WEBB, WILLIAM HOSTE, lawyer and politician; b. 24 Nov. 1820 in Hampshire, England, son of Edward Webb and Sarah Ann Whitcomb; m. in 1846 Isabella, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel William Morris, and they had seven children; d. 19 Dec. 1890 at Sherbrooke, Que.
William Hoste Webb’s father, a commander in the Royal Navy, emigrated to Canada with his family in 1836. At that time, immigration from Britain was increasing through the work of the British American Land Company, a colonizing venture formed in London to organize British settlement in the Eastern Townships, and the company had opened an office at Sherbrooke in 1835. Edward Webb settled in Brompton Township, on the Rivière Saint-François, and called the land he undertook to develop Hoste Farm in honour of Sir William Hoste, a famous officer under whom he had served during the Napoleonic Wars. Webb was a member of the British élite that dominated the political and economic life of the Eastern Townships in the 19th century. However, he died prematurely on 22 Nov. 1839, and it was through his son William Hoste that the Webb family exercised an influence in the region.
William Hoste had studied at the Royal Naval School in London. From 1841 to 1843, not many years after his arrival in Canada, he served as secretary to the council of the district of Brompton and to the school board, and in 1845 he was a representative in the newly established Brompton Township Council. It was not, however, until the 1850s that he became seriously involved in public life. In 1850, after articling in the law office of Mack and Muir in Montreal, Webb was called to the bar of Canada East, and from 1855 to 1857 and again from 1879 to 1883 he held the office of warden of Melbourne and Richmond townships. Following the elections of 1857–58, he entered the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada as representative for the new constituency of Richmond and Wolfe. In 1853 Sherbrooke had been subdivided into the two constituencies of Compton and of Sherbrooke and Wolfe. Some historians hold that the electoral map was redrawn specifically to increase Anglophone representation in the house. The “quiet invasion” of the Eastern Townships by French Canadians in the mid 19th century gives much substance to this hypothesis. In any case, the amalgamation of Richmond County (as the constituency of Sherbrooke County was renamed in 1855) with Wolfe County sharply affected Webb’s political career, for although the former, according to the 1861 census, was 85 per cent English-speaking, the latter was 82 per cent French-speaking. Webb had no French speaking opponent when he was elected in 1857 as a government candidate, but he was defeated in 1861 by Charles de Cazes*, the first French-speaking mla from the Eastern Townships. However, the English-speaking voters in Richmond got their own back in 1863 when Webb was returned to parliament, where he strongly supported confederation. In the 1867 elections he allied himself with a French Canadian candidate, notary Jacques Picard of Wotton. Webb was to support Picard at the provincial level and Picard to support Webb at the federal. Picard would actually have preferred a seat in the House of Commons because he was convinced that French Canadians had “need of more members of their own extraction at Ottawa than in the parliament of Quebec.” However, there were more English-speaking voters in the county, and he accepted the provincial nomination rather than risk losing “the member to whom the French Canadians are entitled.” In return, he insisted on the alliance which guaranteed the Conservative party’s double victory and the division of political power between the English- and French-speaking people in the riding. This type of alliance was increasingly common in the Eastern Townships until the end of the 19th century. It even proved to be the most reliable guarantee of good understanding between the two ethnic groups.
Webb was defeated in the 1874 elections that followed the Pacific Scandal, but the Conservative party rewarded him for 15 years of service by appointing him to the Legislative Council of Quebec for the division of Wellington. He held this seat from 1875 to 1887; the government of Honoré Mercier* then appointed him sheriff of the judicial district of Saint-François, following an arrangement whereby Webb resigned from the council in favour of Liberal Francis Edward Gilman. It was while Webb was carrying out his duties as sheriff that his life ended in a dramatic fashion. He was stricken with an apoplectic fit on 19 Dec. 1890, minutes before an execution in the Sherbrooke prison.
AC, Saint-François (Sherbrooke), Minutiers, William Ritchie, 23 Sept. 1846. PAC, RG 31, A1, 1851, 1861, Compton, Richmond-Wolfe, and Sherbrooke counties. Can., Prov. du, Assemblée législative, Journaux, 1846; 1854–55; Statuts, 1854–55, c.55; 1860, c.135. Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe, 23 déc. 1890. La Minerve, 4 avril 1873; 13, 20, 23 déc. 1890. Le Pionnier de Sherbrooke (Sherbrooke, Qué.), 10 nov. 1866; 9 mars, 10 avril, 4 mai, 28 juin, juillet-octobre 1867; 27 nov. 1868; 27 mai 1869; 29 déc. 1876; 17 mars 1887; 19, 26 déc. 1890. Sherbrooke Gazette and Eastern Townships Advertiser (Sherbrooke), 15 Jan., 16 Aug. 1858; 29 Jan., 4 May 1859; 8 Aug. 1863; 28 Jan. 1865. Stanstead Journal (Rock Island, Que.), March 1887, 25 Dec. 1890. Canadian biog. dict, I: 27–28. CPC, 1869; 1872. J. Desjardins, Guide parl. G. Turcotte, Le Conseil législatif de Québec, 298–99. L. S. Channell, History of Compton County, and sketches of the Eastern Townships, district of St. Francis, and Sherbrooke County . . . (Cookshire, Que., 1896; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1975). Rumilly, Hist. de la prov. de Québec, II–III.