WEEKS, OTTO SCHWARTZ, lawyer, office holder, journalist, and politician; b. 1830 in Halifax, eldest of nine children of the Reverend Otto Richard Schwartz Weeks and Maria Morris; m. 24 Jan. 1865 Seraph Cutler Ruggles of Annapolis Royal, N.S.; d. 4 Feb. 1892 in Halifax.
After an education in Halifax and legal training in the office of Alexander James, Otto Schwartz Weeks was admitted to the Nova Scotia bar as an attorney on 28 Nov. 1853 and as a barrister on 24 Dec. 1854. He seemed, however, somewhat reluctant to practise law. In 1858 and 1859 he was the official reporter of debates in the House of Assembly and likely assisted in that capacity in other years, as well as sporadically reporting legislative proceedings for some newspapers. During this period he occasionally lectured on literary topics and excelled particularly as a reader of poetry. In the mid 1860s he set up a practice in Windsor and over the years became widely known for his ability to influence juries, reportedly having few equals in repartee in the court-room.
Weeks began his political career in November 1875 when Premier Philip Carteret Hill, confronted with the departure of many able provincial Liberals to accept federal offices in the government of Alexander Mackenzie, and unable, as an “elegant man of exquisite taste,” to contend effectively with the most fractious opposition in the province’s history, invited Weeks to become his attorney general. Hill was clearly taking a chance since the intemperateness and the eccentricities of his appointee were well known. Once Weeks had fired a shot at his wife and a pellet struck her in the leg; on another occasion, while lying in bed in a hotel room, he diverted himself by firing shots into the ceiling. To get into the legislature, he contested a by-election in Guysborough County. When faced with the charge of being thrust upon the constituency by outside influence, he replied, alluding to the fact that his great-grandfather, loyalist Joshua Wingate Weeks, had once served the county as a Church of England missionary, that it had become “peculiarly the object of my regard through old family associations.” On 20 December he won by a scant eight votes.
During the session of 1876 Weeks performed well, contending successfully with vigorous and rabidly partisan Conservatives such as Simon Hugh Holmes*, Avard Longley*, and Douglas Benjamin Woodworth. As usual, he cut an imposing figure with his “black frock coat, a large expansive shirt front, a white tie, a long gold chain around his neck that ended in a small watch in his vest pocket and he topped it all with a tall grey beaver.” But after the session, even though he was appointed Queen’s Counsel in May 1876, he reverted to his usual habits. As a result of his intemperance, he was absent for long periods, leaving the business of his department unattended to and delaying the making of decisions. Worse still, “the air was full of charges against his character, which no Government could overlook or afford to ignore.” When asked to resign, he refused and in November 1876 Lieutenant Governor Adams George Archibald dismissed him on the unanimous advice of the remaining executive councillors. Weeks is the only Nova Scotia cabinet minister ever to have had his office vacated by order in council.
In the sessions of 1877 and 1878 Weeks adopted a somewhat independent stance, more than once embarrassing the government by supporting the opposition or advancing initiatives of his own. Although he lost the official Liberal nomination in Guysborough in 1878, he ran, none the less, as a Liberal, declaring that he had been stripped of his office without cause. Reluctantly Hill then explained publicly for the first time the reasons for the dismissal. Always personally popular, Weeks took enough votes from the official Liberal candidates to ensure the election of two Conservatives. In the elections of 1882 and 1886 he was back solidly within the Liberal fold and easily won one of the Guysborough seats. His younger running mate, James A. Fraser, expressed great respect for him, once calling him “a prince of good fellows” and the ablest man in the house “so far as real eloquence, knowledge, and training is concerned.”
For obvious reasons Weeks was not reappointed to the cabinet, although premiers William Thomas Pipes* and William Stevens Fielding* did what they could for him. In 1882 he was one of three commissioners whom Pipes appointed to revise the provincial statutes. During the 1880s he was less active in the assembly than before, although he did give wholehearted support to Fraser’s efforts to secure Nova Scotia’s secession from the Canadian federation. In 1890 he was again up to his old tricks. Even after losing the Liberal nomination in Guysborough, he still ran and secured the support of enough Liberal voters to bring about the defeat of the party’s official candidates, including Fraser. It would not happen a third time since he died two years before the 1894 election. Ailing and less than affluent in his closing years, he had clearly fallen upon bad times.
Although talented and likeable, Weeks was something of a tragic figure. Intemperance and eccentricities had prevented the distinguished legal career that he might have had. They also militated against the highly creditable political career that he craved.
PANS, MG 2, 503, Fraser to D. W. Crockett, 21 Feb. 1883. N.S., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1876–78, 1883–90; Journal and proc., 1876–78, 1883–90. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 1875–78, 1882–90. Morning Herald (Halifax), 1875–78, 1882–90. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.2. J. M. Beck, Politics of Nova Scotia (2v., Tantallon, N.S., 1985–89). John Doull, Sketches of attorney generals of Nova Scotia, 1750–1926 (Halifax, 1964). J. M. Beck, “Philip Carteret Hill: political misfit,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 42 (1986): 1–16. [John] Doull, “Four attorney-generals,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 27 (1947): 12–16.
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Cite This Article
J. Murray Beck, “WEEKS, OTTO SCHWARTZ,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/weeks_otto_schwartz_12E.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:
|Author of Article:||J. Murray Beck|
|Title of Article:||WEEKS, OTTO SCHWARTZ|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1990|
|Year of revision:||1990|
|Access Date:||May 28, 2023|