank of Halifax and involved himself in the work of charitable organizations. Throughout the 1840s he supported Joseph Howe* and the Reformers in the struggle for responsible government and in 1848 was appointed a justice of the peace by the first Reform government led by James Boyle Uniacke*. In October 1851 Power was elected a Halifax alderman, an office he held until 1854. He was also a commissioner of the poor asylum from 1857 to 1874 and a prominent member in the Charitable Irish Society.

From 1860 to 1869 Power served as one of the three Roman Catholic members appointed to the Halifax Board of School Commissioners. With Michael Hannan, he was involved in the delicate negotiations between Archbishop Thomas Louis Connolly* and the government of Charles Tupper* over the latter’s 1865 legislation establishing a non-denominational public school system. Connolly feared political control of the schools and only reluctantly accepted the educational reforms in the face of Tupper’s refusal to establish separate, Catholic schools. None the less, schools previously supported by church funds alone would now receive public funding under the jurisdiction of the Council of Public Instruction and an informal arrangement was reached whereby schools with exclusively Catholic teachers and students were allowed to exist throughout Nova Scotia.

As well as his close involvement in the controversial schools question, Power was in the midst of the fray over Nova Scotia’s entry into confederation. As a prominent merchant he saw union with Canada sounding the death knell of Nova Scotia’s important trade with the New England states which had grown under the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. In confederation, he felt, this trade would be sacrificed to the protection of domestic markets for “Upper Canadian” goods. Despite his strong feelings on the subject, he was reluctant to accept a nomination as a candidate for the House of Commons. When, however, the Tupper government offered Power or his son a seat on the Legislative Council of Nova Scotia in return for his agreement not to run, Power was outraged enough to reconsider. He accordingly became a firm supporter of the anti-confederates led by Joseph Howe and William Annand, and was a candidate in Halifax in the federal election of September 1867. Power and his running mate, Alfred Gilpin Jones*, opposed the pro-confederates Stephen Tobin and Steven Shannon, whom Archbishop Connolly had publicly proclaimed as the nominees of Halifax Roman Catholics. Voters in the city itself, more than half of whose population was Catholic, supported the pro-confederate candidates endorsed by the archbishop, but Power and Jones were elected on the basis of wide support in surrounding Halifax county.

For a time Power refused to take his seat in the House of Commons, but following the failure late in 1868 of Howe and Armand to have the British government repeal confederation, Power reluctantly allied himself with the Liberal opposition led by Alexander Mackenzie*. In 1870 Power broke with the Liberals and supported the Treaty of Washington in which Canada conceded access to its inshore fisheries to United States fishermen. Power, who would have preferred a treaty which approximated the expired Reciprocity Treaty of 1854, felt that the treaty as negotiated would at least reopen New England markets to Nova Scotia.

In the 1872 general election Power and Jones were defeated in Halifax by pro-confederate supporters of the government of Sir John A. Macdonald*. In 1874, however, following the resignation of Macdonald’s government, Power and Jones were re-elected. Power’s next four years in the Commons were uneventful; in 1876 he declined Alexander Mackenzie’s offer to replace the ineffectual Thomas Coffin in the cabinet. In 1878 Power was defeated in the Conservative sweep that returned Macdonald to office. Ill since 1877, he withdrew from politics entirely and died in 1881. Although he was at best a reluctant politician, the Halifax Morning Chronicle nevertheless claimed at his death that he had exercised “no small influence in the party councils.” His infrequent participation in debates showed his continuing distrust of confederation, and he was described as “never what is known as a thick and thin supporter of his leaders.”

Power was well respected in the community; his chief contribution to public life was through his active membership in numerous associations and his work on various boards and commissions dealing with education and the welfare of the poor and destitute. In recognition of his charities, Pope Pius IX had created him a knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great in 1870. In his will Power left money for the establishment of a Catholic orphanage and boys’ home in Halifax. His son, Lawrence Geoffrey Power, was a Liberal member of the Senate from 1877 to 1921.

David B. Flemming

PAC, MG 26, A, 116; F, 3–4; RG 31, A1, 1871, Nova Scotia. PANS, RG 7, 66–69. Parliamentary debates, Dominion of Canada . . . (3v., Ottawa, 1870–72), III. Evening Express (Halifax), September 1867. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), February 1881. Novascotian, October 1851. Canadian directory of parl. (J. K. Johnson). CPC, 1876. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1886). Dominion annual register, 1880–81. Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell), II: 357–59. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, Seasoned timbers (2v., Halifax, 1972–74), II. Sister Maura [Mary Power], The Sisters of Charity, Halifax (Toronto, 1956). Thomson, Alexander Mackenzie. Waite, Life and times of confederation. D. B. Flemming, “Archbishop Thomas L. Connolly, godfather of confederation,” CCHA Study Sessions, 37 (1970): 67–84.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

David B. Flemming, “POWER, PATRICK,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/power_patrick_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/power_patrick_11E.html
Author of Article:   David B. Flemming
Title of Article:   POWER, PATRICK
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   December 7, 2023