LOVITT, JOHN, ship’s captain, shipowner, shipbuilder, entrepreneur, and politician; b. 9 Oct. 1832 in Yarmouth, N.S., eldest son of John Walker Lovitt and Ann Jenkins; m. 28 Jan. 1860 Elizabeth Guest in Yarmouth, and they had three sons and five daughters; d. 13 April 1908 at his home there.
John Lovitt received his education at Yarmouth Academy. Born into a prosperous shipping family, he went to sea at an early age and soon became a captain on his father’s vessels. From 1856, shipping registers list Lovitt as part-owner of several ships with his father and brother James J. Like other Yarmouth families during the 1860s and 1870s, the period of the town’s greatest economic growth, the Lovitts were not merchants but carriers of goods for others over the principal routes of the North and South Atlantic.
Lovitt’s father died in 1874, and Lovitt left the sea to form a partnership with his brother. Lovitt and Company built and managed several fine ships until James’s death in 1892, becoming one of the more successful firms in Yarmouth and a leader in the Maritime shipping industry. During these years John spent much time in Saint John, N.B., where he fitted out many of the company’s ships and acted as agent when they put in there. The brothers also invested individually in several marine insurance companies. John held shares in the Commercial, Oriental, and Pacifc insurance companies, and he sat on the board of directors of the last between 1870 and 1880.
By 1880 Yarmouth was experiencing a decline in shipping and its related industries as sail was replaced by steam, and shipowners began to invest in sectors such as utilities and land transportation. Lovitt was a strong supporter of the Western Counties Railway, incorporated in 1870 in order to link Yarmouth with Annapolis Royal, and in 1887 he was its township director. Other enterprises in which he was involved included the Yarmouth Water Company, the Yarmouth Street Railway, and the Grand Hotel Company. In 1875 Lovitt had become a director of the Bank of Yarmouth, in which many of the town’s leading businessmen invested. He was president when the bank was forced to close in 1905. A provincial board of inquiry found the directors guilty of negligence and mismanagement but not of fraud.
Lovitt was very impressed with the charitable work of the Salvation Army and gave the organization much financial support. In addition, he and James donated the land for the Old Ladies’ Home. He was also a faithful member of the town’s two Zion Baptist churches and gave generously to their programs.
A Liberal, Lovitt was elected to the House of Assembly for Yarmouth County in 1874 and served until 1878, when he declined to run. He was strongly in favour of the repeal of the British North America Act as it applied to Nova Scotia and supported reciprocity with the United States. His views on shipping questions had much influence on his colleagues.
As the shipping industry declined, Yarmouth became increasingly a centre of opposition to confederation, and in 1887 Lovitt was elected to the House of Commons for Yarmouth as a Liberal-Repeal candidate, defeating the Liberal incumbent. Unseated when one of his agents was found guilty of bribery, Lovitt was returned in a show of public support in the by-election of December, and he sat in parliament until 1891, continuing to speak against Nova Scotia’s participation in confederation. Lovitt became a senator in December 1896 and held the post until his death.
John Lovitt was born into one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Yarmouth and through his industry and business acumen had a great influence on local society. He was also a respected and literate representative of the strong opposition to confederation in Nova Scotia.
NA, RG 42, E1, 1186–92, 1196–98, 1200, 1439–41 (mfm. at Yarmouth County Museum and Hist. Research Library, Yarmouth, N.S.). PANS, MG 9, 194; MG 100, 179, nos.1–3. V. S. Sweeney Limited (Yarmouth), Sweeney’s funeral records (photocopies of transcripts at Yarmouth County Museum and Hist. Research Library). Yarmouth County Museum and Hist. Research Library, Arch. files, YMS 1-148 (John Lovitt); 4-6 (Bank of Yarmouth); 4-60 (Western Counties Railway); Clement Doane, cemetery records; Lovitt geneal., comp. G. S. Brown. Halifax Herald, 1887. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 7 April 1908. Weekly Herald (Yarmouth), 16 July, 10 Dec. 1874; 26 Jan., 6 April, 10 Aug., 28 Sept. 1887; 7 March 1905; 14, 21 April 1908. Yarmouth Telegram, 16 April 1908. R. M. Aitken, “Localism and national identity in Yarmouth, N.S., 1830–1870” (ma thesis, Trent Univ., Peterborough, Ont., 1975). David Alexander, “Output and productivity in the Yarmouth ocean fleet, 1863–1901,” Volumes not values: Canadian sailing ships and world trades, ed. David Alexander and R. [E.] mer ([St John’s], 1979), 63–91; “The port of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, 1840–1889,” Ships and shipbuilding in the North Atlantic region, ed. Keith Matthews and G. [E.] Panting ([St John’s], 1978), 77–103. G. S. Brown, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia: a sequel to Campbell’s “History” (Boston, 1888). Canadian annual rev. (Hopkins), 1908. CPG, 1887, 1891, 1897–98. Directory, Yarmouth, 1890, 1895. J. M. Lawson, Record of the shipping of Yarmouth, N.S., containing a list of vessels owned in the county of Yarmouth since its settlement in 1761 . . . (Yarmouth, 1876); Yarmouth past and present: a book of reminiscences (Yarmouth, 1902). G. [E.] Panting, “Cradle of enterprise: Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, 1840–1889,” The enterprising Canadians: entrepreneurs and economic development in eastern Canada, 1820–1914, ed. L. R. Fischer and E. W. Sager ([St John’s], 1979), 253–71. F. W. Wallace, Wooden ships and iron men . . . (London, ). Marguerite Woodworth, History of the Dominion Atlantic Railway ([Kentville, N.S.], 1936).
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