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NAYLOR, JOHN, real-estate agent and social activist; b. 1 June 1847 in India, son of John Naylor, a British soldier, and Ann —; m. first Mary Olave (d. 1881) of Sussex, England; m. secondly 30 Nov. 1882 Jessie A. Muncey, née Dow, in Halifax; d. there 29 Dec. 1906.

As a child, between 1857 and 1860 John Naylor lived in Montreal, where his father was chief warden of the military prison. The family then returned to England, and in 1875 the son immigrated to Halifax from Bradford, probably with his first wife. Naylor’s principal livelihood was real estate. He acquired an unequalled knowledge of property values and became a trusted appraiser and adviser to many parties, including the British commanding officers in Halifax. Because his placards seemed as widespread as the city’s many churches, one visitor remarked that “Halifax appeared to belong to God and John Naylor.” His enterprise was by no means confined to the city. In 1895 he had, in addition to 136 houses and 220 building lots for sale in the city, listings for 180 farms around the province and numerous houses in the country towns.

Naylor pursued a number of other occupations besides selling and leasing property. These included employment agent, contract carter (for watering and cleaning the streets and removing furniture), poultry farmer, census enumerator in 1881, and in 1884 chief licence inspector for Halifax under the federal liquor licence act (McCarthy Act). He was also paid, infrequently, for his work as the secretary-agent of the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty (SPC) from its inception late in 1876 till his resignation in 1899. Some of his ambitions were not realized. He applied unsuccessfully for the position of Halifax chief of police on the retirement of Garret Cotter in 1893. He also failed to secure appointment as city liquor-licence inspector when the McCarthy Act was declared ultra vires and replaced in Nova Scotia in 1886 by a provincial act. Despite, or perhaps because of, his prominence, he was defeated in his one bid to become a city alderman in Ward 1, where he resided.

This mixture of success and failure mirrored public opinion about the controversial Naylor. A newcomer so omnipresent, reformist, and opinionated was bound to arouse some resentment in the staid, smug society of late Victorian Halifax. Downtown merchants applauded his initiative in organizing the watering of the dusty streets in the late 1870s, and organizations such as the Church of England, the St George’s Society, and the freemasons valued his enthusiastic participation. But other locals took exception to his zeal for the temperance cause, as a totally biased liquor inspector prominent in both the Independent Order of Good Templars and the Sons of Temperance. Threatening letters consigned him “to perdition without reservation.” His interference in patriarchal family life as Halifax’s “cruelty man” was also condemned.

An animal-protection society for its first couple of years, the SPC and its ladies’ auxiliary had devoted their efforts to promoting the humane treatment of animals in general and horses in particular [see Isaac Sallis]. Naylor’s own initial interest in the society was probably that of an animal lover. His work as a carter involved the ownership of horses, and he was a charter-member of the Nova Scotia Kennel Club. With the example of human-centred anti-cruelty work in New York before them, the members of the SPC extended their mandate to include abused, neglected, abandoned, and even dissatisfied children, and such helpless adults as poor, friendless wives and transient merchant seamen.

Naylor’s activity as SPC agent raised some hackles. One irate husband accused him of enticing away his wife and petitioned the legislature about his “Brutal and Beastly conduct.” The most serious attack on his character occurred as early as 1880 and resulted in a criminal libel suit. In a letter to Church of England bishop Hibbert Binney*, the prominent but slightly deranged Peter Stevens Hamilton* accused Naylor of being an embezzler, a bigamist, a rake, a dangerous social climber, “an escaped convict, a disreputable character and a professional swindler.” While the reasons behind this attack were complicated, part of Hamilton’s concern was upstart Naylor’s interference with other men’s wives and children through his SPC work. It is therefore significant that the libel coincided with the transition of the SPC from an animal-oriented concern to one that also addressed the problems of humans.

More than any other single contemporary organization, the SPC represented the crusade of one individual. Admittedly Naylor worked closely with the presidents of the society, first Matthew Henry Richey and then James Crosskill Mackintosh. He was also able to draw upon the best legal advice available, including that of Robert Motton* during his term as the society’s counsel. With Motton as stipendiary magistrate of Halifax between 1886 and 1894, the society had an important ally on the bench. Under Naylor’s tutelage, the Nova Scotia SPC became the pioneer in anti-cruelty work in Canada: the first in the field, the most comprehensive in scope, and the promoter of the earliest child-protection legislation (1880 and 1882).

Naylor’s modus operandi was to investigate instances of neglect, cruelty, and mistreatment and try to reach a resolution through mediation. Failing that, he would go to court to press charges, which might result in imprisonment of violent husbands and fathers, institutionalization of neglected children, or legal separation of the parties to unsuccessful marriages. He performed functions that would today be assigned to several different professionals, with training in law, social work, criminology, and counselling. When poor health finally forced him to resign as secretary-agent, he was replaced by a lawyer. The heyday of the untrained lay activist waned with the passing of the Victorian age. Moreover, by the end of the century, the poverty of the SPC in a declining region of the country also meant that the initiative for anti-cruelty and child-saving work had passed to the rich centre, especially Toronto [see John Joseph Kelso*]. That city superseded Halifax as the leader in child protection but failed to take up the equally pressing cause of battered and destitute wives, which Naylor had so zealously addressed.

Judith Fingard

[A brief outline of the activities of the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty under John Naylor and some specific details of SPC interventions can be found in Judith Fingard, The dark side of life in Victorian Halifax (Halifax, 1989). A detailed account of his activities up to 1899 in all spheres, not just as the SPC’s secretary-agent, is provided by the society’s papers at PANS, MG 20, 513–19. Apart from original records, the collection is valuable for its newspaper clippings, assembled by Naylor in scrapbooks, many of which were drawn from issues that are no longer extant.  j.f.]

Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, no.6354 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 5, Halifax County, Camp Hill Cemetery, Halifax, reg. of burials, 17 Feb. 1881 (mfm.); RG 7, 376, no.44; RG 32, WB, 67, no.480 (mfm.); RG 39, HX, C, 333, R. v. P. SHamilton, 1880. Acadian Recorder, 28 Dec. 1906; also clipping from issue of 27 May 1880 in PANS, MG 20, 518. Halifax Herald, 13 July 1895. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 29 Dec. 1906. War Cry (Toronto), 12 Jan. 1907. Judith Fingard, “The anti-cruelty movement in the Maritimes” (public lecture given to the 8th Atlantic Canada Workshop, Halifax, September 1988). W. M. Ross, “Child rescue: the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty, 1880–1920” (ma thesis, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, 1976). [This work must be used with caution because of superficiality and inaccuracies.  j.f.]

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Cite This Article

Judith Fingard, “NAYLOR, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 20, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/naylor_john_13E.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/naylor_john_13E.html
Author of Article:   Judith Fingard
Title of Article:   NAYLOR, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   May 20, 2024