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FERGUSSON BLAIR, ADAM JOHNSTON (he added Blair to his surname in 1862 when he inherited the Blair estate in Scotland on the death without issue of his elder brother), lawyer and politician; b. 4 Nov. 1815 in Perthshire, Scotland, the son of Adam Fergusson and Jemima Johnston; d. unmarried on 30 Dec. 1867 at Ottawa, Ontario.

Adam Johnston Fergusson was educated in Edinburgh and immigrated to Upper Canada with his parents in 1833. The family settled in Nichol Township in the Wellington District, where his father helped found the town of Fergus. In 1839 Fergusson was called to the Upper Canadian bar and began to practise law in Guelph. In 1842 he was named the first judge of the Wellington District Court and a colonel in the local militia. Universally regarded as a man of high personal integrity, he was persuaded to become the Reform candidate for Waterloo in the general election of late 1847, and resigned from the bench in order to be eligible. James Webster, his father’s old partner in local land settlement ventures, was declared elected but he was unseated on petition, and on 8 Feb. 1849 Fergusson took his seat. He was re-elected in 1851. He represented Wellington South from 1854 until 1857 when he resigned in order to seek election to the Legislative Council. In 1860 he was elected by acclamation to an eight-year term as legislative councillor for the Brock division. After 1862 he lived on his father’s estate near Waterdown, where he pursued his interest in agricultural improvements.

Following the retirement of James Morris, Fergusson Blair in March 1863 was appointed receiver general in the ministry of John Sandfield Macdonald* and Louis-Victor Sicotte*. The moderate Reform administration was committed to the double majority principle and at the time was opposed by George Brown*, publisher of the Globe and leader of the Reform Grits, because of its lack of commitment to representation by population. Brown had hoped that Fergusson Blair, who was considered an influential western Upper Canadian Reformer, would remain outside the cabinet as a staunch Grit critic of Sandfield Macdonald; his appointment was considered a victory for the premier, whereas the Globe described it as a “shame.” In May 1863 the government was reconstructed with Antoine-Aimé Dorion* replacing Sicotte as Lower Canadian leader; Fergusson Blair became provincial secretary. He acted as Sandfield Macdonald’s chief political agent in the Waterloo-Wellington area, especially during the general election in the summer of 1863 and in the Waterloo North by-election of April 1864. In the latter contest he helped defeat Michael Hamilton Foley, who had been dropped from the cabinet and who with Sicotte now opposed the Reform ministry.

Sandfield Macdonald resigned on 21 March 1864 and he advised Governor General Monck* to ask Fergusson Blair to attempt the formation of a coalition ministry. Fergusson Blair suggested to Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, the old Quebec City Conservative, a coalition cabinet of four Reformers and two Conservatives from Upper Canada, with four Bleus and two Rouges representing Lower Canada. His attempt failed, however, because Taché was reluctant to serve with the Rouge leader Dorion whose radical proposals, he charged, would tend to “mutilate” some Canadian institutions.

Instead, the Great Coalition of John A. Macdonald* and George Brown was formed in June 1864 to solve the political stalemate and implement confederation. Fergusson Blair supported the coalition, and in the Legislative Council, while unsuccessfully arguing that the character of the proposed new provincial constitutions should be discussed first, he voted for the Quebec resolutions. In December 1865 Brown left the coalition cabinet and early the following year Fergusson Blair took his place as president of the council. Relations between Fergusson Blair and Brown improved in 1866, but in 1867, as confederation approached and it became evident that Macdonald intended to maintain some form of coalition, Fergusson Blair and Brown fell out. With his Reform colleagues in the ministry, William Pearce Howland* and William McDougall*, Fergusson Blair supported continued coalition, although Brown was suspicious of Macdonald’s motives and urged the re-establishment of clearcut party distinctions. In June 1867 the three Reform “traitors” called a pro-coalition caucus in Toronto in an unsuccessful attempt to sway the Reform convention away from Brown. Later John A. Macdonald appointed Fergusson Blair to the Senate and made him president of the privy council in the first dominion cabinet. But his career was cut short by his premature death.

On his passing the Globe forgave him his “political mistakes,” claiming that he had remained “in spirit” with his Reform friends; he had been a “sound lawyer” and “an able politician whose retiring habits prevented him from rising to the position to which his talents entitled him.” It was a measure of his local reputation that the village of Carlisle in Waterloo County was renamed Blair in his honour.

Bruce W. Hodgins

PAC, MG 24, B30; B40. PAO, Clarke (Charles) papers. Can., Prov. of, Confederation debates. Globe, 1862–67. Guelph Herald (Guelph, Ont.), December 1867–January 1868. London Free Press, 1862–67. CPC, 1863. A. E. Byerly, The beginning of things in Wellington and Waterloo counties . . . (Guelph, Ont., 1935); Fergus; or the Fergusson-Webster settlement, with an extensive history of north-east Nichol (Elora, Ont., [1934?]). Careless, Brown, II. W. L. Morton, Critical years.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Bruce W. Hodgins, “FERGUSSON BLAIR, ADAM JOHNSTON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fergusson_blair_adam_johnston_9E.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/fergusson_blair_adam_johnston_9E.html
Author of Article:   Bruce W. Hodgins
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   June 1, 2023