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Original title:  Windsor: Robert Christie plaque

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CHRISTIE, ROBERT, militia officer, lawyer, office holder, journalist, historian, and politician; b. 20 Jan. 1787 in Windsor, N.S., second son of James Christie and Janet McIntosh; m. 24 Feb. 1812 Monique-Olivier Doucet, and they had at least one son who probably died in early childhood; d. 13 Oct. 1856 at Quebec.

Robert Christie’s father, a shoemaker, immigrated to Nova Scotia from Scotland. He held considerable land and minor posts in Windsor, where Robert attended King’s College, graduating some time before 1803. Robert is supposed to have started out in business in Halifax but, following a career pattern common at that time, he left for Quebec in 1805. There he was indentured by his father as clerk and apprentice to lawyer Edward Bowen* for five years. He was commissioned advocate and attorney on 3 Oct. 1810. During the War of 1812 he served as captain in Quebec’s 4th Militia Battalion.

Turning to journalism in the spring of 1816, Christie established and edited a weekly newspaper, the Quebec Telegraph. The paper, one of the first commercial newspapers at Quebec, also carried agricultural reports and foreign news. Its reporting of events in the House of Assembly foreshadowed Christie’s later writings on Lower Canadian politics. Aiming for both English and French readers, it was published from the beginning in the two languages. In late November 1816 Robert-Anne d’Estimauville* became its editor but the arrangement lasted only a few weeks; he and Christie quarrelled in mid December and d’Estimauville left. Management problems continued to plague the paper until it ceased publication in July 1817.

Meanwhile, on 26 Jan. 1816 Christie had been appointed law clerk by the House of Assembly, with responsibility for framing bills; the appointment was confirmed by a government commission in March 1817. In 1819 he was also appointed registrar to a commission, consisting of Jean-Thomas Taschereau*, Michel-Louis Juchereau* Duchesnay, and George Waters Allsopp*, established to determine Gaspé land claims, and thus began his long association with the Gaspé region. During his early involvement in Lower Canadian politics, Christie was an admirer of the Canadian party under James Stuart. The latter, also an alumnus of King’s College, may have had considerable influence on Christie. But Christie’s opposition to the government was short-lived and, after finding favour with the governor, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*], he began to support the executive. He received other government appointments and contracts and served as law clerk until about 1827.

On 15 Oct. 1827 Christie was elected to the assembly as the member for Gaspé, a district with a substantial English-speaking population. In the same year he was appointed chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions for the district of Quebec, but his partisanship on behalf of the executive and the governor brought him into conflict with the assembly. He followed instructions of the government in that year to prepare a new list of magistrates for the province, deleting those members of the assembly who had opposed Dalhousie. The commissions of several Quebec magistrates, including John Neilson*, François Blanchet*, and François Quirouet*, together with those of others from Montreal, were not renewed. The judges of the Court of King’s Bench, James Kerr*, Taschereau, and Christie’s former mentor, Bowen, refused to accept the new list when it was submitted to them for approval, but Christie failed to heed this warning not to allow any tampering with the judicial system. The assembly was determined to establish the independence of the judiciary and the matter came to a head with the report in 1829 of its select committee established to investigate methods for appointing justices of the peace. The report contained accounts of Christie’s hot-tempered responses as well as his clashes with Louis Bourdages* and other politicians with whom he had discussed the list. Christie was not allowed to speak in his own defence and he may also have suffered from his association with Dalhousie’s secretary, Andrew William Cochran*, his former classmate at King’s College.

Christie’s salary was dropped from the next civil list, but the matter was not as simple as the firing of a minor official. As a result of the report of its committee, the assembly expelled Christie from the house on 14 Feb. 1829. However, Gaspé continued to re-elect him and he was expelled five times in all from 1829 to 1832. His opponents, especially Neilson and Bourdages, claimed Christie’s expulsion constituted a legal disqualification which only the assembly could lift. Supporters of Christie’s right to his seat, including Andrew Stuart*, Charles Richard Ogden* and Jean-François-Joseph Duval, argued that accepting this claim would place the assembly above the expressed wishes of the people. When the matter was referred to the British government, the Whig colonial secretary, Lord Goderich, seeing British precedents and a certain parallel with the case of John Wilkes, upheld Christie’s right to his seat. The later stages of the controversy were complicated by Christie’s espousal of a movement in Gaspé to break away from Lower Canada and to be annexed to the province of New Brunswick. The Gaspé electors were enraged by what they perceived as denial of their right to representation and were also interested in the recent attention by New Brunswick to the timber trade and the management of crown lands in the Miramichi area. The movement, like others before it, came to nothing in 1833 when John Le Boutillier* was elected for Gaspé. Christie temporarily retired from politics, returning as member for Gaspé in 1841.

