WALLBRIDGE, LEWIS, lawyer, politician, and judge; b. 27 Nov. 1816 at Belleville, Upper Canada, son of William Wallbridge and Mary Everett; d. unmarried 20 Oct. 1887 at Winnipeg, Man.
Lewis Wallbridge’s paternal great-uncle and grandfather had settled in the Bay of Quinte area in Upper Canada around the turn of the century and considered themselves New England loyalists. His father was a farmer, trader, and lumber merchant in Belleville. Lewis first attended Dr Benjamin Workman’s school in Montreal for two years and from 1831 and 1833 studied at Upper Canada College in York (Toronto). He articled briefly in Belleville and then in the Toronto office of Robert Baldwin*. Called to the bar in 1839, he began to practise law in Belleville, taking mainly land, chancery, and criminal cases. In 1855 he became an elected member of the Law Society of Upper Canada and the next year a qc.
After running unsuccessfully for Hastings South in the election of 1854, as a moderate Reformer against Clear Grit Billa Flint*, Wallbridge won the seat in 1857 against a Conservative candidate. In the second campaign he advocated representation by population, national education, and the promotion of free enterprise by curtailing aid to the Grand Trunk Railway and by opening the northwest to competitive commerce; the Toronto Globe was pleased with his win. Wallbridge used his influence to secure moderate delegates from the Belleville area for the Reform convention of 1859, which he himself did not attend. Particularly dedicated to the issues of rep by pop and retrenchment rather than the more radical aspects of the Reform programme, he was not unfriendly towards John A. Macdonald* personally; many of his colleagues in the assembly he regarded as “babblers” given to longwinded theoretical speeches. He was reluctant to run again in 1861 and only did so, it was alleged, to keep the seat out of the hands of a government not dedicated to rep by pop.
Like George Brown*, he was ambivalent towards John Sandfield Macdonald*’s first Reform ministry in May 1862, which supported the double majority principle, and in 1863 he absented himself from the vote on the government-sponsored bill introduced by Richard William Scott* extending separate schools. However, in May 1863 he joined other moderate Reformers in the reconstructed ministry of Sandfield Macdonald and Antoine-Aimé Dorion*, becoming solicitor general for Canada West. He was re-elected in August 1863 with a stress in his campaign once more on retrenchment and liberal capitalism and on prohibition and sabbatarian regulations. When the house met, the premier enthusiastically proposed him as speaker. Immediately the former speaker, Joseph-Édouard Turcotte*, led a noisy outburst accusing Wallbridge of being anti-Catholic and anti-French. The majority of Lower Canadians opposed the nomination but it was successful thanks to support from the Upper Canadian Reformers. Although John A. Macdonald and most Conservatives had voted against him, the Conservative Daily British Whig of Kingston described the new speaker as a “sensible, intelligent man . . . perhaps the best man the Grit party could have chosen,” one who was really “a Conservative at heart.” He was retained as speaker during the administration of Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché* and John A. Macdonald, formed in 1864, and during the “Great Coalition” later that year.
Wallbridge was the last speaker for the Province of Canada, presiding with tact, skill, and firmness over the stormy debates in 1865 leading to confederation. During the time of coalition, although still a Reformer, he increased his ties with John A. Macdonald, and he carried considerable influence with Macdonald in local patronage. In June 1867 Wallbridge made it clear that, with rep by pop now secured, he would not follow Brown into Reform opposition but would support the continuing coalition led by Macdonald. He did not run in the 1867 elections, a decision influenced by his desire to avoid confrontation with his anti-confederate and dedicated Grit brother, Thomas Campbell Wallbridge, member for Hastings North from 1863 to 1867. Ten years later, in 1877, he announced his candidacy as a Conservative in Hastings West for the federal contest of 1878. He believed his election would be a mere formality, but the Catholic vote was against him and many old Conservatives viewed with bitterness his earlier Reform connections. Although he helped successful candidates in neighbouring ridings, he himself was defeated. Afterwards he often wrote to Macdonald, passing on “what the country folk think.”
His private life prospered. He had served as a director of the Bank of Upper Canada from 1862 until 1865, and had the largest and most respected legal practice in the Belleville area. By 1880 he was being described as “one of the oldest and most prominent barristers . . . in the province of Ontario.” Now a noted gentleman farmer, he was elected that year as 2nd vice-president of the newly formed Beekeepers’ Association. Wallbridge was an active member of the Church of England, but he served on the senate of the Episcopal Methodists’ Albert College, where in 1869 his brother had established the professorship of mining and agriculture.
In December 1882 Wallbridge was named chief justice of Manitoba by the John A. Macdonald government although he had never held a judicial appointment. Justice Minister Sir Alexander Campbell* defended this action on the grounds of Wallbridge’s familiarity with Manitoba lawyers, many of whom had come from Ontario, and of his extensive knowledge of legal matters relating to land which were important in Manitoba. Mackenzie Bowell*, who had been defeated by Thomas Campbell Wallbridge in Hastings North in 1863 and then defeated him in 1867, was far from convinced and wrote bitterly to Macdonald, referring to Lewis’ “extreme egotism.” However, Wallbridge left Belleville with glowing testimonials, including some from local French Canadians to whom he emphasized that he would uphold everyone’s “perfect equality” before the law.
In Manitoba, Wallbridge quickly secured the respect of the legal profession. He continued to act as a local informant for Sir John A. Macdonald and tried to calm the sometimes stormy relations between Conservative premier John Norquay and the prime minister. In 1886 he served, with some initial reluctance, as the royal commissioner investigating charges of corruption against the Manitoba premier; in his report he exonerated Norquay of any personal wrongdoing. Wallbridge died the following year and was buried in Belleville.
AO, Wallbridge family papers. PAC, MG 26, A. Canada Law Journal, new ser., 18 (1882): 429; 23 (1887): 361–62. Man., Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1886: 189–95. Daily British Whig, 14 Aug. 1863. Globe, 1882, 1887. Hastings Chronicle (Belleville, Ont.), 1857, 1861, 1867. Intelligencer (Belleville), 1880, 1887. Canadian biog. dict., I: 185–86. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1888), 374. Illustrated historical atlas of the counties of Hastings and Prince Edward, Ont. (Toronto, 1878; repr. Belleville, 1972). G. E. Boyce, Historic Hastings (Belleville, 1967).