STREET, JOHN AMBROSE, lawyer, politician, and office-holder; b. 22 Sept. 1795 at Burton, Sunbury County, N.B., of loyalist ancestry, son of Samuel Denny Street* and Abigail Freeman, and brother of George Frederick Street*; m. April 1823 Jane Isabella Hubbard, and they had 11 children; d. 5 May 1865 at Saint John, N.B.
John Ambrose Street was educated at Burton and Fredericton, N.B. He studied law in his father’s office, and was admitted to the bar as an attorney on 22 Feb. 1817 and as a barrister on 4 Oct. 1819. In 1823 Street moved to Newcastle (where he resided until 1845) and that year was appointed registrar of wills and deeds for Northumberland County. For several years he served on Northumberland’s Board of Health. He became one of the county’s leading lawyers and for a number of years represented the interests of Joseph Cunard.
Street had been raised in an atmosphere of political activity: his father had been an mha for York County and a member of the Council from 1819 to 1830. His father-in-law, William Hubbard, had sat as mha for Sunbury County from 1785 to 1792. In 1833, when Cunard resigned as mha for Northumberland County, Street was elected to succeed him, and re-elected in 1834 and 1837. In the latter year he was appointed qc, and in 1840 was appointed clerk of the crown in the Supreme Court. The following year he was a member of a commission with Judge Robert Parker and Edward Barron Chandler* to revise the ordinance of fees and to consider the propriety of introducing new rules of pleading in the Supreme Court.
Street was an aggressive and skilled debater. Sometime before 1842 he quarrelled with Cunard, who subsequently backed Street’s opponent, John Thomas Williston, in the “fighting elections” of 1842–43. Their only issue was whether or not the second mha from Northumberland County should be elected from the north or the south side of the Miramichi River. In the first election, in December 1842, Alexander Rankin*, Cunard’s business rival, who represented the north side, easily won a seat. In the contest for the second seat Street was supported by Rankin and most of the inhabitants of Newcastle and Douglastown, but was defeated by Williston, who was popular in Chatham. Street and his supporters protested in petitions sent to the assembly pointing out irregularities in the election; the assembly unseated Williston and called for new elections in January 1843. Street and Williston then launched inflammatory speaking campaigns. During the elections there were fights in Newcastle and Chatham involving 500 to 1,000 men, with rival groups attempting to keep their opponents from the polls. Street had urged the lieutenant governor, Sir William Colebrooke, to dispatch troops to keep order, and declared his own life to be in danger. Troops were not sent until one man had died as a result of these riots and it was reported that people unconnected with either faction were unable to travel between Newcastle and Chatham in safety. In letters to the Gleaner and Northumberland Schediasma and to Colebrooke, Street blamed the riots on the latter’s failure to act sooner; Colebrooke accused Street of making provocative speeches designed to create disturbances. An inquiry into the riots and the conduct of the local magistrates during the election, carried out by John Allen, John M. Robinson, and William Wright*, was completed in August 1843 and Street was declared elected. Two years later he left Newcastle to reside in Fredericton. However, owing to Rankin’s influence, he continued to represent Northumberland County in the assembly, and was reelected in 1846 and 1850.
For many years a conservative in politics, Street opposed responsible government until it was achieved. He was one of those who in 1845 attacked the administration of King’s College, claiming that instead of providing a liberal education the college taught only “the dead languages.” He voted to amend its charter so as to reduce the influence of the Church of England in the administration of the college [see Edwin Jacob]. In the same year Street unsuccessfully introduced a bill calling for the registration of voters at elections. He also opposed the appointment of Alfred Reade, Governor Colebrooke’s son-in-law, to the office of provincial secretary. Street declared that “the sooner Her Most Gracious Majesty was pleased to recall His Excellency from the Government of the Province, the better for the interests of the Country.” In 1846 he led the attack on Colebrooke’s use of £3,000 of public funds for surveying the crown lands in Madawaska without the assembly’s authorization.
Between 1848 and 1850 Street bitterly criticized the government for its failure to act on Professor James F. W. Johnston*’s report on the agricultural capabilities of the province, John Wilkinson*’s report on the railway from Saint John to Shediac, and Moses Henry Perley’s report on the fisheries; he also criticized its failure to develop the coal fields of the province and to introduce a new school act. It was, therefore, a great surprise when in 1851 Street joined the Executive Council to replace Lemuel Allan Wilmot* as attorney general. Lieutenant Governor Sir Edmund Walker Head had chosen Street to head the government on the advice of John R. Partelow and E. B. Chandler. A skilled debater and new leadership were needed. Street now headed a government composed of many of the men he had recently been attacking.
Street introduced considerable new legislation: a bill for an elected Legislative Council was adopted by the assembly, but rejected by the Legislative Council in 1851; a Municipal Corporation Act was passed in 1852 after many amendments; and bills for the construction of the Saint John-Shediac Railway and the St Andrews and Quebec Railway were passed in 1852. In that year also a school act was passed, and a law reform commission set up, which prepared a three-volume compendium of all unrepealed provincial acts (published in 1854) [see William Boyd Kinnear]. In 1852 Street introduced resolutions in favour of the construction of the Intercolonial Railway by the three Maritime provinces. These were passed in the assembly, but were opposed in Northumberland County and many voters called upon Street to resign. He chose to ignore the protests and his conduct was vindicated by his re-election in 1854.
Since 1851 Street had led the government in defending the method of appointing the chief justice and opposing attempts to reduce judges’ fees and the salaries of office-holders, whom Street believed should be properly compensated for their services. As the spokesman for those resisting changes, he earned the ire of the liberals who were calling for reform. In October 1854 the government was forced to resign following defeat in the assembly – the first time in New Brunswick’s history that such a resignation had occurred [see Charles Fisher*]. Responsible government had come to New Brunswick.
Street continued to sit as a member until his defeat at the polls in 1856. He was nominated again in 1857 but retired before election day. In 1861 and 1865 he unsuccessfully ran for a seat in York County. Before his death in 1865 he had become a supporter of confederation.
N.B. Museum, Street family papers. PANB, J. C. and H. B. Graves, “New Brunswick political biography,” XI, p.80; REX/le/l–g, Manners-Sutton, letterbooks, 1854–58; REX/mi/ex, duplicate minutes, 4, p.29; 5, pp.56, 99–100; REX/pa/Register of appointments and commissions, 1785–1840, p.59; 1840–57, p.3; REX/px, 20, pp.1922–25; 115, p.201; 123, pp.48–59; RLE/S56/Pe/15, 55–60, 115, 140, 222; RLE/S56/re/6 (Report of the committee investigating the north county elections, 24 March 1843); RPS, letterbook, 1842–45, p.359; 1847–50, p.290. Fenety, Political notes and observations, 96, 98–99, 107–8, 123, 128, 135–36, 141–44, 167, 177–78, 186–89, 214, 247, 256–57, 277, 309, 333, 347–48, 364–476. N.B., House of Assembly, Journals, 1851–54; 1868, 58. Gleaner (Chatham, N.B.), 6 May 1865. Head Quarters, 10 May 1865. Hannay, History of N.B., II, 12, 144–45. MacNutt, New Brunswick, 343–44, 354–56, 369.