WALKER, THOMAS, advocate and politician; b. c. 1759; m. first 6 Nov. 1782 Jane Finlay in Montreal, Que.; m. secondly 30 Oct. 1797 in Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville), Lower Canada, Anna Louisa Vial de Sainbel, widow of Charles Vial de Sainbel, and they had at least one child, Louisa Nash; d. January 1812 in William Henry (Sorel), Lower Canada.
The first record of Thomas Walker places him in Montreal in June 1778. After serving as clerk of the Court of Common Pleas for that district during the next year, he was admitted to the bar on 9 Oct. 1780. He subsequently moved to Quebec, where in June 1783 he was employed by the trustees of Thompson and Shaw, merchants. This partnership had gone into bankruptcy, its assets being assigned to the firm of Fraser and Young [see John Young], and Walker acted in the several suits brought before the Court of Common Pleas for the recovery of sums and merchandise. His experience with that court lends some authority, and perhaps a hint of personal vexation, to his testimony on 2 Aug. 1787 before Chief Justice William Smith*’s inquiry into the administration of justice in Quebec [see Arthur Davidson].
Walker’s chief complaint was that the laws and practices followed by the Court of Common Pleas were too uncertain. He was not so concerned about its inclination to disregard the English legal system; on the contrary, he actually advocated a fuller recognition of French mercantile laws and more reliance on the French civil code in the determination of costs. The root of the trouble lay, rather, in the judges. They seldom explained the legal grounds of their decisions; their failure to ensure that the records of the court were kept in order added to the incertitude; their habitual procrastination made denials of justice “very frequent and very prejudicial”; their flagrant use of “grace and favour” raised doubts about their impartiality; and all this, together with what was either a “want of professional knowledge” or “gross neglect and inattention,” produced “a State of disorder, confusion and uncertainty in points of rules of Law and practice, out of which it was highly necessary we should be extricated.” With regard to the judges themselves, the irregular behaviour of John Fraser had clearly distorted the decision of the court in at least two cases; Adam Mabane*’s “great intimacy with and favor for others at the Bar, was very injurious to the rest, and particularly to me”; Pierre Panet was “allways ready to join in the measures and desires of Mr. Mabane on the Bench”; and as for René-Ovide Hertel* de Rouville, “I never considered an Englishman and Canadian had an equal chance before him.”
Soon after giving this testimony, Walker returned to Montreal, where he established a private practice. His career as a lawyer thereafter does not seem to have been particularly distinguished, and only two records of legal business have been found: in February 1794 he offered his services to Johannes Ruyter, known as John Ruiter, who was Thomas Dunn’s business agent for the seigneury of Saint-Armand, and in June of the same year he acted as attorney for the London administrator who was managing the estate of the fur trader Germain Maugenest* and his heir. Still, Walker evidently enjoyed the social life of Montreal, joining both the Protestant Congregation, an Anglican body, and the local branch of the Agriculture Society. Indeed, according to the British officer George Thomas Landmann*, while undoubtedly “a very clever lawyer,” he was “more attached to the pleasures of good dinners and to merry companions than to the dry occupations of his profession” – which might account for his recurrent indebtedness.
Walker also seems to have rather petered out as a politician. Elected in July 1800 as member of the House of Assembly for Montreal County, a constituency that his brother James had represented from 1792 to 1796, he retained his seat till 1804. However, he was absent for most of the second and third sessions, as well as all of the fourth, and his name figures in the Journals for this period in connection with only three measures, all of which he supported: the expulsion of Charles-Jean-Baptiste Bouc*, who had been convicted of a crime; the continuation of the statute providing for returning officers; and the reduction of the quorum required for assembly meetings.
In contrast, Walker was positively diligent during his initial session, when he helped to frame legislation dealing with the civil courts, trials by jury in commercial actions, witnesses in civil suits, wills and testaments, copartnerships, deserting seamen, the salaries of translators in the assembly, customs duties between Lower and Upper Canada, the Montreal water supply, and the removal of the walls and fortifications surrounding that city. He also played a part in three developments that entailed fundamental questions of principle concerning the appropriation of taxation, parliamentary privilege, and educational policy.
It is not clear, however, whether Walker appreciated the significance of those developments – and extremely doubtful whether he would have supported some of the principles that might be read into them. Thus although the tax he initiated on billiard tables licensed for hire did enable the assembly to appropriate the proceeds, there is no indication that he was anxious to increase the influence of the legislature, let alone that he was anticipating the struggle for responsible government. Similarly, there is nothing to suggest that his attitude in the Bouc affair, which had got under way in March of 1800, was dictated by a wish to bolster the constitutional position of the assembly by invoking the privileges of the House of Commons at Westminster. Indeed, Walker might well have been primarily intent in both these instances on providing support for the government.
This suspicion as to his motives, and underlying affiliation, is strengthened if not confirmed by his behaviour over the Education Act of 1801. Essentially an anglicizing measure, as evidenced by its promotion of English-language teaching and creation of a preponderantly Protestant school board, this statute nevertheless enabled the creation of an educational system more in keeping with Roman Catholic, and Canadian, interests by permitting the existence of separate schools. In his endeavours to get this permission revoked, Walker seem to have shown his true colours. Whatever the reasons for his having endorsed the application of some French laws in 1787, by 1801 he had apparently become a partisan of that English party which was working hand in glove with government to promote the anglicization of Lower Canada.
PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 29: 542–79; MG 23, GIII, 3, vol.1: 61–65; MG 24, B1, 190: 5033; MG 30, D1, 30: 560–63, 566; RG 4, A1: 24878–81; B17, 18, 9 May 1800; 23, 10 March, 9 May 1804; 25, 5 April 1805. Bas-Canada, chambre d’Assemblée, Journaux, 1801–4. Docs. relating to constitutional hist., 1791–1818 (Doughty and McArthur; 1914). Landmann, Adventures and recollections, 2: 62–64. Quebec Gazette, 16 July 1778; 5 June, 9 Oct. 1783; 21 Oct. 1784; 16 July 1789; 10 July 1794; 24 July 1800; 9 Jan. 1812. F.-J. Audet, Les députés de Montréal, 356. L.-P. Audet, “Attempts to develop a school system for Lower Canada, 1760–1840,” Canadian education; a history, ed. J. D. Wilson et al. (Scarborough, Ont., 1970), 145–66; Le système scolaire, vol.3. T.-P. Bédard, Histoire de cinquante ans (1791–1841), annales parlementaires et politiques du Bas-Canada, depuis la Constitution jusqu’à l’Union (Québec, 1869). Christie, Hist. of L.C. Duncan McArthur, “Constitutional history, 1763–1840,” Canada and its prov. (Shortt and Doughty), 4: 439–503. Manning, Revolt of French Canada. Robert Rumilly, Histoire de Montréal (5v., Montréal, 1970–74), 2. F.-J. Audet et Édouard Fabre Surveyer, “James Walker,” La Presse (Montréal), 19 nov. 1927: 67.