Memorable Manitobans: David Laird (1833-1914)
He was born on 12 March 1833 at New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island. He was the son of The Honourable Alexander Laird, who served on Prince Edward Island’s Executive Council, and Janet Orr. He was educated at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Truro, Nova Scotia, and began his career as a journalist shortly afterward. In 1849, he founded and was editor and publisher of the Charlottetown Patriot. Laird originally opposed Canadian confederation. However, in spite of this opposition, he was sent to Ottawa in 1873 to negotiate the admission of Prince Edward Island to the new Dominion.
David Laird sat on the Charlottetown City Council, its Board of Education, and Board of Works, and he was a Governor of the Prince of Wales College. Later, he represented the electoral district of Belfast in the Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly from 1871 to 1873 and Queen’s County in the Canadian federal House of Commons from 1873 to 1876. Regarded as the leader of the Prince Edward Island Liberal Members of Parliament, his refusal to support Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald during the “Pacific Scandal” helped bring down the Conservative government. Macdonald ’s Liberal successor, Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie, appointed David Laird Minister of the Interior and he served in that capacity from 1873 to 1876. During the summer of 1874, he negotiated the Qu’Appelle Lakes Treaty with the native population of that area. This Treaty made way for the construction of the Dominion Telegraph and the Canadian Pacific Railway.
On the advice of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie, David Laird was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories effective 7 October 1876. This appointment was made by the Earl of Dufferin, Governor General of Canada. With his Secretary, Amédée E. Forget, who would later become Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories himself, and an escort of North-West Mounted Police, David Laird spent his first winter in the Territories at Fort Livingstone which was located near the Manitoba border approximately one mile northwest of present-day Pelly, Saskatchewan. In March 1877, he presided over the first meeting of the Northwest Territories Council in a temporary building formerly occupied by the North-West Mounted Police Commissioner. In 1879, he and his Council moved to the new territorial capital of Battleford. David Laird served as Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories until his successor was appointed effective 3 December 1881.
Following the completion of his term as Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories, David Laird served as Editor of the Charlottetown Patriot from 1881 to 1898. In 1898, he was appointed Indian Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, and Keewatin, a position he held until his death. In 1899, he negotiated Treaty Eight with the Native population of the vast Athabasca District north of Edmonton. After 1909, he served as an adviser to the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa.
David Laird was President of the Manitoba Historical Society from 1903 to 1905.
He died on 12 January 1914 at Ottawa and was buried in the Sherwood Cemetery, a few miles northeast of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
A History of Manitoba: Its Resources and People by Prof. George Bryce, Toronto: The Canadian History Company, 1906.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 22 October 2021