For some years Christie had pursued another and perhaps more important career, as historian of Lower Canada. In September 1816 the Quebec Telegraph began printing excerpts from his account of the governorships of Sir James Henry Craig* and Sir George Prevost* covering the years 1807 to 1815. The work was published in full at Quebec in 1818. From then until 1829 Christie published accounts of the administrations of successive governors from Sir Gordon Drummond to Dalhousie. These accounts were later included in his six-volume work, A history of the late province of Lower Canada (1848–55). Christie’s writing style is too ornate to commend his work as literature but it is of historiographic importance for its detailed, impartial chronicling of events and its presentation of documents, some no longer extant in their original form. Compared to the two-volume work by William Smith*, History of Canada; from its first discovery, to the peace of 1763 (Quebec, 1815), which was a polemic against the tyranny of French rule, Christie’s writings were well balanced. Even Louis-Joseph Papineau* conceded that Christie’s history was supportive of his role in the events of 1837, although wrong in some details. The next comprehensive history of Canada to be written in English would be The history of Canada by William Kingsford*, published in ten volumes at Toronto from 1887 to 1898, but Kingsford would not rely extensively on original documents to prepare his work. Christie may also be considered a bridge from the historians of his generation to those of the romantic era of Francis Parkman*, for one of the last events of his life was to introduce Parkman to Papineau.

Christie was convinced that “the history of a people is part of their public property,” and during his second term of office, as member of the legislature for the Province of Canada, he pressed for government responsibility in the collection, preservation, and publication of historical documents and public records. In 1844–45 he moved the establishment of, and chaired, the committee appointed to inquire into the condition of the archives and public records of New France, the province of Quebec, and Lower Canada. The committee was to adopt measures for the collection, arrangement, and preservation “from all accessible sources whatsoever, of such ancient and authentic records and documents relating to the first settlements of Canada, as . . . may cast light upon or be conducive to a full knowledge of its early history.” Subsequently, under the auspices of the government and the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, colonial documents of New France were copied in Albany, N.Y., and France. In 1846 Christie chaired the committee appointed to inquire into the state of the judicial and parliamentary records in Lower Canada and it presented a conservation report on the often deplorable condition in which the records of both Upper and Lower Canada were kept. Again in 1849 Christie pressed the legislature for funds to preserve a variety of documents, this time those relating to the civil and military government of the province before 1791 and to the Jesuits prior to their suppression in that year, which were scattered throughout various government departments. Canadian historians are indebted to Christie for his efforts.

Christie kept his seat in the legislature from 1841 until 1854. As before, he upheld the interests of Gaspé, especially in questions of land claims, administration of justice, and registration of marriages, all areas where problems arose from settlement preceding the organization of government in the area. He was a strong advocate of economy in government spending and of control of finances by the legislature; his role as critic gave him some claim to be called the “Canadian Hume.” He was not an advocate of the union of the Canadas. It was he who introduced the motion in 1842 to move the capital from Kingston, complaining that the location was not central for the majority of the population. Though conservative in nature and sceptical about “responsible government,” he was not a party man, tending to vote for the issue. He was a frequent contributor to newspapers and from 1848 to 1850 edited the conservative Quebec Mercury. He had an opinion on every issue before the assembly and his erratic performance and frequent comments drove the Globe to describe him as a “driveller.” Always quick of temper, he grew more irascible with age, at one point challenging a member of the legislature to a duel. In the 1840s, however, he was reconciled with a former adversary, John Neilson. Papineau, also once a keen opponent, became a close friend at the end of Christie’s life and Christie championed attempts to have Papineau’s pre-1837 salary as speaker of the assembly paid to him. He acquired a reputation for incorruptibility because of his outspokenness and obvious honesty.

