Charles Tupper

Sir Charles Tupper, politician and former prime minister was a delegate to all the Confederation conferences. He served the shortest tenure as prime minister in Canadian history. Tupper was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia, on July 2, 1821, the son of the Rev. Charles Tupper and Miriam Lockhart. He was educated at Horton Academy, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and he studied medicine at Edinburgh University (M.D., 1843).


He obtained the diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1843; and on his return to Nova Scotia, he practised medicine in his native town. From 1855 to 1867 he represented Cumberland in the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia; from 1856 to 1860 he was provincial secretary in the Johnston government; and from 1864 to 1867 he was prime minister of Nova Scotia. He took a leading part in the Confederation movement.


He was a delegate to the Charlottetown, Quebec, and London conferences, and replied to the anti-confederation campaign of Joseph Howe in his Letter to the Earl of Carnarvon (London, 1866). It was mainly through his efforts that Nova Scotia was brought into the union of 1867.


Tupper entered federal politics. Due to regional representation concerns, he did not receive a cabinet post in the new Canadian government. He refused a position with the Inter-colonial Railway Commission, as he wished to maintain his influence and credibility in Nova Scotia.


He spoke frequently in the House of Commons on issues affecting his home province. In 1868, he was sent to London to counteract Joseph Howe’s latest petition against Confederation. He was eventually able to win Howe over to the side of union with a promise of “better terms” for Nova Scotia.


Tupper held a number of cabinet posts until November of 1873, when the Pacific Scandal caused the collapse of the government. While he himself was not implicated in the scandal, he staunchly defended those who were, and was one of the strongest opposition voices in the House of Commons.


When the Conservatives returned to power in 1878, Tupper became minister of public works. This ministry was split in 1879, with Tupper taking over the ministry of railways and canals.


It was while he was in charge of this ministry that Tupper oversaw the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR); he also funded the expansion of the Welland Canal, and advocated expansion of many local railway lines.


Controversy over construction of the CPR strained relations between John A. Macdonald and Tupper during this time, leading Tupper to accept an appointment as High Commissioner to London (at first unpaid; later, after May 1884, with a salary).


He returned to Canada at Macdonald’s request for the 1886 election, in part to combat the resurgence of Nova Scotia secessionism led by William Fielding. With the Conservative victory came a position as the minister of finance in 1887.


He died at Bexley Heath, Kent, England, on October 30, 1915, the last of the “Fathers of Confederation” to pass away. In 1846 he married Frances Amelia (d. 1912); daughter of Silas Hibbert Morse, of Amherst, Nova Scotia; and by her he had three sons and three daughters. Just before his death he published his Recollections of sixty years (London, 1914).


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