WALKER, WILLIAM, lawyer, militia officer, newspaper editor, and politician; b. 8 Aug. 1797, probably at Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada, son of William Walker, a merchant; d. 8 April 1844 in Montreal.
William Walker began legal studies in 1812, articling first with Michael O’Sullivan of Montreal and then with Charles Richard Ogden* of Trois-Rivières. Called to the bar of Lower Canada on 6 April 1819, he became “one of [its] most distinguished members,” according to Montreal lawyer and author Arthur William Patrick Buchanan, as well as a linguist, scholar, and great orator. A man of small stature, he walked with a limp owing to a duel over “an affair of honour” with a fellow lawyer, Campbell Sweeney, in which his leg was shattered between the ankle and the knee. Walker was one of the original members of The Brothers In Law, a social organization for Montreal lawyers. He was also an ensign in the 6th Battalion of Montreal County militia and a member of St Paul’s Church (Presbyterian).
Described by John Macaulay* as “a clever lawyer, who is said by some to have an eye to office,” Walker came to public prominence in 1822–23 during the debate on the proposed union of the Canadas, a measure he advocated to improve commerce in the colonies. To expand Montreal’s own commercial facilities, he and some of the town’s most prominent businessmen lent money in 1831 for the New Market. Three years later he and John Donellan contested Montreal West on behalf of the merchant party against Louis-Joseph Papineau* and Robert Nelson*, a riotous election which his adversaries won by only 40 votes. Stung by the close defeat, Walker, Donellan, and their supporters met soon afterwards to protest alleged electoral irregularities and they formed a permanent pressure group, the Loyal and Constitutional Association. In April 1835 Walker was chosen by the Montreal branch of the association to accompany John Neilson, the representative of the Quebec branch, to London, there to plead for reforms in the political system. During their discussions with the colonial secretary, Lord Glenelg, and the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, the delegates advised against an elected Legislative Council and called for legislation to facilitate commerce. Although Walker’s instructions favoured union of the Canadas or the annexation of Montreal to Upper Canada, the Montreal committee had advised him not to press either, out of deference to the views of the Quebec association. In fact, he suggested neither, but put forward a third plan to place the St Lawrence in the hands of the imperial government to facilitate trade. Upon his return to Lower Canada, Walker visited Quebec in January 1836, together with James Holmes and Turton Penn, to plan a small meeting of both branches of the Constitutional Association. While there, he suggested a more ambitious scheme, an assembly of representatives of all the British North American colonies. Although there was no question of Walker’s loyalties during the rebellions which followed, he served as lawyer for several Patriotes, including his old political rival Nelson, who in August 1838 was trying to negotiate a return to Lower Canada so as not to forfeit his bail.
An early advocate of responsible government, Walker became editor of the Canada Times, a reform newspaper founded in Montreal in 1840 by John James Williams. The paper is believed to have been established to combat the union of the Canadas, which Walker now opposed. He also became a bitter opponent of Lord Sydenham [Thomson], and according to Macaulay, his editorial strictures upon the governor were “not less true than severe. – especially with respect to the appointments of mere adventurers to valuable offices.” With his editorial duties and a demanding law practice, primarily in commercial law, Walker was “in the habit of dictating an editorial to one of his law students, and often concurrently dictated a legal opinion to another, advising a client or reading a book between the intervals.”
In July 1842 Walker was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Rouville. He took his seat on 9 September, but within 10 days he received a leave of absence for the remainder of the session, perhaps because of illness. He resigned on 26 Aug. 1843 and died less than eight months later. As a reformer and follower of Francis Hincks*, and as a talented, articulate lawyer, well connected to Montreal’s business community, Walker seemed destined to go far in the political world of the united Canadas. His death at 46 years ended what promised to be a distinguished public career.
William Walker is the author of Mr. Walker’s report of his proceedings in England, to the executive committee of the Montreal Constitutional Association (Montreal, 1836). He should not be confused with the William Walker who was agent at Quebec for Forsyth, Richardson and Company and a member of the Special Council in 1838 and of the Legislative Council from 1842 until his death in 1863.
ANQ-M, CE1-130, 11 avril 1844. McCord Museum, M21413. PAC, RG 4, B8: 7061–71. Arthur papers (Sanderson), 3: 1945. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1842. Montreal Gazette, 5 July 1842, 9 April 1844. Montreal Transcript, 11 April 1844. Pilot (Montreal), 9 April 1844. Quebec Gazette, 14 April 1831. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise, vol.1. Desjardins, Guide parl. Political appointments and elections in the Province of Canada from 1841 to 1865, comp. J.-O. Coté (2nd ed., Ottawa, 1866). Buchanan, Bench and bar of L.C. Creighton, Empire of St. Lawrence. Ægidius Fauteux, Le duel au Canada (Montréal, 1934). Elinor Kyte Senior, Redcoats and Patriotes: the rebellions in Lower Canada, 1837–38 (Stittsville, Ont., 1985). Ouellet, Lower Canada.