Wood, Edmund Burke (DNB00)


WOOD, EDMUND BURKE (1820–1882), Canadian judge and politician, was born near Fort Erie in Ontario on 13 Feb. 1820. He graduated B.A. at Overton College, Ohio, in 1848, studied law with Messrs. Freeman and Jones of Hamilton, Ontario, and in 1853 was admitted to the Canadian bar as an attorney, receiving the appointments of clerk of the county court and clerk of the crown at Brant. In 1854 he was called to the bar of Ontario and entered into partnership with Peter Bull Long. In 1863 he was returned to the parliament of Ontario for West Brant as a supporter of the government of John Sandfield Macdonald. He sat in the house until 1867, when the union of the colonies took place. At the first general election he was chosen a member of the Ontario house of assembly, and also sat in the Canadian House of Commons until 1872, when he resigned his seat in the commons on the passage of the act forbidding the same person to sit in both assemblies. In July 1867 he entered the Ontario coalition ministry of John Sandfield Macdonald as provincial treasurer. He gained a high reputation as financial minister, his budget speeches being clear and able. He introduced the scheme for the settlement of the municipal loan fund of Upper Canada, and brought to a conclusion the arbitration between the provinces of Ontario and Quebec on the financial questions raised by confederation, drafting the award with his own hand. In December 1871 he resigned office, though retaining his seat in parliament. His action diminished his popularity, and he was accused of deserting his leader while the fortunes of his government were wavering. In 1872 he was made queen's counsel, and in 1873 was elected a bencher of the Law Society. In the same year he resigned his seat in the Ontario legislature, and on his return to the Canadian House of Commons for West Durham he vehemently attacked Sir John Alexander Macdonald's government for their action in connection with the Pacific scandal. He held his seat until 11 March 1874, when the administration of Alexander Mackenzie [q. v.] appointed him chief justice of Manitoba. In this capacity he instituted several important legal reforms. His decision in the case of Ambrose Lepine, who was tried for his part in the murder of Hugh Scott during the Red River rebellion of 1870, was upheld by the English courts. His judicial conduct failed, however, to give universal satisfaction, and in 1882 an attempt was made to impeach him in the House of Commons at Ottawa for ‘misconduct, corruption, injustice, conspiracy, partiality, and arbitrariness,’ and a petition was presented in support of the charges. Wood replied, denying the accusations and justifying his conduct. A special commission was appointed to investigate the charges against him, but before any progress had been made in the matter he died at Winnipeg in Manitoba on 7 Oct. 1882. Wood had a singularly deep voice, and Thomas D'Arcy McGee [q. v.] gave him the name of ‘Big Thunder.’ He was an able man, but he was accused of being unscrupulous.

[Appleton's Cyclop. of American Biogr.; Dominion Ann. Reg. 1882, p. 364.]

E. I. C.