Archiver > NS-CAPE-BRETON > 2005-08 > 1125189828

From: "Ed McNeil" <>
Subject: Senator "Billy" from C.B.Post Aug.27, 2005
Date: Sat, 27 Aug 2005 21:43:48 -0300

This is the text of the article in today's C.B.Post. Four photos present
with writeup.

‘Senator Billy’: a land-owning legend
Senator’s Corner is named after former federal politician — and his
offspring were also notable
GLACE BAY - Senator’s Corner, Glace Bay’s best-known piece of real estate,
named after Senator Mac (or Mc) or Senator Billy. Senator William McDonald
owned the triangular intersection of Main, Union and Commercial streets as
well as
dozens of other pieces of revenue property in the town and county.
Senator Billy’s holdings included houses and commercial buildings on Minto,
Reserve and Union streets and Number Four Road and land on Caribou Marsh
Grand Lake Road, Dutch Road, Mira Road and in Birch Grove and Ben Eoin.
If, as bankers claim, money doubles every seven years, his real estate
portfolio would be
worth millions today. His father, Allan, emigrated to Cape Breton from
Uist, Inverness-shire, Scotland in 1826. His mother, Mary McDonald, from
Barra, Scotland, arrived in Cape Breton in 1829. William was born at River
Denys Road in 1837. At the age of 16 he was licensed to teach school and,
for two years,
taught in the school he had attended. Then, he studied at St. Francis Xavier
College in
Antigonish and taught school for another four years. Teachers were poorly
so he moved to Glace Bay and opened a general store, which was very
successful. In 1865 he
married Catherine McDonald of East Bay. They had seven children. A daughter,
died in infancy. They adopted a cousin, Agnes Claire, when she was a little
He was a member of the General Sessions of the Peace as the representative
of Cape
Breton County and played a prominent role in the administration of municipal
For years, he was the operator for the Western Union Telegraph Company. He
appointed postmaster of Little Glace Bay, aposition he resigned in 1872 to
Cape Breton as a Conservative candidate for Parliament. He won four
elections in the dual riding between 1872 and 1882. In 1874, the Pacific
scandal unhorsed
Conservative incumbents and candidates by the dozens. William and Sir
Charles Tupper
were the only Conservatives elected in Nova Scotia. In the House of Commons
he was, for several years, chairman of the committee on colonization and
He also pressed for and secured the very first subsidy for the extension of
the Intercolonial
Railway across the island of Cape Breton. In 1878, he was re-elected with
the largest majority
accorded any candidate throughout the entire Dominion. Family documents
he was on the short list to succeed Dr. Charles Tupper as Nova Scotia’s
cabinet minister.
A Montreal newspaper (LaMinerve) of April 11, 1883, described him as “one of
most distinguished members of the parliamentary representation from the
Provinces and, as a member of the cabinet, would be the right man in the
right place.”
Sir John A. Macdonald offered him the positions of governor of the Northwest
Territories or governor of Manitoba. He declined both appointments but
a summons to the Senate where he served for 32 years from 1884 until his
death in 1916.
The Toronto Mail wrote, “The Commons will lose a modest, useful, unstained
most faithful man. He might have been the perpetual member for Cape Breton,
so confident
were the people in his integrity and so consistent and honourable was his
A daughter, Teresa, entered the Sisters of Charity Order, Mount St. Vincent,
as Sister
Mary Aquinas and became Mother Superior of Mount St. Joseph’s Academy, North
Two other daughters, Catherine and Mary E. (Minnie),were spinsters and lived
at home with their mother and bachelor brother, Bill, at 755 George St.,
Catherine and Minnie travelled a great deal. They had a chauffeur named
Gordon who
was never allowed to smoke. Unknown to the two sisters in the back seat ,
he chewed
tobacco and “was able to spit casually and expertly out the window when
On one occasion, he was instructed to close the car window and he had to
tobacco juice “getting sicker all the time.” In a letter to his California
cousin, 77-year old Bill Norin, the late Bob Morley, Cumberland, B.C., wrote
he “was a
regular visitor to 755 George St. when I was 5-7 years old. There was a
fourth occupant
called only ‘Little Bill’ – a pale blond boy who was a few years older than
and spent most of his days in bed. I suspect that the family wanted to hide
