DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

CALVIN, DILENO DEXTER – Volume XI (1881-1890)

d. 18 May 1884 at Garden Island, Ont.


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

ROSS, DUNBAR, lawyer and politician; b. c. 1800 in the British Isles; d. 16 May 1865 at Quebec City.

Dunbar Ross immigrated to Canada while still a youth. He was called to the bar of Lower Canada on 2 Feb. 1834 and practised law in Quebec; in 1853 he was appointed a queen’s counsel. In November 1843, when there was discontent over the selection of Montreal as capital of the united province, Ross wrote an essay entitled The seat of government which pressed Quebec’s claims. The essay was considered at that time a model of its genre in literature. In 1844, under the pseudonym Zeno, Ross published another widely read pamphlet, The “crise” Metcalfe and the LaFontaine-Baldwin cabinet defended, in which he whole-heartedly supported the decision of the ministry of Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine and Robert Baldwin* to resign in December 1843 in protest against the policies of Governor Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe*. He accused Metcalfe of not consulting with the Executive Council in several official appointments and of usurping the council’s power of patronage. The two issues, according to Ross, justified the resignation of the ministry. In the conclusion of his pamphlet, he asked the members of the house to study the constitutionality of Metcalfe’s actions and to take action that would prevent the recurrence of similar acts by governors. His literary activity had the effect of bringing him quickly to the attention of both the Canadian public and the government.

Ross, a Reformer, made his direct entry into politics on 1 May 1850 by successfully contesting the riding of Mégantic recently vacated by the resignation of Dominick Daly. Ross continued to represent Mégantic in the Legislative Assembly until 6 Nov. 1851 when he was defeated by Conservative John Greaves Clapham. He contested the result but Clapham’s election was upheld. In 1851 Peter Boyle De Blaquière*, a legislative councillor and chancellor of the University of Toronto, remarked in a letter to Lord Elgin [Bruce] that he would have liked to see Ross chosen as solicitor general for Canada West. The Reform government of Francis Hincks* and Augustin-Norbert Morin recognized Ross’ talents by appointing him solicitor general for Canada East on 31 Aug. 1853 though he was not at that time in the assembly. In 1854 Ross was again returned to the assembly, this time for Beauce County, defeating F.-S.-A. Bélanger. He continued to hold the post of solicitor general in the ministries formed by Allan Napier MacNab and Morin (1854–55), MacNab and Étienne-Paschal Taché (1855–56), and then Taché and John Alexander Macdonald* (1856–57). The separate schools, seat of government, and double majority questions were all brought up during this period, and Ross republished his essay as The seat of government of Canada in 1856, adding to it material on “the Composition and Functions of the Legislative Council, and the ‘Double Majority’ Question.” During his tenure as solicitor general Ross personally administered the crown’s business, carrying out his duties with meticulous concern for the gathering of all necessary data. Although his manner was overbearing and somewhat brusque, he had a reputation for leniency and mercy in matters relating to criminal justice.

In 1857 Ross refused an appointment as judge of the district of Gaspé, and in 1858 he was re-elected for Beauce County. Increasingly bad health after 1860, however, made him unable to participate fully in either his political or his professional duties. He consequently retained his seat in the house only until 10 June 1861. Ross was residing in Quebec when he died on 16 May 1865 after suffering for five years from paralysis.

Ross, of whose personal background little is known, had been successful in establishing himself securely in professional and political circles. He was a member of Conservative-led governments, but he never veered from his early Reform principles. Dunbar Ross was remembered for his literary talent, political sense, and public spirit, and for his straightforwardness and sense of justice.

Irene Bilas

Dunbar Ross, The seat of government (Quebec, 1843; 2nd ed., 1856; a French translation, Le siège du gouvernement provincial was published at Quebec in 1858); Zeno [Dunbar Ross], The “crise” Metcalfe and the Lafontaine-Baldwin cabinet defended; letter of Zeno to the Legislative Assembly of Canada (Quebec, 1844).

Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada, III. Le Journal de Québec, 17 mai 1865. Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 17 May 1865. Pilot (Montreal), 7 Aug. 1850. Quebec Daily Mercury, 17 May 1865. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis. Political appointments, 1841–65 (J.-O. Coté). P.-G. Roy, Les avocats de la région de Québec, 383. Chapais, Hist. du Canada, V. Cornell, Alignment of political groups. Dent, Last forty years, II, 278–79. “Les disparus,” BRH, XXXV (1929), 178. “L’honorable Dunbar Ross,” BRH, XLII (1936), 89.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Irene Bilas, “ROSS, DUNBAR,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ross_dunbar_9E.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/ross_dunbar_9E.html
Author of Article:   Irene Bilas
Title of Article:   ROSS, DUNBAR
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   May 18, 2024