Christie’s health began to fail in 1854. He hoped to be appointed to the committee studying the abolition of seigneurial tenure in Lower Canada, a favourite cause of his, but he was defeated by Le Boutillier in the elections of that year. He died suddenly of a heart attack on 13 Oct. 1856.

Shirley C. Spragge

Robert Christie is the author of Memoirs of the administration of the colonial government of Lower-Canada, by Sir James Henry Craig, and Sir George Prevost, from the year 1807 until the year 1815, comprehending the military and naval operations in the Canadas during the late war with the United States of America (Quebec, 1818), also published under the title The military and naval operations in the Canadas during the late war with the United States, including also the political history of Lower Canada during the administration of Sir James Henry Craig and Sir George Prevost, from 1807 until 1815 (Quebec, 1818; repr. New York, 1818); A brief review of the political state of Lower Canada, since the conquest of the colony, to the present day, to which are added, memoirs of the administrations of the colonial government of Lower Canada, by Sir Gordon Drummond, and Sir John Coape Sherbrooke (New York, 1818); Memoirs of the administration of the government of Lower-Canada, by Sir Gordon Drummond, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, the late Duke of Richmond, James Monk, esquire, and Sir Peregrine Maitland; continued from the 3d April, 1815, until the 18th June, 1820 (Quebec, 1820); and Memoirs of the administration of the government of Lower Canada, by the Right Honorable the Earl of Dalhousie, G.C.B., comprehending a period of eight years, vizt: – from June, 1820 till September, 1828 (Quebec, 1829). These volumes were integrated into a work issued under the title A history of the late province of Lower Canada, parliamentary and political, from the commencement to the close of its existence as a separate province . . . (6v., Quebec and Montreal, 1848–55; 2nd ed., Montreal, 1866).

ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 24 févr. 1812, 16 oct. 1856; P 1000-22-399. Hants County Court of Probate (Windsor, N.S.), Will book, I (mfm. at PANS). PAC, MG 24, B2; MG 30, D1, 8: 314–16; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. des journaux, 1844–45, app.HH; 1846, app.KK. Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada (Abbott Gibbs et al.), vols.1–2. Docs. relating to constitutional hist., 1791–1818 (Doughty and McArthur). L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1828–29, app.DD. Memoranda respecting King’s College, at Windsor, in Nova Scotia . . . (Halifax, 1836). L.-J. Papineau, “Lettres de L.-J. Papineau à Robert Christie,” BRH, 34 (1928): 296–320, 347–77. Gleaner, 4–11 Sept. 1832, 25 Oct. 1856. New-Brunswick Courier, 1, 8, 29 Dec. 1832; 9, 16 Feb., 6 April 1833. Quebec Gazette, 27 June 1805, 11 Oct. 1810, 20 March 1817, 6 May 1819, 14 Oct. 1856. Quebec Telegraph, 29 April 1816–14 July 1817. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 5, 26 Dec. 1832. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise, 1: 32–33. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 75–76; Sketches of celebrated Canadians, 357–58. John Archer, “A study of archival institutions in Canada” (phd thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, Ont., 1969). J.-G. Barthe, Souvenirs d’un demi-siècle ou mémoires pour servir à l’histoire contemporaine (Montréal, 1885). Jules Bélanger et al., Histoire de la Gaspésie (Montréal, 1981). J.-M. LeMoine, Monographies et esquisses (Québec, 1885). Taft Manning, Revolt of French Canada. “Obituary notice of the late Robert Christie, esq.,” BRH, 44 (1938): 9–12. “Robert Christie,” BRH, 20 (1914): 338, 351–52. P.-G. Roy, “Les expulsions de Robert Christie,” BRH, 43 (1937): 349–50.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Shirley C. Spragge, “CHRISTIE, ROBERT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/christie_robert_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/christie_robert_8E.html
Author of Article: Shirley C. Spragge
Title of Article: CHRISTIE, ROBERT
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: October 2, 2014