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SALLIS, ISAAC, soldier, tavern keeper, drayman, and florist; b. c. 1833 in Gloucestershire, England; m. 2 May 1857 Mary Frost in Halifax, and they had one daughter; d. there 20 Aug. 1904.

A sergeant in the 63rd Foot, Isaac Sallis served throughout the Crimean War, during which he and his regiment accumulated an impressive array of honours. He arrived in Halifax on 2 June 1856 with the 63rd, which began a six-year tour of duty in the garrison. In less than a year, however, Sallis purchased his discharge and established himself in the upper streets as a lodging-house keeper and liquor seller, catering to rank-and-file soldiers, naval sailors, and the resident and transient working classes. He shared with many 19th-century veterans a difficult transition to a “respectable” civilian life. The marginal liquor trade was risky and highly competitive, fraught with capriciously enforced restrictions and patronized by quarrelsome and unpopular soldiers and sailors.

The close association between public drinking and prostitution, tavern keeping and receiving stolen goods, low dram-shops and disorderly behaviour soon drew Sallis into police court to defend himself against liquor-licence violations and charges of brothel keeping and assault. Extant data indicate that Sallis was tried at least 39 times in the police, city criminal, and supreme courts between 1857 and 1880. Most of the convictions were settled by the payment of a fine, an indication of his material success in underclass Halifax. Sallis also enjoyed a high rate of acquittal. The frequency of his appearances and the success of his “not guilty” pleas were emphasized on two separate occasions in 1866 when he was described in the press as one of “the abandoned creatures” who “figured” in the police court and as a slippery character who “had hitherto evaded justice” in the Supreme Court. By then his status as a property owner and voter gave him the edge over most of his accusers.

From 1870 the livelihood of Sallis and his fellow publicans was seriously threatened. In that year the army authorities began intermittently but effectively to declare the traditional recreational areas of the military in Halifax out of bounds for periods ranging anywhere from a few weeks to several years. In the summertime the naval command often joined in the prohibition. These restrictions helped to transform the character of the upper streets on the hill, particularly Barrack (Brunswick) and Albemarle (Market), as well as temporarily infringed on the night-life of Grafton Street and, further north, City (Maynard) Street. Sallis and his competitors were forced to move in order to survive. Having transferred his business from Barrack to Albemarle in 1869, Sallis relocated on Duke Street five years later. He was prescient enough to anticipate the decline of the retail drink trade as the forces of temperance joined with the military command to harass tavern keepers. He may also have wanted to shake off his reputation as one of “the lowest liquor dealers on Barrack and Albemarle Streets” and the ruthless keeper of the Black Dog tavern, in which fisticuffs, often involving the master of the house himself, prevailed to such an extent that violent deaths were not unknown. The most notorious was that of Jesse Heathfield, a seaman of the British naval ship Sphinx, as a result of either Sallis’s violence or his adulterated liquor. It precipitated the “sailors’ riot” of 1867. As a result of the close escapes and unfavourable environment, publican Sallis diversified his business ventures to carting and property leasing during his Duke Street years.

As he gradually distanced himself from his role as a rough businessman of the upper streets, Sallis encountered legal prosecution from a new source when in 1879 the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty [see John Naylor] charged him with horse maiming. His chagrin at this attack on his prosaic business ventures was aggravated by the public humiliation of his teenaged daughter when SPC propaganda implicating him was disseminated in the schools. His subsequent acquittal in 1880 marked the end of his problems with the law. It also coincided with his flight from the upper streets and the liquor trade to a semi-rural location on Cunard Street, where he spent the remaining quarter-century of his life as a florist and a contract drayman, occasionally employed by agencies of government departments such as the school board.

This period also supplied a degree of public acceptability that had hitherto eluded Sallis. Although part of this transition stemmed from his change of occupation and residence, his image was greatly enhanced by his role as an honourable veteran. With the rise of imperialist sentiment as part of the Canadian nationalism of the 1880s came a belated public fascination with local military heroes, especially those who had fought in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. In Halifax, the only major British military garrison still maintained in Canada, veterans from the ranks such as Sallis found a prestigious patron in Major-General John Wimburn Laurie to help them organize a mutual benefit and social club in 1884 known as the Royal British Veterans’ Society of Nova Scotia (incorporated 1899). Buoyed up by militaristic fervour aroused by the North-West rebellion at home, followed by the South African War abroad, the veterans became a cherished relic of past military glories and were apparently forgiven their low-status civilian occupations and their wayward and dubious experiences. Sallis was a leading executive officer of the association during its formative years. When he described himself during celebrations by veterans in 1900 as “a Canadian” and “a Briton always” who “felt satisfied with what he had done for the empire,” he captured the spirit of his age. On his death his misdeeds were not recalled; instead he was allowed his respectability as “a gallant old soldier.”

Judith Fingard

Isaac Sallis’s career is discussed in Judith Fingard, The dark side of life in Victorian Halifax (Halifax, 1989).

Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, no.5967 (mfm. at PANS). NA, RG 31, C1, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, Halifax. PANS, MG 12, HQ, 50, no.1. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), RBMB, 2 May 1857. Acadian Recorder, 24 Feb. 1866. Daily Echo (Halifax), 20, 22, 29 Aug. 1904. Evening Mail (Halifax), 13 Sept. 1900; 20, 22, 29 Aug. 1904. Sun and Advertiser (Halifax), 26 Oct. 1866. Directory, Halifax, 1863, 1869–91. History of the Manchester Regiment (late the 63rd and 96th Foot), comp. H. C. Wylly (2v., London, 1923–25), 1: 241.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Judith Fingard, “SALLIS, ISAAC,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sallis_isaac_13E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sallis_isaac_13E.html
Author of Article: Judith Fingard
Title of Article: SALLIS, ISAAC
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1994
Year of revision: 1994
Access Date: July 22, 2014