him. “Minnie and Catherine always brought me over to play with him. We sat
on the
edge of his bed and played with his little lead toy soldiers. He had entire
armies of
them dressed in army garb of the 1800s and earlier. I was never advised who
exactly he
belonged to.” Bill was an avid gardener and reeked of foul smelling cigars.
He cultivated two acres of flowers. Bob Morley recalled “he did not appear
to have any
particular occupation or trade but he was a keen reader with probably the
largest private
library in Nova Scotia. He was an eccentric but friendly type. If he was
eccentric, his sisters
were totally out in left field.” In fact, William was an accountant and
teller in the
Glace Bay branch of the Union Bank of Halifax. Senator Billy named him one
the executors of his will. Bill’s own will bequeathed $10,000 to Theresa
a cousin, and $10,000 towards a $30,000 memorial fund for his deceased
Sister Mary Aquinas. Catherine and Minnie each contributed $10,000 to make
the balance. Bill left a third of his estate to each of his two sisters and
the remaining third to St. FX for the construction of buildings at Xavier
College, Sydney. The executor of his will was Reverend Dr. Malcolm
MacLellan, principal of
Xavier Junior College. Another son, Allan, had a law degree from Dalhousie
and Bob Morley wrote: “I am not sure if he really had a practice.” Allan
like a British “toff ” or dandy. He lived off his father’s wealth. He was
stereotype of a remittance man but he never left Cape Breton. Instead, he
England to Sydney. He built a replica of an English cottage and had a
thatched roof
shipped over from England. Senator Billy left him land on Union Street in
Glace Bay.
Bob Morley wrote: “A.J. also had a chauffeur but the principal reason for
that was
because he was generally drunk. “When his wife, Aunt Fawn, died she was
‘laid out’
in a casket in the living room. I was in my early teens and not permitted
to drink, so
myself and a friend were delegated to sit in the room with the casket and
which were not supposed to be left alone — while the rest of the ‘mourners’
got loaded to
the eyeballs in the kitchen, playing fiddle music and dancing. “I recall
another wake
where an elderly blind lady had died. She had strung a wire from her back
door to the
outside privy in order to find it in a hurry. The wire was at hip level and
none of the
mourners thought to remove it. We watched as several executed acrobatic
in the darkness.” Another son, Daniel, also a bachelor, owned and operated
a pharmacy on the north side of Main Street in Glace Bay. When he died he
excused all
his debtors. Senator Billy had three wills drawn up — October, 1909,
October, 1913 and July,
1915 — with very little variances. Minnie was left nothing by her father.
The senator’s name was
spelled both “Mc” and “Mac” in various official publications and
guides. However, he signed all three wills “McDonald.” Except for small
bequests, he left everything — property, furniture and rental income — to
his wife, Catherine.
He requested that he be buried in a Catholic cemetery in Sydney and he was
laid to
rest in Holy Cross Cemetery. In wills #1 and 2, he willed $120 yearly to
Sister Mary
Aquinas. This bequest was voided in will #3 when he left her a lump sum of
In wills #2 and 3 he left $1,000 to St. FX and in his final will he
earmarked $500 to be
distributed among the priests of the diocese for masses “for the repose of
my soul.”
Prime Minister Robert Borden sent a telegram of condolence: “Pray accept and
to the members of your family, our deepest sympathy in the loss of your
who gave so many years of useful service to his country.” Senator Billy’s
mass was held at St. Anne’s, Glace Bay. After a requiem high mass, the
casket was taken
to a Sydney and Louisburg Railway crossing where a special train was waiting
to take
the remains to Sydney. The Toronto Mail wrote that he “has never been an
obtrusive public man; but when he spoke he was listened to with respect due
to one who
only entered a debate for the purpose of contributing special information.
“His appointment [to the Senate] . . . especially pleasing to those Highland
who, in common with their friendly allies in politics, the Scottish
Presbyterians of the
county, have united, on purely political lines, to carry again and again
their honourable
representative to the head of the poll.”

Born and raised in Glace Bay, freelance writer Pat MacAdam lives in Ottawa
and may be e-mailed at


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